For the better part of the past 48 hours, 21-year-old New York rapper Azealia Banks (best known for her 2011 viral hit "212") has been holding the attention of her Twitter followers hostage. First it was a Twitter beef with fellow 21-year-old hip-hop up-and-comer Angel Haze, which resulted in a swapping of dis tracks. And then, last night, she really had people freaking out when, during a spat with Perez Hilton resulting from his #TeamAngelHaze status, she called him a "messy faggot":
Her clarification did her few favors among the sensitive set:
A faggot is not a homosexual male. A faggot is any male who acts like a female. There's a BIG difference.— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) January 5, 2013
And then more clarification:
When I said acts like I female I should've said acts like a cunt.— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) January 5, 2013
This sentiment combined with something she tweeted earlier...
@perezhilton lol your a dum dum. .... You're worse than a girl.— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) January 5, 2013
...had people saying that in addition to being a homophobe, she is also a misogynist.
Well, OK. Maybe. I'm not in her brain, so who knows? The combined arrogance and femininity she exudes suggest she isn't a self-loathing woman-hater, though. Her embrace of drag-ball culture, her open bisexuality, her utter queerness suggest that she is not a homophobe. In fact, she has proven insightful on the strength of femininity vis a vis her gay "cunts" to Rolling Stone:
I went to art school; I grew up with the cunts. And that term doesn't come from me! People think I invented it, but I didn't. To be cunty is to be feminine and to be, like, aware of yourself. Nobody's fucking with that inner strength and delicateness. The cunts, the gay men, adore that.
Friday night's instance of Azealia Banks' use of the word "faggot" is different than when some sports star or Willow Palin or Isaiah Washington did it in that it is not particularly revealing. She's done it before (last year, she tweeted that she finds that word and "nigger" "funny"). This time, it immediately struck me as an overly comfortable invocation of an epithet that is not hers to reclaim, a sign that she considers herself so down that she is allowed to say what most people are not. You think she never heard her "cunts" call each other faggots jokingly? You think never joined in? Let's not forget that a gay icon no less supreme than Madonna, who also mined drag-ball culture for material while surrounding herself with gay men, used the word "fags" a few times in Truth or Dare ("I wouldn't hire fags that hate women. I kill fags that hate women. In fact, I kill anybody that hates women.").
No one's going to confuse Madonna for an anti-gay bigot, nor should anyone Banks. Let's also take into consideration that in a post-Tyler the Creator world, where you can say "faggot" and not alienate too too many people as long as it comes with a "no homophobe" caveat, stirring shit like this behooves the young artist. Azealia Banks has released only a four-song EP and a mixtape so far, meaning that Twitter has hosted the bulk of her meaningful output (and her songs are often about nothing more than boastful wordplay). In fact, Azealia and Angel's online back-and-forth felt more like a freestyle battle than the songs it spawned. Azealia's impulsive, fascinating rawness has rendered her something of a moderately refined troll who's building her public profile from running her mouth, jumping in people's faces and tearing them down.
Azealia's Twitter targets have included fellow female rappers Kreayshawn, Iggy Azalea, Dominque Young Unique, Lil' Kim and Nicki Minaj (Complex's list was comprehensive as of August 2012). Twitter is her arena, certainly more so than the recording studio, where it is rumored that she is buckling under the pressure of having to deliver her delayed major-label debut. This point, by the way, repeatedly was mocked by Angel Haze, who calls Azealia "a Internet goon / a Twitter personality," and snorts, "Weak bitch, Interscope be paying you to sleep."
As a troll, Azealia's primary function is to speak recklessly, which is why she does things like bristle when Angel Haze mocks her skin tone (to be fair, "charcoal skinned bitch" was the lowest of the low blows in their exchange), but has no problem mocking the size of Angel's breasts. It's why an ally to gay men and a member of their larger community can use the word "faggot" as an insult. It's why her definition of the word "cunt" has elasticity. She communicates from the gut and her grab for attention leaves a sting.
None of this is to say that she should be using the word "faggot." I have a painful history with that word, in this case it didn't offend me but I cannot fault those whom it did. However, there are so many other factors at play while Azealia is on her e-stage that it seems a waste of time to launch a crusade against her when there are simply unmistakable homophobes, scared gay kids who need friends and lonely older gay people to tend to.
As careless as her communication may seem, it's possible that Azealia knows what she's doing — building a foul, brash legacy not unlike that of the first female rap superstar, Roxanne Shanté. Born Lolita Shanté Gooden, at 14 she adopted the "Roxanne" moniker so as to respond to UTFO's 1984 hit "Roxanne, Roxanne." She went on to dis virtually every other prominent female rapper through the early '90s, culminating in her magnum opus of vitriol, 1992's "Big Mama," which includes extended homophobia directed at MC Lyte ("To me a butch don't deserve a mic in hand / Somebody tell her to stop acting like a man / She needs somethin' real thick to help her out quick / (What?) And that's a good piece of dick.") One day, I saw Shanté and Lyte tweeting at each other amicably. Lyte is by several accounts glass-closeted and if so, would have every reason to hold such hate speech against her musical rival, so this surprised me. I asked if they were friends now, and Shanté tweeted back, "We always were friends just made more money being enemies shhh don't tell nobody lol."
The model has built legends. That's showbiz.
[Image via Getty]