Azealia Amanda Banks (/əˈziːliə/; born May 31, 1991) is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, and actress. Raised in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, she began releasing music through Myspace in 2008 before being signed to XL Recordings at age 18. In 2011, her debut single "212" went viral and entered several international charts. Banks subsequently signed with Interscope and Polydor Records before later separating in July 2013. Banks ultimately became an independent artist and started her own independent record label, Chaos & Glory Recordings, after multiple negative experiences with previous labels.
Azealia Amanda Banks was born on May 31, 1991, in New York City's Manhattan borough; she was the youngest of three girls. Her single mother raised her and two older sisters in Harlem, after their father died of pancreatic cancer when she was two years old. Following her father's death, Banks says that her mother "became really abusive—physically and verbally. Like she would hit me and my sisters with baseball bats, bang our heads up against walls, and she would always tell me I was ugly. I remember once she threw out all the food in the fridge, just so we wouldn't have anything to eat." Due to escalating violence, Banks moved out of her mother's home at age 14 to live with her older sister.
Under the moniker Miss Bank$, she released her debut recording, "Gimme a Chance", online on November 9, 2008. The recording was accompanied by the self-produced track "Seventeen", which sampled the Ladytron song of the same name. Banks sent both tracks to American DJ Diplo. Later that year, she signed a development deal with record label XL Recordings and began working with producer Richard Russell in London, leaving the label later that year due to conflicting ideas.
In September 2011, Banks released her debut single, "212", as a free digital download from her website. It was released officially on December 6, 2011, as the lead single from her EP 1991. The track attained European moderate chart success, peaking at #14 in the Netherlands, #12 in the United Kingdom and #7 in Ireland.
Though unsigned at the time, Banks began working with British producer Paul Epworth on a debut studio album. It was announced in December 2011 that she would feature on "Shady Love", a track on American band Scissor Sisters' fourth studio album, Magic Hour, though the feature was uncredited. An accompanying music video was released in January 2012 following its radio premiere from Annie Mac (BBC Radio 1) on January 4, though the single's release was canceled for unconfirmed reasons. Banks released the track "NEEDSUMLUV (SXLND)" on the Internet on January 16, 2012, coinciding with what would have been the 33rd birthday of the late singer Aaliyah, who is sampled on the track. A week later saw the emergence of a second track, "Bambi", produced by Paul Epworth and selected as the soundtrack for a Thierry Mugler fashion show in Paris.
Banks has released three mixtapes (Fantasea in 2012, Slay-Z in 2016, and Yung Rapunxel: Pt.II in 2019), one studio album (Broke with Expensive Taste in 2014), and two extended plays (1991 in 2012 and Icy Colors Change in 2018). Her long-delayed second and third studio albums, Fantasea II: The Second Wave and Business & Pleasure, await release. The lead singles from each respective album, "Anna Wintour" and "Black Madonna" were released in April 2018 and June 2020 respectively.
Early in 2012, Banks revealed that her debut album would be called Broke with Expensive Taste, and said the album would include contributions from musicians including Toko Yasuda, Theophilus London, Kevin Hussein, and Ariel Pink. She initially said the album's lead single would be a track titled "Miss Amor" and that it would be accompanied by a B-side, "Miss Camaraderie", both produced by Lone, but these plans changed: in January 2013 she announced that the first official single from the album would be "Yung Rapunxel", which was released in March 2013 through SoundCloud.
Throughout the first quarter of 2020, Banks debuted her podcast Cheapy's Two Cents and released multiple promotional singles, including "Slow Hands", an Interpol cover previously uploaded in 2012, as well as "Salchichón" being produced by frequent collaborator Onyx. Additionally, Banks released multiple tracks exclusively on her SoundCloud, such as "Diamond Nova", which previously stood as the B-Side to her 2013 single "ATM Jam", featuring and produced by Pharrell, as well as the Spanglish single, "Nirvana".
In May 2012, Banks announced plans to release a mixtape—originally titled Fantastic—titled Fantasea. Preceding its release the tracks "Jumanji", "Aquababe", and "Nathan" (featuring rapper Styles P) were made available online. Fantasea was released via Banks' Twitter account on July 11, and was succeeded by the unveiling of Banks' online radio project, Kunt.FM the following week.
