You never know quite what you’re going to get when Azealia Banks picks up the phone. Will it be the brash stylist who’s responsible for some of the best rap singles of the 2010s, or the bomb-thrower who’s been repeatedly kicked off social media platforms for her flagrantly outrageous antics? The person who’s won fans with her true-original voice and perspective, or the one who’s driven them away with the very same?
The past month has been an unusually dramatic one for Banks. Earlier in August, she made headlines after claiming to be stranded in one of billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s Los Angeles homes — “like a real-life episode of Get Out” — where, she said, she’d arrived with the expectation of making music with Musk’s partner, Grimes. Through a long sequence of highly entertaining, largely unconfirmable Instagram stories, Banks gossiped about her hosts’ romantic life, speculated that the tech baron had been tripping on acid when he tried to take his company private, and generally wreaked havoc. (Musk denied most elements of her tale, telling The New York Times that his only interaction with Banks had been running into her “for two seconds at about a 30-foot distance.”)
Banks recently issued a public apology to Musk, and she seems to consider the subject closed. “Are we talking about music, or are we talking about Elon?” she asks when Rolling Stone reaches her by phone. She’d much rather discuss her upcoming album, Fantasea II: The Second Wave, which is back on track after she briefly canceled its release this July after another PR disaster. If the album arrives as promised, it will be her first full-length project since 2014’s excellent Broke With Expensive Taste, and her first since signing with the indie label eOne this year.
“The promo I’ve had for this album – even all the controversy – is some of the most iconic album promo ever,” says Banks, 27. “This whole mess has just ramped up anticipation for Azealia Banks and what she’s gonna say next, what she’s gonna do next, where she’s gonna be next. I’m more excited to drop my album now than I have been in the past year or so.”
The rapper, who is currently without a management team – “I’m doing a little bit of self-management right now,” she says – set this interview up after responding to an Instagram DM. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation.
When you look back on the past month, is there anything you’d take back?
I probably wouldn’t have gone to L.A. in the first place. I don’t see why I had to fly across the country to lay down what was, like, 16 bars. I should have trusted my better judgment and just stayed home, but I was trying to be nice and trying to make new friends and be this Girl Scout or sorority sister and get some good press.
Would you still like to make music with Grimes?
Maybe. Nothing is going to turn me off faster than being given the runaround. It feels really bad to get rejected musically. Especially when ideas have already been started and you just want to finish them, because a major source of anxiety for me is unfinished projects.
So I think that maybe another time it could happen. Definitely not this record. But it’s got to happen professionally. We need to rent a studio, which is what I suggested, and not do this working in each other’s personal space thing. I’m only at your house because I was promised there would be a studio here. I don’t really want to be a part of your home life.
“I’m an adult and I can make these bad decisions for myself.”
Do you feel like things got out of hand with your Instagram Stories? Did they take off more than you wanted them to?
I think that’s the nature of the Internet. Things take off however they’re going to take off. But I can control what I say to specific outlets to draw the line between Azealia Banks the musician, and Azealia Banks the personality that everyone loves to hate. When music publications stray away from reviewing this awesome music I’m putting out and are focused on the things I’m saying and the things I’m doing, it makes the music magazine look a little cheap, in a sense. I guess it would be different if I were married to Elon Musk and writing a song about it. Then I guess we could talk about it. But it has nothing to fucking do with anything. It really doesn’t.
But this isn’t the first time you’ve gotten into a situation like this, where things you say on social media overshadow the music. Why do you think this keeps happening to you?
Because there is a culture in America of making money off of people and their craziness. If it wasn’t me, it would be anyone else. I’m not special. It happens to everybody nowadays…Of course my social media is full of all kinds of shit, as anyone who uses social media is full of all kinds of shit.
What’s the vibe for this album you’re working on?
It’s reminiscent of Broke with Expensive Taste, in the sense that there are so many different genres, and the connecting thread is Azealia Banks – this larger-than-life person who’s a bit indecisive, a bit all over the place, but she ultimately knows what she wants and knows what she likes. It’ll be just a serving of all the different things Azealia Banks is into.
Broke With Expensive Taste came out almost four years ago. What’s different this time?
Oh, the songwriting is way more mature. I’ve been using different words and looking for more elaborate ways to express the same emotions that every human being has throughout their lives. It’s just the same person with a little bit more time on her.
“Hopefully the narrative can change from, ‘Azealia Banks, crazy [person] who’s sacrificing chickens in her closet,’ to ‘Azealia Banks, who has been bringing this African imagery to the mainstream before it was en vogue to be a witch.'”
How does it connect to the original Fantasea mixtape from 2012?
Well, the original Fantasea project – and, actually, all of my mermaid imagery – are dedications to the orisha Yemaya. I’ve been a part of a couple of African traditional religions for a while, and I’ve spoken about it in the past. The infamous chicken video and all that stuff. The goddess Yemaya is my patron saint, and that energy inspires a lot of the things that I rap about. People may think that the mermaid thing is just some random girls doing cosplay, but it’s actually got a much, much deeper spiritual meaning for me.
Seeing a lot of artists in the mainstream embracing African traditional religions, especially since Lemonade, hopefully the narrative can change from, “Azealia Banks, crazy [person] who’s sacrificing chickens in her closet,” to “Azealia Banks, who has been bringing this African imagery to the mainstream before it was en vogue to be a witch.”
What new music are you listening to?
I’m really, really into Ski Mask the Slump God right now. I like the band GUM, that guy Jay Watson. And I’m still listening to my same ten albums from high school. Interpol, Antics. Franz Ferdinand, You Could Have It So Much Better. All of the Strokes albums, for sure. I wanted to be like those guys – like a grungy, kind-of-glam indie-rock dude with a fucking shaggy haircut and some face paint. Lil Wayne mixtapes, Drought 1, Drought 2. Styles P, Ghost in the Machine. I’m like an old lady. Back in my day…
What do you like about Ski Mask the Slump God?
His mind is so limber. It doesn’t seem as linear. I feel like my everything is organized, but he’s just jumping all over. He does 20 different things in one song. I do maybe five different things in one song.
What do you think about the rest of that new wave of confrontational, aggressive rap? Are you a fan?
I don’t know. Ski Mask the Slump God is the one that has really stood out to me. I like [Tekashi 6ix9ine]’s music, but I guess that’s one of those things that you don’t really say out loud. I don’t know him personally, if you get what I mean. When I hear his music, I know that it makes me feel really good. When I read things about him, it doesn’t make me feel very good. I probably wouldn’t collaborate with Tekashi 6ix9ine. But in my own personal adult time, will I buy tickets to the Tekashi 6ix9ine concert? Of course. Do I realize that this is bad for me? Yes, but guess what? I’m an adult and I can make these bad decisions for myself.