“Fantasea” mixtape – Azealia Banks

3 stars (out of 5)

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Azealia Banks’ monster “212” debut single could also be her undoing. It’s a massive dance/hip hop hybrid, foul-mouthed, mainly-rapped ode to woman on woman cunnilingus and it is amazing; but can she better it? Can she even come close? Well let’s hope so, yes.

This much anticipated, free ‘mix tape’ (the general term given to  new artist ‘samplers’ that give an indication as to what’s coming in their ‘official release’ and which usually include a couple of songs by other artists that the singer admires or sights as an influence) is a mixed bag of varying quality. Banks has been honest in saying that a lot of what she has recorded over the last 2 years would never have been given an official release and I imagine many of these recordings have ended up on this collection. However, this is a treat and gift to fans (and superb marketing tool, let’s not forget) to tide them over until the release of her debut album proper “Broke with Expensive Tastes” later in the autumn.

8 of the 19 tracks included here (including 1 skit) have already seen the light of day as Azealia has already given them away as MP3s. Of these there some very strong tracks; the breezy, bouncy harp introduced “Jumanji” is commercial enough to be a strong, successful single and contains a brilliantly loopy performance by Banks. “Aquababe” has some brilliant, very dark techno and hard house hoover stabs on it, “Fuck up the Fun” is a Diplo produced military drummed blast and “L8R” incorporates harmonies around the rapped lines giving it character and warmth. So what of the new tracks?

“Out of Space” is The Prodigy’s “Out of Space” with Banks rapping over it. Her performance is a little phoned-in and certainly not up to the standard of, say, the official single “Liquorice” but the relevance of this track is maybe more about the choice of backing track. Along with the razor sharp “Fantasea”, (Banks speed-rapping over Machinedrum’s “Fantastix”), “Aquababe”, “212” and the still unreleased “Bambi” (surely saved for the album?), all reveal Azealia’s obsession and knowledge of UK rave, techno and hard house and I hope that this influence prevails and forms part of the identity of the full length release.

Another interesting theme is the late eighties ball (vogue) culture and its accompanying Salsoul disco and early house soundtrack which is explicitly evidenced here in one of the new song hi-lights “Fierce”. A bare house backing, gay man dialogue sampled tribute to the balls of which Azealia has referred to as a major influence in her look, attitude and sound. Her guest vocals on the Scissor Sisters “Shady Love” were an early clue and unlike the soulless Nicki Minaj this does not ring of cynism. Banks also covers the new ball anthem “Ima Read”, originally by Zebra Katz, but adds little to the original’s seductive power. Throughout all of these tracks Banks flow is relentless, her twang is irresistible but it’s not safe and she brings a much needed sense of threat to pop music.

I referenced Nicki Minaj before and like Banks she gave away several mix-tapes early on in her career which were funny, sharp, original and promised much. Her debut album was sentimental, over-produced and delivered very little of the spark shown in the music that preceded it.  Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to Banks, I have everything crossed that it won’t. Don’t let us down Azealia.