Banks was scheduled to release her second single, "Esta Noche", from Fantasea, on September 25, 2012, but it was pulled the day of its release due to sampling disputes between Banks and its producer, Munchi. The next month, it was confirmed that Banks had worked with Lady Gaga on two tracks, "Ratchet" and "Red Flame", on Gaga's third studio album, Artpop (2013), but they did not make the final album cut, and have since not been released. Banks also revealed that she collaborated with Kanye West on G.O.O.D. Music's compilation album Cruel Summer but that her contributions did not make the final cut. On December 31, 2012, Banks released "BBD", which ultimately appeared on her debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste.
Banks's first EP, 1991, was released in the UK on May 28 and in the US the next day. The 4-track EP, which includes 212, was not eligible for the UK Albums chart, but the title track charted at #79 on the UK Singles chart. It also reached #133 on the US 200, while reaching #17 on the US R&B/Hip-Hop chart, #12 on the US Rap chart, and headin' US Heat chart. In 2013, 1991 was certified gold by the Australian Recording Industry Association.
On December 16, 2019, Banks released the promotional singles "Count Contessa" and "Pyrex Princess" on various streaming platforms. Pyrex Princess is a song from Business and Pleasure, previously released on August 22, 2018, before being taken down. Count Contessa, a song for Fantasea II: The Second Wave was previously published on SoundCloud in 2013. A music video for "Count Contessa", directed by Rony Alwin and shot in Bali, Indonesia, was previously released on December 8, 2015.
In May 2013, Banks announced that the second single from Broke with Expensive Taste would be "ATM Jam", featuring Pharrell. On June 29, she debuted the song at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival, with New York City radio station Hot 97 premiering a clean, shortened version of the studio recording three days later. On July 11, the full studio version of "ATM Jam" was released on BBC Radio 1, and it was released for digital download on August 30. Banks confirmed in November 2013 that "ATM Jam" would not appear on Broke with Expensive Taste due to negative fan feedback and personal disinterest regarding the song.
Banks announced in mid-July that after a long battle, she had parted ways with Universal Music Group. She reportedly has possession and the rights to the work she released with Interscope. On July 28, 2014, Banks released the official second single from Broke with Expensive Taste, titled "Heavy Metal and Reflective", on her own label, Azealia Banks Records.
Banks surprise-released Broke with Expensive Taste under Prospect Park on iTunes on November 7, 2014. The physical album was released on March 3, 2015. In 2015, Banks performed at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival and posed nude for the April issue of Playboy, shot by Ellen von Unwerth. In late 2015, Banks revealed that she was unable to release new music until March 2016, due to the separation from her label, Prospect Park, but as of February 2016 she was officially cleared of her contract and able to release new music.
Banks is known for publicly speaking out on African-American civil rights issues, with a commentator at Splice Today describing Banks as having "that hot New York temper where she will pop off if you cross her the wrong way". In December 2014 she called for over $100 trillion to be paid to African Americans as financial reparations for the enslavement of their ancestors, citing U.S. reparations to Native American communities and the German reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust as a precedent. Using Twitter, she urged young African Americans to take an interest in such issues, adding that "We are the children of the people who perished in the name of modern capitalism and we deserve a piece of that fucking pie." She added that reparations could be used to improve educational prospects for black Americans.
It was announced in 2015 that Banks would make her acting debut as the main character in the RZA-directed musical drama film Coco (now known as Love Beats Rhymes). The film was officially released on December 1, 2017.
On September 22, 2015, Banks became involved in a confrontation with a fellow passenger and the flight crew while attempting to exit a Delta Air Lines flight that had just landed in Los Angeles. According to witnesses, Banks was attempting to squeeze past other passengers to disembark the plane more quickly, when a French man blocked her path. Banks reacted by spitting in the man's face, punching him, and clawing at his shirt. Subsequently, a flight attendant stepped in and demanded that Banks calm down. This resulted in Banks forcefully arguing with the flight attendant, in which she at one point called the Delta employee a "fucking faggot". On November 10, 2015, it was reported Banks was under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department following an altercation involving the rapper and a security guard at L.A. club Break Room 86. Later that year, Banks was arrested in New York after attacking a female security guard.
