Azealia Banks: 1991 EP

One of the more interesting figures to emerge out of last year’s DIY hip-hop renaissance, Azealia Banks has fallen out of the spotlight almost as quickly as she entered it. After a string of excellent singles late last year (including the monumental “212”), Banks has spent the last few months engaged in well-documented Twitter feuds and seemingly little else. The 1991 EP, released digitally this week, breaks this period of inactivity with characteristic bombast. In spite of its short runtime (just over fifteen minutes) and relative lack of commercial promotion, 1991 is nothing short of monumental.

Two of 1991’s four tracks, the aforementioned “212” and the sprightly, shuffling “Liquorice,” were released at the end of last year. Upon relistening, it’s clear that time hasn’t rendered those songs any less potent: moments like “212”’s bridge, which features Azealia chanting, “I’m gonna ruin you, cunt” over escalating electro-house synths, resonate just as vividly as they did upon first release. 

The EP’s new tracks, both produced by stylistically restless New York experimental dance maven Machinedrum, are similarly powerful. The title track, with Azealia’s aggressive, rapidly-delivered rhymes and Machinedrum’s minimalist, melodically-charged backing track, settles on a breezy early ‘90’s house vibe that suits Banks delightfully. The EP’s most surprising moment, however, is the latter half of “Van Vogue,” which finds Azealia’s voice pitched-down and without accompaniment, stretching the ultra-baritone choruses recently employed by rappers like A$AP Rocky to a stark, jarring extreme. 

This moment, which is rather risky in light of Azealia’s position as a quasi-mainstream artist, is a reaffirmation of the qualities that made her so intriguing in the first place: Banks is the kind of artist that is both exceptionally talented and unafraid to take risks. While it may be some time before she dethrones Missy Elliott, 1991 proves that Banks is one of the best rappers around today, regardless of gender. (8/10)