It’s finally here! After the surprise success of her 2011 single “212 (feat. Lazy Jay)”—which currently sits at 86M+ views on YouTube—Azealia Banks has finally released her debut album Broke with Expensive Taste.
If you’ve followed Azealia Banks in any capacity, you’ll know that the beginning of her career has its share of misfortunes. Beyond being a bit of a trouble maker on Twitter (a search for “Azealia banks twitter” currently brings up more results about her beefs than her actual account), Banks has been completely public about disagreements with her ex-label management at Interscope.
Shortly after dropping the video for “212,” Banks announced she was working on Broke with Expensive Taste and signing to Interscope. Things didn’t work out, and fans were left waiting. In the meantime, Azealia Banks did manage to put out her 1991 EP with Interscope and the self-released Fantasea mixtape. This past November, without notice, Broke with Expensive Taste was released by Prospect Park (Universal), and after another 4-month wait, the CD version is finally here.
That’s the lead-up, so how is the album itself? In short, Broke with Expensive Taste is a mixed bag. As someone who has waited for the album since its announcement, it’s great to finally have it in my hands. I can’t imagine the trouble Azealia Banks had to go through to get the rights to this album from Interscope and work out a new release plan, and the delays certainly did not help.
Broke with Expensive Taste is all over the place as far as production and style go. In a way, it feels a lot like her Fantasea mixtape; a combination of great house-influenced tracks and sometimes-odd experiments that don’t always hit. Banks’ verses are generally on-point, and her singing is mostly good—even if the results aren’t as consistent.
Album singles “Heavy Metal and Reflective” and “Yung Rapunxel”—both of which were produced by Lil Internet—were released quite a while before the album, and they’re both still enjoyable. Other album highlights include “BBD,” “Luxury” and “Miss Camaraderie”. My personal favorite has to be “Chasing Time”, which highlights the type of production and songwriting I enjoyed most on 1991 and Fantasea.
A few tracks like “Idle Delilah” have questionable production, and they’re just a bit of a mess. In the aforementioned track, Banks’ vocals (and much of the overall track) sound like they’re being pushed to distortion. It’s not necessary, and doesn’t fit well with the rest of the album. “Desperado” is similarly messy. “Gimme a Chance” somehow starts out as an indie-rock-sampling hip-hop track that morphs into a Latin dance. It doesn’t really work for me, but at it’s great to see this kind of experimentation early in the album.
Unfortunately, the Ariel Pink -produced piece “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” is an experiment that doesn’t fair as well as some of the others. While I do appreciate unabashed silliness, Banks’ decision to include a lo-fi beach party surf song on the album is iffy at best. Azealia Banks is known for writing some dirty, dirty verses, and she really missed an opportunity to work her magic on the happy-go-lucky surf tune. It sounds like she tried to go that route, but the result wasn’t as clever as Banks has shown she can be.
I think the history of this album’s release is important context, because it certainly feels like more of a baseline for what Banks can do, rather than a perfection of any one thing. Like her Fantasea mixtape, Broke with Expensive Taste really does have some excellent tracks, but it just feels bloated. There is a lot of stuff that doesn’t need to be here; besides the questionable tracks, “212” makes an unnecessary return, and it could have been cut after its release on 1991. Either way, this doesn’t need to be a 16-track album. Some of the tracks that were written back in 2011 and 2012 while Banks struggled with her label could have been cut.
That said, is it worth getting? Yes! Even though I will skip “Nude Beach a-Go-Go” 100% of the time, there is a lot to love about this album. I will certainly be excited to hear whatever Azealia Banks cooks up next, and I’m willing to bet we won’t be waiting another four years for it.
John Praw Kruse is an Operations Manager, and Product Manager for the Murfie Vinyl Service. In his free time, John makes music, including scores for indie films and various shorts. He is the founder of Mine All Mine Records and the Lost City Music Festival. John devours new music.