The unwarranted skepticism and unhealthy expectation that accompanies being labeled the hope of any given year has a terrible tendency to stunt the growth of an otherwise confident artist. By the end of 2011 James Blake was a broken man, relieved to be passing the mantle to a new crop of hopefuls, he felt the need to humbly thank a sold out crowd at the HMV Forum for sticking with him after a year of near constant derision.
If the presumption of greatness is a soul-sapping burden to bare then Azealia Banks certainly showed no signs of trepidation as she bounced on stage in front of wonderfully diverse sold out crowd at London’s Heaven. Perhaps the experience of being dropped by her record label (XL) before releasing a single single has taught Banks to the savour the moment, but tonight’s set feels as much like a victory lap as it does a coming out party.
Free candy floss, confetti streamers, and a mix of Basement Jaxx’s “Romeo” and the Prodigy’s “Out Of Space” announce Banks’ arrival, but rather than diving into a party jam she starts proceedings with the harder rhymes of “Grand Scam” and “Barbie Shit”. The tone set, Banks fires out her fastest and most intricate rhymes, pausing sporadically for crowd interaction as she rolls towards a savagely brutal reading of “Runnin’”. Banks may be playful in her Asian satin dresses but any remaining concerns about this art school kid’s credentials should be answered as she viciously snarls her way towards “Running’s” frantic finale: “Fuck feeding these niggas, you bitches breeding these niggas, I get the beats from these niggas, and hit the streets with these niggas, ya trying to sleep with these niggas, I’m trying to eat with these niggas”.
Point proved, Azealia is happy to co-ordinate the party the crowd clearly came for, dropping a few bars of “Valerie” before getting everyone bouncing to “The Chill$” and grinding with “Liquorice”. “212” is introduced with a touching acappella sing along before the bass drops and the crowd go suitably bananas. Balloons drop from the ceiling, and the crowd is almost too busy with their impromptu volleyball game to notice the deep grooves of subliminal set closer “L8r”.
It’s hard to fault a breezy thirty-minute set that showcased both Banks hardcore credentials and her commercial party starting potential, but if a scathing critical backlash is lurking right around the corner, Azealia is too busy enjoying the moment to bother batting an eyelid. David Hayter