Azealia Banks delivered a career-boosting, drama-free set during her afternoon slot at Coachella on Friday. The Harlem rapper, who’s become known more for her online spats and controversy-stirring comments than her music, gave what could be her most electrifying performance to date. Keeping banter to an altogether minimum, the 23-year-old fire-starter stuck to what she does best: delivering an eclectic, thought-provoking showcase of cuts from her debut LP, Broke With Expensive Taste, and 1991 EP. Dressed in a flowing white crop top with denim shorts and heels, she riveted the crowd in Indio, Calif., which swelled as her near-45-minute set sustained its peak and hit few lows.
Flanked by two backup dancers and a live band, Banks kickstarted the show with “Idle Delilah,” running through album cuts and fan faves. “Coachella, make some mothaf—in’ noise!” she said, pausing to address the audience at the main stage. “I’m so happy to be back.” Banks proceeded to rip through singles “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” “Ice Princess” and “Chasing Time.” But what the show proved is that apart from all the drama — something she exasperatedly moans she’s “tired” of on “Yung Rapunxel,” during which she barked through a megaphone — Banks is a true musician. Few of the other acts during the Friday performances bent the boundaries between rap and a litany of other genres, from witch-hop to surf-pop, with the same unflinching confidence and actualized artistry. If Banks had anything to prove, she didn’t need to, and she knew it.
“I’m not here to be your idol,” she said, “because I’m probably going to do some f—ed-up shit.” That same attitude is what made the show so exciting. Only, she was at her best — mainly because she left her issues offstage. Even so, it’s hard to separate the art from the artist, and it’s impossible not to feel somewhat apprehensive about Banks. A truly divisive character, she’s so rightly confident in her music that it’s easy to push it aside and judge her solely on actions alone. But in an industry where male artists like Kanye West are lionized for being as outspoken, Banks gets the short straw. It’s unfairly clear that she’s marginalized because of her gender, something she’s personally bemoaned, and she has to work harder than any of her peers to get the respect she admittedly deserves.
And if anything, her Coachella set — for those in attendance, at least — proved her worth. Hip Hop needs Azealia Banks. After a clunky rendition of Nude Beach a Go-Go, a confounding inclusion on her album and her performances, she left with the sparky 212, the tongue-twisting anthem that put her on the map. The crowd went wild — more than for anyone at the festival so far. Banks surely has her issues, but she reaches full potential when she lets them go.