In 2016, Banks took to Twitter to express her endorsement of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, clarifying that "I have no hope for America...I think Donald Trump is evil like America is evil and in order for America to keep up with itself it needs him...politicians are inherently evil, I trust the one who is most transparent." After Trump won the presidency, Banks posted "He is my fucking hero right now. I am elated." Banks retracted her endorsement of Trump in October 2016, posting on Facebook, "I made a major mistake endorsing toupey-toupee. Women's rights are important and we must protect them."
On January 31, 2018, Banks announced that she had signed a $1 million record deal with Entertainment One. On March 9, 2018, she released "Movin' On Up" to iTunes and other streaming platforms as the 2nd promotional single from Fantasea II: The Second Wave. The song was previously featured in the 2017 film Love Beats Rhymes which Banks starred in. In March 2018, she announced that the first official single from her forthcoming album would be "Anna Wintour". It was released on April 6, 2018, and the official music video for the single was released on May 24, 2018. On July 6, a second single, "Treasure Island", was released. In November, Banks announced on her Instagram account that she would release the Christmas-themed EP Icy Colors Change on December 7. A demo of the title track was released in December 2017. The project was released on December 19 after several delays, with a promotional single, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?", released on December 13. Another promotional single from Fantasea II: The Second Wave, "Playhouse", was released exclusively on SoundCloud on April 12, 2019. Banks first teased the track back in 2016 by playing the entire song on the live streaming app, Periscope.
In February 2016, Banks released the single, "The Big Big Beat", with its official video uploaded to Vevo in April. The song would serve as the lead single to Banks' second mixtape, Slay-Z, which was released on March 24, 2016. In July 2017, Slay-Z was reissued to iTunes, Spotify, and other online music stores under her independent record label, Chaos & Glory Recordings. The re-issue would include the Lunice collaboration, "Crown", which was released as the project's sole bonus track.
In March 2016, Sarah Palin threatened a lawsuit against Banks in response to a series of tweets where she attacked the politician, calling for "the biggest burliest blackest negroes" to "run a train on her", and for someone to "film it and put it on WorldStar." Banks later apologized and said that her outburst was a result of her mistaking a fictional interview with Palin as a real event. In the fictional interview, Palin is quoted as saying "Negroes loved being slaves."
In May 2016, Banks was dropped by her UK booking agency and removed from headlining the grime and hip-hop festival Born & Bred following racist and homophobic tweets to Zayn Malik. Her Twitter account was also blocked after a succession of tweets directed at Malik.
In July 2016, Banks admitted to lightening her skin due to skin blemishes from her birth control and defended the process of skin bleaching.
In October 2016, Banks attended a party hosted by Russell Crowe as a guest of RZA. She filed a police report against Crowe, claiming that he choked her, spat on her, and called her a nigger. RZA later said that Banks instigated the incident, and denied hearing Crowe call her a nigger. A year after the incident, RZA said that Crowe did spit toward Banks.
In December 2016, Banks posted a series of videos on Instagram detailing her cleanup of a closet in her apartment where she claims to have been practicing witchcraft. She admitted to practicing "three years worth of brujeria”. The video appears to show dried blood, feathers, and the carrion of dead chickens. She was criticized on Twitter by the artist Sia, who stated that "sacrificing animals for your gain is the wackest shit I've ever heard. Get ahead by being awesome, kind and working hard." Banks responded to Sia with a series of tweets stating "your ugly pasty dry white lady winter skin face is the ugliest face I've ever seen, that must be why you hide it all the time. Have some fucking respect for my fucking traditional African religion, you pompous white bitch." The post was later deleted.
In December 2016, Banks posted that she had a miscarriage and that she was "pretty taken aback by it all." She went on to ask her fans for advice and support, posting, "Has anyone else had this same experience who cares to share some words of wisdom or words of anything regarding this topic?"
