“I’ve been reading a lot of the stuff that people have been saying and I just think, ‘You guys – this was just my first try! You might hate me tomorrow…'” Sitting in a west London hotel room wearing a white towelling robe, sparkly Union Jack mini-dress, long brown socks and a pair of electric pink boots, Azealia Banks looks every inch the star. The 20-year-old Harlem rapper is hip-hop’s most talked-about new sensation and has been at the centre of an intense industry buzz ever since the release of her first recording, “Seventeen”, three years ago. But after releasing one of the biggest and filthiest singles of the year in the form of “212” and topping NME‘s recent Cool List, 2012 looks set to finally be her year. Curling up beneath her dressing gown, here she explains to GQ.com why Nicki Minaj is just a Lil’ Kim tribute act, what made her fall in love with British bands and why you can’t beat a bit of Supergrass.
GQ.com: Your outfit is very Geri Halliwell…
Azealia Banks: I’ve got a Spice Girls thing going on! I just bought this as a gag in Camden Market. My style is if it’s clean and together, put it on and go. I’m always up so late trying to pull whatever I can out of my brain, check my e-mails and keep up on my Twitter and my Tumblr.
What was the first song that you were obsessed with?
Probably “No, No, No” by Destiny’s Child. Oh my God, you could not tell me that I was not going to grow up and be in that group when I saw that. I remember thinking “Who are these girls? Why is her hair pink?” Also do you remember when Aalilyah came out with “Back & Forth”? She was a tomboy. That was my s***.
Can you recommend a good book?
I can, but I feel like I’m just stealing ideas from Jay-Z. I read his book Decoded and in the back he recommends The Seat Of The Soul by Gary Zukav. It’s basically about soul versus personality and multi-sensory personality versus the five-sensory personality – the people whose souls operate with spiritual guidance against people who can only see the earth, the beginning and the end. You really find out a lot about yourself when you read that book.
What should every man have in his wardrobe?
I definitely like it when men dress like men. Proper clothes. No offence to any man who’s into fashion, but I feel like I’m very into masculinity. I just like loose pants and big shoes – one thing I hate is seeing a guy in a pair of Toms. I’m not really a fan of men in fancy materials. I like guys who buy stuff that they can just put in the washing machine and put on, who aren’t so shiny, you know?
What do you think of the Nicki Minaj comparisons?
It’s not something that I particularly like, but it’s something that I understand. It’s just people making sense of things. If you listen to BOB. for the first time, you might think, “He sounds like André 3000”. If you eat sorbet for the first time, you might think, “Oh, this is like ice cream but there’s no milk in it.”
Who is the best-dressed man in hip-hop?
I really like Jay-Z’s style, because it’s real. I feel like he’s the king of making music and detaching himself from it. He says, “Here’s my music. Take it or leave it. I’m me regardless.” That’s why people are so intrigued.
You went to La Guardia High School of Performing Arts…
I didn’t finish school. I just walked away from it because I had the little rap thing going on. So for the last few years I’ve just been learning about life. I’ve been making mistakes and learning from my mistakes: got dropped from a label, got my heart broken, lost my apartment. I’m lucky that I learned my lessons this early, because sometimes people don’t learn their lessons until they’re like 28-30, you know? “212” makes fun of everything and my reactions to it. I think that’s a lot of the reason why people relate to it so much, because everybody wants to say, “F*** you!” I think by virtue of English culture being so polite, I feel like there’s definitely a part of every English person that just wants to be like, “Aargh!” That’s why it’s picking up so much over here.
What’s your favourite record of all time?
“Alright” by Supergrass. That’s a good-ass song.
What does your family think of your lyrics?
My mom is pretty crass. She does go, “Azealia, does every song have to be about sex?” I’m like, “Maybe?” [laughs filthily] But no, every song won’t be. But some will.
What music do you put on when you get home?
I’m obsessed with Interpol. It’s funny, I feel like I kind of willed [producer] Paul Epworth [into working with] me, because I grew up listening to all of that stuff he worked on, like Bloc Party and the Futureheads. When I was 14, that’s what I was bumping.
How did you get into British music?
The internet and copies of NME. We’d go downtown and get copies of it just to cut out pictures of the Strokes. When you’re 14 you don’t give care about labels .You’re just think “Who are these guys? I guess they’re the cool new s*** so I’m going to go and pirate some of their music and then be able to talk about it with people.” I was just like a culture vulture. I still am.
What do you think of Tyler the Creator and Odd Future?
You see, when I listen to Tyler’s music I just get the feeling that I’m listening to someone who has also been told no or been rejected for whatever reason. It’s that same kind of “Who the f*** are you? You didn’t do s*** for me! You don’t feed me, you don’t clothe me, you don’t pay for where I live, so why do you have an opinion?” Just take it or leave it.
Do you think of yourself as a feminist?
No, I’m not a feminist, but at the same time I’ve kind of gotten over that inferiority towards men that I’ve grown up with. Not having a dad growing up you feel a little inferior and a little vulnerable. I realised the power of being a woman. We don’t really have physical man power. I’m sure there are some girls who are totally into sports, but that’s how men compete with each other: they play sports, they have the best car and they have the prettiest girl. With men their power is very much external. Women compete on a completely different level. There’s definitely a lot more psychological warfare that goes on between women. Women meet each other and they will say, “Hey!” [looks GQ.com up and down] Automatically sizing each other up, whereas men are more like[bored drawl], “Hey, you like nachos? Want to get some nachos?” Women are way more conniving – I don’t want to say evil – but way more internal and we keep a lot more stuff secret. It’s not a feminism thing, it’s just me realising where I am, what I can get and what I can do to get it.
Do you feel like women have to compete more against other women?
As much as you wish it weren’t that way, if you want to be where you want to be then hey, maybe you’ve got to knock the next bitch down to get it. At the end of the day, it’s about you. You’re born alone and you’re going to die alone – you’ve got to make sure that when you’re alive you live the way you want to live. I don’t necessarily feel like you have to knock the next bitch down. It’s not that brutal. At the same time, it’s kinda like when you’re the new alternative person, you enjoy being that one person and having that spot.
Did you feel like Nicki Minaj was taking your “spot”?
Not that she was taking my spot, but there were just way too many coincidences. It could just be that we were both inspired by Lil’ Kim. She did her thing with it, but I was kind of going to do a little bit of that same thing, with the characters, the pink and the Barbies. I wrote a song called “Barbie S***”. I was thinking “I’m going be black Barbie, that’s going to be my thing.” Then all of a sudden she [released it]! I was like, “F***! Did she have someone on my MySpace page? Is someone watching my Twitter? This is way too coincidental!” At the same time, maybe that just means those ideas aren’t the most original ideas. I mean, no offence to Nicki Minaj, but her career has essentially been a Lil’ Kim tribute. It has. That’s not a bad thing, at all. She took it and went somewhere else. It’s still very, very, very reminiscent of Lil’ Kim, but she took it and did something with it. My job is to find something else completely. That’s being done. It’s been done, and it’s being done again. What would I be adding to the world by doing it too?
We can’t imagine Nicki Minaj doing an Interpol cover like you did…
Well, you never know, she could now!
Originally published by British GQ.