In the video for “212,” the dazzling and lascivious song that rocketed her to fame and acclaim in 2011, Azealia Banks smiles joyfully while rat-a-tat-tatting compound lyrics about how talented and hot she is and how easily she could get your girlfriend to go down on her. Banks does everything with a mischievous laugh—so when you see her schooling fools on Twitter or read her insightful thoughts on black culture or listen to her brilliant new album, Broke With Expensive Taste, envision this 23-year-old Harlem rapper and singer chuckling at how much fun it is to be smart and fearless, with a mike in her hand. And right now, no one is having more fun than Banks.
Did you grow up in a house where sex was discussed freely?
Yes, but it was more joked about. My mother was always making inappropriate jokes. We had sex books in the house. She never tried to hide it from me. When I got my period it was very much like, “Boys are going to want to touch your body, but you can get pregnant now, and we not playing that shit.” My mom scared me off of getting pregnant.
In what ways are you like your mom?
We both have really good taste in things: food, music, furniture. But I like men a lot, and she’s like, “I could care less.” My dad died when I was really young, and my mom never dated anyone else. She’s into her dogs and books and decorating her house. And I’m like, “Ooh, boys!” I’ll have a boyfriend, and then a couple of months will go by and I’ll have a new boyfriend, and she’ll be like, “Azealia, can’t you stay with one?” No! [laughs] They’re all too fun.
What’s the longest relationship you’ve had?
Four years. It started when I was 17. He was 43. There’s something very wrong with a man that age who wants to date a 17-year-old girl. I didn’t know how to shave my bush and shit like that. I had a hairy pussy. I didn’t know how to wear perfume. I had neon pink barrettes in my hair. And as “212” started to pop off and my career started to happen, he became jealous. He choked me and beat me up, and of course you should not be fucking with a man who puts his hands on you, but I was stupid and young.
Did that relationship cure you of your attraction to older men?
No, I love older men. The things in an older man’s house are better—his furniture, even his knives and his pots. And they smell better. Young guys, they may skip a shower and shit like that.
You were signed to two major labels, and after protracted battles with them, you self-released Broke With Expensive Taste in November. How did your music change in the midst of all that?
Even though I’ve always made really cool stuff, I did it with a little bit of a pop sensibility because I was signed to a major label. That’s why you have songs like “ATM Jam” and “Chasing Time” that are more pop. But now I don’t have a label to answer to. All the ideas I’m having are fucking cool and abstract and crazy and dope.
It sounds like you don’t care whether your songs are on the radio or not.
No. There are certain ways you have to behave if you want to get played on the radio. I want to date whoever I want to date. I want to smoke weed. I want to get drunk. I want to go on vacation, you know?
At this point, lots of producers want to work with you, but when you were unknown and posting songs on Myspace, you e-mailed producers and almost begged for beats.
Seriously. You know how people say “I will fuck for Chanel”? Like, no, I won’t fuck for a beat. But almost. I might flash a little. [laughs] No, I’m joking. But I will fucking beg.
Is there someone whose career you’d like to emulate?
Jay Z. That’s the only person I have my eye set on. The race thing always comes up, but I want to get there being very black and proud and boisterous about it. You get what I mean? A lot of times when you’re a black woman and you’re proud, that’s why people don’t like you. In American society, the game is to be a nonthreatening black person. That’s why you have Pharrell or Kendrick Lamar saying, “How can we expect people to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?” He’s playing that nonthreatening black man shit, and that gets all the white soccer moms going, “We love him.” Even Kanye West plays a little bit of that game—“Please accept me, white world.” Jay Z hasn’t played any of those games, and that’s what I like.
If people read your Twitter account and don’t like you, is that because of race?
It’s always about race. Lorde can run her mouth and talk shit about all these other bitches, but y’all aren’t saying she’s angry. If I have something to say, I get pushed into the corner.
And whenever you point out that discrepancy, someone on Twitter says, “Why are you trying to make this about race?”
Because y’all motherfuckers still owe me reparations! [laughs] That’s why it’s still about race. Really, the generational effects of Jim Crow and poverty linger on. As long as I have my money, I’m getting the fuck out of here and I’m gonna leave y’all to your own devices.
Do you want to leave the U.S.?
Yes! I hate everything about this country. Like, I hate fat white Americans. All the people who are crunched into the middle of America, the real fat and meat of America, are these racist conservative white people who live on their farms. Those little teenage girls who work at Kmart and have a racist grandma—that’s really America.
If people don’t like you, does that mean they’re racist?
No, not at all. There’s misogyny, and then there’s something called misogynoir [a term coined by writer Moya Bailey to describe “the unique ways in which black women are pathologized in popular culture”]. We have all these stereotypes in society: The gay man is a faggot and he’s over-the-top, or you’re an untrustworthy cracker, or you’re a loud black bitch. All these things exist for a reason, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, I am loud and boisterous.
And you are black.
And I am black, and I am a pain in your ass. But I’m not really talking to you, and that’s what makes those people mad. You’re not invited to this conversation. This is not about you.
This has been an issue ever since hip-hop spread outside New York City. It’s a black art form that’s subject to being critiqued by people who don’t understand it.