Banks announced that her next project will be Fantasea II: The Second Wave, a follow-up to 2012 mixtape Fantasea. On June 5, 2017, Banks released the song "Chi Chi" intended to be the lead single from Business & Pleasure, however, it was later demoted to a stand-alone single. On June 26, 2017, Banks released the promotional single, "Escapades", from the upcoming album Fantasea II: The Second Wave. After a yearlong hiatus from touring, Banks returned to New York City to embark on a North American tour with 20 dates across the U.S. and Canada. The tour began on October 4 in Chicago and concluded on October 31 in San Francisco. Banks also performed across Europe in a handful of shows during 2017.
In early 2017, Banks launched her online store, CheapyXO. The site sells spiritual items, artist merchandise from Banks and most notably, original skin-care products. In December 2017, she had her film debut in the musical drama Love Beats Rhymes, receiving positive reviews for her performance as the lead actress in the film.
In October 2018, Banks tweeted a series of insults towards singer Lana Del Rey, in response to Del Rey calling out fellow rapper Kanye West over his support for Donald Trump. Banks said Del Rey was "THE enemy", and that she needed to "mind her business". Del Rey responded by saying "u know the addy. Pull up anytime. Say it to my face. But if I were you- I wouldn't", and "I won't not fuck you the fuck up. Period." Banks responded by calling Del Rey a "cokehead Oxycodone turnaround", and threatening to sue her for threatening to assault her. Lana refuted this by saying that she wasn't threatening to beat her up, she was promising to beat her up. However, no legal battles ensued, and all of Banks's tweets have been deleted. In December 2020, Banks reignited this feud by insulting Del Rey on her Instagram story, calling her a "brick house", a "big bitch", and "the hamburgler", telling Del Rey she needs to "stay out of 7-Eleven", and urged someone to “get this bitch a waist trainer.”
Banks would later separate from eOne Music in 2019. Consequently, Banks announced in May of that year that she had been working on a project called Yung Rapunxel: Pt. II. The title references Banks' debut single off Broke with Expensive Taste called "Yung Rapunxel". It was released through SoundCloud on September 11, 2019 before later being taken down. Banks would cover Elle Russia in November 2019.
In January 2019, Banks made a wordplay of the Irish airline Aer Lingus, calling it "Air Cunnilingus", and had to leave the plane due to an altercation with an air stewardess in January 2019, after calling her "fucking ugly" on Instagram. Banks also labelled Irish people "inbred" and referred to them as "leprechauns," adding "most of you can't talk or write." She also mocked the Great Famine on Instagram by asking a follower; "don't you have a famine to go die in?" The following day, she said she would dedicate her Dublin show to "beautiful Irish women."
In August 2019, Banks commented on Instagram after performing in Sweden: "I would really love to see someone bomb the shit out of this place, LMFAO. Give y'all white asses something to fucking cry about. Ugly blonde pigs you Swedes are." On the Scandinavian Airlines flight back to L.A. from Stockholm she accused the staff of racist assault. The airline denies this and claims that Banks was displaying erratic behavior and that they had contacted law enforcement at the destination to escort her off the plane.
In October 2019, Banks announced that during tours in the former Soviet Union, she will perform under the name Azilka (Russian: Азилька).
In early 2017, Banks launched her online store, CheapyXO. The site features artist merchandise from Banks as well as original skin care products. The site also includes “CheapyXO Radio” which links to a playlist curated by Banks herself. Banks would later relaunch the site in 2020 to include her podcast, Cheapy’s Two Cents, as well as, “Botantica XO”, which is composed of spiritual items.
On June 9, 2020, Banks released the lead single from her upcoming album Business & Pleasure titled “Black Madonna" featuring producer Lex Luger. On December 23, 2020, Banks released the promotional single "Mamma Mia" on all platforms, where it was previously released on her SoundCloud account since April 2020. Banks released the second single from Business & Pleasure titled "Six Flags" featuring Slim Dollars on January 7, 2021. The song was previously premiered two days earlier on Joe Budden's podcast.
On 8 August 2020, Banks announced that she intends to end her life through euthanasia, and document the process on a film.
In January 2021, Banks posted graphic videos to her Instagram story documenting her digging up and cooking her deceased cat. Her cat named Lucifer died three months prior to the Instagram videos. She received immense backlash on Twitter and TikTok.