From Uptown With Love… Azealia Banks on Hot 97
Hot 97 and its listeners, received a dose of what a real magical Uptown Black girl is like, in the early part of December. And since this was a Hot 97 exclusive, meaning that there wasn’t a counterpart interview with Power 105’s Breakfast Club, this interviewed garnered over 2 million hits, to close/start the years of 2014/15. Googling for some of the posts made by some of the most popular sites, who were all amazed at Azealia Banks and her statements, I was surprised that no real opinions were expressed by the world of bloggers/writers, besides presenting a few of her quotes. This I found to be very uncharacteristic about such an epic moment. But, I felt there’s one thing that probably hindered some writers or bloggers, to really apply any point of view, aside from the general agreements, assumed by people with historical reference of how the music industry operates, is also the unfamiliarity the world has with the Black and/or Dominican girl from Uptown (The Heights/Harlem area). She knows stuff, a lot of stuff, and you overlook it, because she has attitude and is street smart and not scared to be out there. She decides things based upon the concept of her self-preservation. She’s in the hood by default, but SoHo invites her, so they can gaze at her aura, and there isn’t a day that isn’t a crisis. The Uptown girl, is a rose with her thorns in the back pocket of her jeans, while sporting some Jordans.
Fuse the the above with the fundamentals elements of Uptown’s historic culture like, the Harlem Renaissance, The Nation of Islam, The Nation of Gods & Earths, Hip-Hop’s conception, The Zulu Nation, The YoungLords, The Black Panther Party, the Jazz, Mambo and Salsa movements, La Fania All Stars, Malcolm X, The Apollo, Dominican immigration, along so much more. These elements shaped Uptown’s identity today. Everyone has been touched by these elements in some way shape or form. And while we’ve had some great representation of Uptown from the brothers, like Big L (RIP), Diddy, McGruff, Mase, Cam’ron & Dipset, Immortal Technique and Akir, A$AP Rocky with the A$AP Mob, there are some others coming up like The Machine, Charlie Cruz, Dark ATM, and Gres190, among others. But, it’s especially great to see the homegirls come up and kick the sermon too, by the likes of Kalae AllDay, Likwuid, Maluca, Tess, Farrah Burns, Soli of The Machine and Fraze. No more of this, there’s only room for 1 woman to get on in a public platform. Azealia Banks is just one those who has stepped up, within the past few years and has touched people internationally. Even before 212 had a video, it was obvious to me, that she was going to be noticed. Some purists might’ve slept on Banks, and still continue to do so, because the politic that she’s expressing, isn’t overt on her records, like a Dead Prez or a Kweli record. But that has much to do with a listener’s own definition of music, yet, her informed expression, her Twitter expression, and her blatant political view is loved. Personally, I find that to have something to do with the lack of experience of the Uptown culture, the fashion, the house parties, not the music genre of house, I mean, a party with hundreds of people in someone’s apartment, with live DJs, playing everything from Rap, Freestyle, House, Merengue, Salsa, Bachata, Reggae, Reggaeton & R&B all in one party. This is the everyday palate of music, for us, ordinarily speaking. We don’t just walk to the rhythm of 1 beat.
This was life Uptown. Especially on the weekends. The separation, that corporate marketing departments express, between Black and Latino (Caribbean and otherwise), wasn’t really there like that, as it’s seen today, via the marketing of products and genres. Note Rosie Perez’ detailing of her being a Latina actress, who blew up via Black art and movies. Yes, there were frictions, but what family doesn’t argue, and which of us wasn’t a colonized mind, who has a slave boat in common?
I grew up as a New Yorker and in NY, when it came to music and music culture, there wasn’t this hardcore division that was going on. It was all mixed together and it was a beautiful thing. And all of a sudden, the music industry comes in and goes “No! You’re over here and you’re over there.” And it was sad! It was so sad. And I think, that I was picked by Keenan Ivory Wayans, for In Living Color, because, he was a New Yorker! He came from Chelsea… From Chelsea Projects, so he got it. He never said, ‘Oh, you’re Puerto Rican, you could never choreograph Hip-Hop’. He was like “Oh, you’re Puerto Rican, you want to choreograph Hip-Hop?’
– Rosie Perez on TheGrio.com
Fast forward into 2014, and Azealia Banks has touched much of the world with “212” and has unveiled an amazing body of work called “Broke With Expensive Taste”. That name, in itself, is a perfect reflection of Uptown’s culture as well. (“Lookin’ fresh with no ends, that nigga shit!” – Big Pun). I can see this being something difficult for the music industry to understand, being that they operate within classifiable genres, persay and Ms. Banks, is a perfect channel of the Uptown soup of sounds that are available just walking down St. Nicholas Ave, Amsterdam or Broadway. You hear the elements of Salsa, House, Drum & Bass, Rock, Break beats, Dubstep, Soca R&B etc, which is reminiscent of Hip-Hop, especially before Rap music became the default form of music for the culture of Hip-Hop. And this expression says a lot about us, as much it does say about Banks and it’s simply that we’re not simple as left and right, black and white or 3 or 4 musical genres. In a genuine expression of self, all this will come out.