When you rip a people from their land, from their customs, from their culture—there’s still a piece of me that knows I’m not supposed to be speaking English, I’m not supposed to be worshipping Jesus Christ. All this shit is unnatural to me. People will be like, “Oh, you’re ignorant because you don’t speak proper English.” No. This is not mine. I don’t even want this shit, so I’m going to do whatever the fuck I want with this language. I’m going to call you a fag or a cracker or a bitch.
Are you writing about these topics in your new songs?
No, not in the songs. I get annoyed with the fact that I’m even asked to explain myself. Why do I have to explain this to y’all? My little white fans will be like, “Why do you want reparations for work you didn’t do?” Well, you got handed down your grandfather’s estate and you got to keep your grandmother’s diamonds and pearls and shit.
Haven’t you put yourself in the position of explaining yourself?
No, y’all put me in the fucking position.
You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.
But I want to talk about it!
Then keep talking about it. There aren’t enough musicians who talk about the issues you bring up.
You’re not paying attention. There are plenty of intelligent musicians. Kanye West, J. Cole, Ariel Pink, Lauryn Hill, KRS-One, Q-Tip—lots of people. I’m not special.
Do you agree there are more artists who don’t talk about it than artists who do?
Then we agree.
No, we’re not agreeing. We are absolutely not agreeing. I get upset when people are like, “Why don’t you just make music?” What would happen if I couldn’t sing? Then I’d just be another black bitch to y’all. It’s really fucking annoying. Black people need reparations for building this country, and we deserve way more fucking credit and respect.
Are your creative impulses closely related to your destructive impulses?
Yes. In my adulthood I’m having to destroy all these things society really wants you to think. The history textbooks in the U.S. are the worst if you’re not white. “The white man gave you the vote. He Christianized you and taught you how to speak English. If it weren’t for him, you’d still be living in a hut.” I could write a book about why black people shouldn’t be Christians. Young black kids should have their own special curriculum that doesn’t start from the boat ride over from Africa. All you know as a black kid is we came over here on a boat, we didn’t have anything, and we still don’t have anything. But what was happening in Africa? What culture were we pulled away from? That information is vital to the survival of a young black soul.
You said black people aren’t supposed to be Christians. What religion do you identify with?
I don’t want to say, but I’ll tell you about one form of the religion. It’s called 21 Divisions. When they brought the slaves over to the Caribbean, they syncretized all their African gods with Catholic saints. So in 21 Divisions there are black gods and goddesses, and my mother practiced that when I was little. Whenever problems happened, we turned to 21 Divisions to fix it. It’s funny, because my friends on the block in Harlem, their mothers would be like, “Oh, you fucking with that witchcraft. You working roots.” You can cleanse people with root work or do bad things to them. But 21 Divisions is celestial.
It sounds like religion is a big aspect of your life.
I don’t understand how someone could be an atheist. Think about God as software, right? If you were to look at God’s face, your head would explode. Because your head is a calculator, and the amount of information that would be embedded in his face would fit only on a Google-size data center. Your head cannot handle that much information. Stop looking for God.
What else should we talk about?
Let’s talk about sexy Playboy stuff.
Were you at all hesitant about posing for Plaboy?
No, I love getting naked. It’s so funny, every time my manager arranges a photo shoot, I’m like, “Let’s do a nude photo!” And everyone’s like, “Oh, Azealia, you’re always trying to bring your butt out.” Posing for Playboy was a no-brainer. I was like, “Yes! They want to see me naked.”
You’re bisexual. Do women hit on you often?
No, most women are scared of me. People have always been scared of me. I punched my teacher in the face one time when I was in preschool. We were playing house, and the lady was like, “I’m a monster! I’m gonna eat your family!” I punched her right in the eye. [laughs] It was a Head Start program, so I was three.
As a kid, were you pretty much the same person you are now?
Oh my God. We had journals in second grade. I went to PS 166, on 88th Street and Columbus Avenue, and we had a teacher I could not stand. The black kids got in trouble all the time. We were loud or whatever, but whenever she told a white kid to quiet down and they did, she’d be like, whatever. But if she told a black kid to quiet down and one of them sucked their teeth, she’d put them in the corner. I wrote in the journal one day, “I cannot stand this white bitch teacher. Fuck this white bitch.” She found my journal and called my mother, who was embarrassed, because my mother used to say stuff like that—“White people are of the devil. Stay away from them.” That teacher was scared of me after that.
That’s not surprising. How much sex have you had recently?
Not a lot.
You should be having lots of sex.
Right? I should be getting dick all the time. I like to fuck. [laughs] But I can’t just meet a guy and fuck him. I’m too afraid of getting herpes or some shit. I like to feel them out, and then I start talking about my black female problems, and we get into a conversation about race, and then we disagree and don’t have another date. Whatever. I’ll just hang out with my mother. It’s okay, because pussy is way more sacred than penis.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES AZEALIA BANKS PLAYBOY VIDEO
For the full nude pictorial pick up the April 2015 copy of Playboy, on newsstands Friday, March 20.