There is no shortage of reasons to respect Azealia Banks. She is arguably the most agile female singer-rapper since Missy Elliott, one who creates wonderfully advanced but accessible anthems with offbeat electronic producers like Lunice, Hudson Mohawke and Machinedrum and will release her debut album in February. She doesn't toil to maintain a glamorous façade, as the Mickey Mouse sweater in her "212" video demonstrated. She's even turning into a grand fashion muse by virtue of this independence; Lady Gaga's creative director, Nicola Formichetti, directed her adventurous "Liquorice" clip and Alexander Wang featured her in his Resort 2013 video.
Last week, as Banks prepared to perform at MAC's Fashion's Night Out party in New York– a short set the length of her 1991 EP, and one coinciding with the release of her "Yung Rapunxel" purple lipstick for the line – she spoke to Rolling Stone about her relationship with fashion and cosmetics, her eternal love for Beyoncé and why being a "cunt" is a good thing.
What does having a signature lipstick mean to you as an artist?
"Yung Rapunxel" represents what I'm all about: being myself, no matter what it costs. Yung Rapunxel is that girl who pisses people off but doesn't really mean to. She's actually a sweetheart! But people are so taken aback that she's so herself; she's not even trying to be unique or different. She literally just lives in her head; she does what she wants to do. So, the lipstick is here for someone who is happy to be themself.
What made you want to do a regal purple?
I think purple on dark skin does look really royal. So instead of a brown or red, I thought purple was perfect for me.
It goes well with your hair.
It's actually inspired by it! I got this purple weave when I went to Australia and had a meeting with [MAC] and said, "This is my hair for the fall. Let's do purple."
Can you discuss how you developed Yung Rapunxel into a heightened alter-ego?
When I first started wearing long weaves – this was when I was about 16 and worked at Starbucks and could afford it, [because] before that, my parents wouldn't let me! – I bought this 24-inch-long weave. And you could not tell me that I was not the sexiest shit ever. I was like, "Oh my gosh, look at me." And I started calling myself Rapunzel; when I wrote "212," I randomly added the "Young" to it. Sometimes when you're writing, ideas just spring up randomly, and I realized "Yung Rapunxel" sounded so cool.
I love the way experimenting with fashion and beauty products can also trigger an unexpected response from someone's subconscious or imagination. Then you can become an enhanced character. Is that how you utilize fashion?
Definitely, but I have lots of help. People always ask me about fashion, but I don't know the first thing about it. I can't even pretend I do. I'm very lucky the fashion world has embraced me and helped me with image. I feel like I don't know how to create a look, but I know how to make music. I know how to work. And I work so hard.
Your new video for "1991" really touches upon the steely, bionic videos of early Nineties house artists. What about vogue-ing and ball culture inspires you?
Well, I'm from Harlem. I went to art school; I grew up with the cunts. And that term doesn't come from me! People think I invented it, but I didn't. To be cunty is to be feminine and to be, like, aware of yourself. Nobody's fucking with that inner strength and delicateness. The cunts, the gay men, adore that. My friends would say, "Oh you need to cunt it up! You're being too banjee." Banjee means unrefined and rough. You need your cunts: they fix your hair for you and do your makeup. They give you confidence and give you life.
Watch Azealia Banks' "1991":
So do you feel a special affection for your gay fans?
Definitely. I mean, I'm bisexual, so it makes sense. But I don't want to be that girl who says all gays necessarily hang out together, of course! I have people say to me, "Oh wow, my friend is gay, too," and I'm like, "Yeah, so?"
Who did you admire growing up?
Aaliyah. And I love Beyonce – she's the queen of everything. She's the most remarkable performer and musician. And this is just my humble opinion, but I just think she's better than everyone else making music right now.
Are you still starstruck by her?
Yes, and I met her – and I cried! It was so embarrassing. It was at the Met Ball. I was fucking around with Kanye and she was sitting there, chilling and eating dinner. I freaked out. And I realized she saw me being a dummy and I started crying. Then I saw her expression, like, "Girl, get your shit together." I had to walk away and get myself together and pat my face, then come back to properly say hi! And if I meet her again someday, I'll probably cry again.
Perhaps one day you'll be tourmates.
(look of shock) I don't think... Ah, don't even get me aghast right now. Look at me, you already have me thinking about it! It would be so fucking crazy.
Are you going to shows this week? I assume maybe Alexander Wang?
No, I'm not! I actually wasn't invited [to Wang].
Well, are you interested to see how it all plays out? What ideas would you like to see people present?
I don't really know. Like I said, I'm not a fashion girl, and I don't follow it too much. I mean, I love looking at magazines – what girl doesn't? But I don't know enough to comment. I'm too much of a music nerd. Like, I'm such a music nerd. I'm more likely to be watching Pitchfork.
Well, to be frank, your look tonight is more interesting than what will be on many of the runways. What are you wearing?
These caged boots are a vintage collaboration between Jean Paul Gaultier and Doc Marten. These shorts are a custom creation from Cerre and this is a vintage cone bra Gaultier swimsuit – very Nineties Madonna!