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Hip-hop rapper Azealia Banks shines before fashion week

Rapper Azealia Banks at the 2012 NME Awards. File photo.
Rapper Azealia Banks at the 2012 NME Awards. File photo.

Fashion week may have birthed more than just a series of fantastic collections this year, this time making an impact in hip-hop music. Hip-hop star and rapper Azealia Banks has been recording since late 2009, but her latest show in Williamsburg — one day before New York Fashion Week officially started — has put her in the limelight of studios and agents seeking rising music stars. She featured in Alexander Wang’s Fall 2012 T Campaign, capturing the attention of the fashion world, but her music and rapping has been churning in the underground New York scene since 2010.

Born and raised in Harlem, Banks, 21, has been interested in both music and fashion all her life. Banks never finished high school — theater managers plucked her from the halls of LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts to star in the musical “City of Angels.”

Despite her success in off-Broadway theater, Banks’ true interests and aspirations focused on a career as a recording artist. In 2009, Banks was signed with XL Recordings for a portion of the year before leaving the label and moving to Montreal. In Montreal, Banks began self-producing and releasing demos on Youtube, receiving some attention and featuring on other artists’ albums until she signed on with Interscope and Polydor to release several mixtapes and one extended play.

She plans to release her first debut album titled “Broke with Expensive Taste” before long. She also is slated to appear on the track “Ratchet” on Lady Gaga’s highly anticipated third studio album, ARTPOP in 2013, having already appeared on M.I.A.’s track “Bad Girls” and on a Smims and Belle Remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans.”

Alexander Wang has been integral to Banks’ entrance into the fashion world, inviting her to accompany him at the 2012 Met Gala and using her music for his 2012 AW Campaign. Now, as the new face of the T Campaign, Banks is campaigning for what some rappers only make lyrics about.

But her entrance into the fashion world has not come without controversy. Countless hip-hop fans are upset with the self-proclaimed “runway slave’s” selling-out to fashion companies. The fashion world hails her as one of the most down-to-earth and unpretentious artists of Fashion Week, reveling in her appeal to the stylish woman and her introduction of wearability to runway fashion.

On the other hand, the rising women of hip-hop see things differently. Rival Nicki Minaj, who began recording around the same time as Banks and experienced a much higher degree of recognition and success invited Banks to tour with her overseas but Banks declined, saying she needed the time to work on her debut album. A crude brawl followed on Twitter, with Banks insulting Minaj’s grammar. This highlights a large divide between Banks and many hip-hop artists. Where others like Minaj appeal to a more “hood” fan base, Banks appeals to the rich and stylish. Banks has an aura of old-school high class and simplicity, specifically taking issue with the flashy, “shallow” world where artists like Minaj thrive.

Banks exudes a strong feminine confidence that doesn’t rely on neon hair or voluptuous curves to get her point across, but whether the hip-hop world is ready to embrace her is a question that will surround her upcoming debut.

About the Author

Zach Waasdorp

Zach Waasdorp is a Chimes staff writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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