But the time that we’re in is more concerned with single songs, artists’ Twitter and Instagram profiles, than the actual music. Who even talks about music music? Which is a great disservice to everyone from the creators of the music to those taking it in, which founds the conversation that we’re all partaking. Because, I mean, who’s trying to live a career that just lives above people’s heads? Even Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, eventually succumbed to the critics, who complained that they were being TOO LYRICAL and difficult to understand, and even accused of making up “their own words”, on works like “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” “Ironman”, “Wu-Tang Forever”, “Immobilarity”, “Supreme Clientele” (especially), and “The W”. Who the fuck complains about lyrical excellence in Hip-Hop music? But anyway…
Azealia Banks’ album is like some Hip-Hop/EDM/Afro-Caribbean, universal Blackness magic, and she represented all that in her speech, that was the exclusive interview on Hot 97. Of course, her accent and multidimensional personality, was going to get the question, “What are you?”, regarding nationality within the dichotomy of race. Because, if you’re Black and can speak some Spanish, have an affinity with Caribbean (Black) music, such as Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Reggae, Soca, etc, you must or might be not just African-American (and what is exactly African-American per say? But that’s for another day). Now, while there’s nothing rare in Ebro asking that question because, this a very common practice or line of questioning, among ourselves, that I personally have seen it asked a lot – because racial, or rather national/ethnic ambiguity doesn’t sit right with any of us – it still has an offensive anti-Black sentiment to it. We always want to know where someone is from and try to connect the dots as to why they know, what they know or why they express themselves in certain ways or can relate to certain things. And it also derives from the idea that the Black identity is purely of the United States, and simple in its dimensions, which is totally incorrect and insensitive to the voluminous being that is the Black woman and man in the United States while it also imperializes the concept of Blackness, revolving purely around the history experienced within those geographical borders of the 48 contigous states. Not to mention the idea that Black people exist in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Brazil, Panama, Belize, Honduras, Mexico and literally, every country in the Western Hemisphere.
I feel like in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like Black issues or Black politics or Black music or whatever, there’s alway’s this undercurrent of kinda like a ‘fuck you.’ There’s always a “fuck y’all niggas. Y’all don’t really own shit. Y’all don’t have shit.
– Azealia Banks
What happened with all those Black U.S. and Cuban bands that were categorized as Jazz by white people, as Nina Simone once said? Why’s the Jazz music scene full of old white people? When it was new, and done by young, Black men & women, it was considered offensive, not art, not music, not anything worth of respect. What happened to those Black bands that were called Rock music? Other than losing their publishing royalties, to white executives who hadn’t licked a mere note of half of the half of a music sheet. Elvis saw Jackie Wilson, express his genius, which also inspired Michael Jackson, saw his dance, heard his music and copied it, and was named the King of Rock, for not being original. And by who? What about Salsa music? Which came out of the Bronx, just over 10 years before Hip-Hop did, but with very similar attitudes in their approach to music and culture. Naturally speaking. Hector “El Cantante” Lavoe, like many of his peers, wasn’t the owner of his own publishing, although he did gain some publishing for his improvisational lyrics (off the top freestyles). Like many others of his La Fania All-Stars peers, the music was rather owned by a white man, named Jerry Masucci, although co-founded by an Afro-Dominican composer, Johnny Pacheco. This man would also cheat his way out of paying Cuban bands for music that was sampled from them, and then pocket royalties that belonged to the likes of Hector Lavoe, Willie Colon, Celia Cruz, Johnny Pacheco, among others. One singer who did play a role in the culture of Harlem, La Fania, Salsa and Hip-Hop history, left La Fania and kept his royalties, which made it harder for history to remember him as such, being the legend Joe Bataan. A great musician/artist and person to speak with in person too. And he’s Black/Filipino.
When my grandmother found out that I was playing Jazz music in one of the sporting houses in the District, she told me that I had disgraced the family and forbade me to live at the house… She told me that devil music would surely bring about my downfall but I just couldn’t put it behind me.
– Jelly Roll Morton, Jazz composer
Everybody knows the basis of modern capitalism is slave labor, the buying and selling of slaves. There are huge corporations still caking off that slave money and shit. So until y’all motherfuckers are ready to talk about what you owe me… at the very least you owe me the right to my fucking identity. Don’t exploit that shit. That’s all we’re hanging onto.
