Download Azealia Bank’s “Fantasea” here.
Azealia Banks has a flow that could rival Notorious B.I.G.
It’s a rapid fire yet easy to follow staccato that seems to fit in in almost every song. To that end, reviewing her latest mixtape proves difficult if only because of its verbal pedigree: there’s no denying that Azealia is a major, major talent in the making.
“Fantasea” has one major flaw. It’s not Azealia. It’s not the (spotty) tracklisting. It’s the production.
This starts to become more apparent on “Neptune” – one of the more hyped tracks off of the mixtape. It features a wobbly dancehall that never quite gels and an appearance by British female MC Shystie that, frankly, doesn’t add much more to the song. By the time Shystie does her part the song has already fallen apart. It seems undercooked – a word that could best describe much of the mixtape.
To get to the core of the problem we have to go back a few weeks to Azealia’s last release. On Azealia’s far superior “1991″ EP she keeps the production sparse and even. “Sparse” and “even” are nowhere to be found on “Fantasea” and when it is, it’s boring. On “Fierce” she uses the same early 90s “vogue” music leaning to a lesser extent than when she used it just a few weeks ago on “Van Vogue” from the 1991 EP.
The reason may be that Azealia’s partnering with British producer Paul Epworth (who produced much of the 1991 EP including her breakthrough single ‘212‘) is kept to a minimum here. The best moments on “Fantasea” recall that pairing while the worst moments (the fucking awful “Jumanji” – the low point not just on the mixtape but the low point of any Azealia song, period) are the sound of someone trying incredibly hard. Azealia is not a voice who should have to sound as if she’s trying very hard. She sounds her best when she doesn’t give a shit. One hopes, after listening to “Aquababe” (which we’ll get to in just a second) that she doesn’t fall into the same I-have-to-please-everybody-all-of-the-time trappings as fellow NYC female MC Nicki Minaj.
If there’s one song on here that is indicative of the whole it is “Aquababe”; replete with air horns, pitched-down backup vocals, dogs barking, cats meowing, a hi-hat that sounds too high in the mix, and enough synthesizer stabs to kill a small donkey, “Aquababe” drowns Azealia in production. It works against her in the worst way – there’s way too much going on here for her to really shine the way she does in Epworth’s production. Maybe Azealia’s team should learn from this and remember to pare down her production to what is necessary. To use a food analogy, “Fantasea” is the equivalent of a delicious steak dinner drowned in fifty different condiments.
The real surprise is tacked on right at the end and doesn’t laugh nearly as long as it should – Azealia raps over an Araabmuzik beat. Araabmuzik’s aggressive, noisy production is a perfect match for Azealia. It left me wondering: this is perfect for both of them, why didn’t they do more together?
As a whole, “Fantasea” is wildly uneven. This isn’t to say that “Fantasea” doesn’t have its moments, it’s just wildly all over the place – the clear sound of too many cooks in the kitchen. For every shitty song like “Aquababe” there’s a great cut like “Runnin’” buried here in this 19 song mixtape.
It’s not great, but it’ll tide us over until the album drops. Then again, I suppose that’s why it’s been released for free.