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Making Rihanna “Rated R” Fenty look like Taylor Swift is no easy task, but the brilliantly foul-mouthed rapper Azealia Banks managed it with the deliciously obscene ‘212’. The 21 year-old Harlemite tells Celina Murphy all about fancying Paul Banks – and why that Nickelodeon audition never worked out.
Celina Murphy, 16 Jan 2012
Oddly enough, Banks began our interview sounding every bit the mild-mannered Valley Girl, even throwing out the occasional, "Oh, jeez" – a likely offshoot from her time as a musical theatre princess.
“Have you ever seen that movie Fame?” she asks. “That’s the school I went to. Performing was just my thing. There are so many eyes on that school. They do a big production every year and when I was 16, I had a lead in the musical. It was really crazy, we had all these agents and stuff come to the show and watch it and I got scouted by a manager and I started going to auditions and freelancing with this acting company.”
Banks was right on course for a starring role in Glee, but luckily for fans of obscene, house-fuelled hip hop, things didn’t go exactly to plan.
“I was going on all these auditions for Nickelodeon and PBS and I was going for some legit stuff, like the Rent revival, but any adult part I wanted I couldn’t get because I was 16, and any of the Nickelodeon stuff I was auditioning for, I was too grown-up. Well, that’s not true, I looked really young but when you hear my speaking voice and my singing voice, there’s a bit of a maturity there that just doesn’t fit with the Nickelodeon aesthetic… obviously, when you hear my music!
"So that’s what I started doing, just to keep myself out of trouble. I was hanging out with the wrong people and stuff like that, so I just isolated myself. I started listening to a lot of hip hop and rapping. I kept it really, really private, I was still going on my auditions and hanging out with my friends and shit and keeping my rap kind of low, but as soon as I started putting songs online, I started getting legitimate attention.”
After signing with, and subsequently leaving, XL Records, Banks gained a hefty fan base overseas by making ‘212’ available as a free download on her website.
“I feel like shit’s gonna pick up here in the US,” she muses, “but Americans just aren’t as forward thinking as the rest of the world. I’m not really the biggest fan of any one culture but American culture is just like rigid and really stale and really stupid, real conservative. Everything is really formatted, it’s just fucking stupid. Bleugh.