– Azealia Banks
KRS-One, called Hip-Hop our final revolutionary front for freedom. And we as Uptown heads, Hip-Hop heads, Harlemnites and Heightsters, couldn’t agree with Azealia any more. This is our shit and we’re doing all that we can with our culture to fulfill us, especially after we saw so many others, jack our styles, slang, and take it to heights of immortality. The shoutouts are cool, but we’re on it, independently. We’re owning we’re our companies, our tees, our hats, our music, I-Tunes & Bandcamp royalties and our own websites to talk about our own culture. But we’re still owed all over the Western hemisphere for 500 years worth of free work, rape, identity theft, white gods/jesus, suppressions of all kinds, institutional lies and formal “legal” miseducation about our history, among other stuff. This also reminds me of a powerful statement that DMX rhymed on his debut album with, “I tell you what’s in my heart and you call it a style”.
You got your priorities fucked up! That’s really how I fucking feel about you! You’re a fucking shoe shining coon! How dare you? I take that shit personally. You’re a fucking coon! Your wife can’t read and they got her on TV, they’re making fun. They got the fucking sound effects going like “BOING!”
– Azealia Banks about T.I.
Some people might look at this and not get the full extent of what T.I.’s doing, which is nothing less or more than pimping, when it comes to Iggy Azelia and his wife Tiny. It’s been known that Viacom via VH1, enjoys displaying some of the most embarrassingly dramatic personalities, when it comes to their roster of reality shows. So the fact that Tiny is being made fun of by the editing staff, of her own show, that she can’t read, shows how easily people can be bought and sold, if the ends of revenue is the only factor that is decided upon, as a win. No one learns anything, the vault of culture doesn’t get added to and the only one who thinks they are winning is T.I. in the form of paychecks. Similar is the case with Iggy, as he never introduced her to the culture that she would try to win over, terribly. But jumps in, whenever she either puts a foot in her mouth, or wants to save on some of the bad publicity that she voluntarily creates for herself.
There was one time in the Summer and I picked up a copy of the NY Post and the cover was like “Hip-Hop is White”, or some shit… They’re trying to erase us. All of our books and scriptures, everything that we’re supposed to know about ourselves, are gone. Like, completely fucking gone. Never to be seen again, you know? The fact that metal energy was started in Africa, and agriculture, and all those things, that created the world, are ours. It’s really upsetting when you, like, especially from young and you read your social studies textbooks, and all you see is, stories of you, under some white person’s foot, or you and a white person and you’re failing in the face of a white person’s eyes… My Black story is deeper than just, the boat ride over. And it’s very upsetting. So this little thing called Hip-Hop, that I’ve created for myself, that I’m holding onto with my dear fucking life… I feel like it’s being snatched away from me or something.
– Azealia Banks
Hip-Hop was founded in The Bronx after the messages from Nobel Drew Ali, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, MLK, Maya Angelou, Assata Shakur, Huey Newton, Che Guevara, Marcus Garvey and so many other freedom fighters, penetrated the everyday thinking of the youth and Bambaataa decided to unite all of the Black & Latino, South Bronx gangs into one cultural movement based on Peace, Love, Unity & Having Fun. Not to say that it wouldn’t be a lot of work, in order to establish those fundamentals into a natural way of life, but Iggy’s comments about Banks making things racial and political, only shows how she and many others compartmentalize Hip-Hop into a few songs, dances, phrases and accents that can be grouped together among the socially privileged. Because the founding element of Hip-Hop is having a knowledge of self, to realizing the available options that counter the oppression and finally realizing those ideas that Malcolm X, spoke to us about being Freedom, Justice and Equality, as well as the science of life being, Love, Peace & Happiness. These elements don’t exist in throwing shade at political matters that affect Black people everyday. The politics of “love the culture, hate the people” isn’t something that we support. Lord Jamar, spoke on how white Hip-Hop fans, who champion the likes of Riff Raff, Macklemore, Machine Gun Kelly and others, took to offense, with Jamar’s comments about them being guests in the house of Hip-Hop, but was also countered, with what are the classic anti-Black statements that racists love throwing around, making references to monkeys, wishing him death by hangings, etc etc. But this is the case of joining a locally created culture, that affected all estimated 197 million square miles, without a history lesson.
Being an Uptown Hip-Hop head, and finding education with Hip-Hop being the founding platform for myself in relationship with the world that I live in, I love the fact that Azealia Banks is moved by what she is moved by. And I champion that girl that I used to see and never knew, in the studio by Varick St. in Tribeca, when Kinetic of The Arsonists was schooling me into freer spaces of media. We’re both very far from that space and I know I can say that I love the bit that I do know of her. While Hip-Hop might be a source of entertainment for some, the life that it provides and what it informs us of our own selves, serves as something worth protecting and owning with the way we live and apply it. It’s great to see more out there understanding that Hip-Hop is so much more than just a hustle and something to market to consumers. But it’s actually a source of education and cultural identification that ties us with those who have passed on, those who are here now and those that are yet to present themselves and make their marks on the planet.
I wouldn’t have come to say my name and run the same weak shitPutting blurs and slurs and words that don’t fit in a rhymeWhy waste time on the microphoneI take this more serious than just a poemRock from party to party, backyard to yardNow tear it up, y’all, and bless the mic for the Gods– Rakim