Azealia Banks, Zebra Katz - O2 Academy 2, Newcastle
Let’s begin with the end. Azealia Banks is onstage, wearing a purple t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Fantasea’, the title of her recent mermaid-themed July mixtape, over a bra embellished with LEDs and Swarovski crystals. As she runs a hand through her long green weave, she tilts her head ever so slightly to the left. Metaphorical Pavlov bell in hand, she struts a few paces towards the front of the tiny stage in Newcastle’s Academy 2 venue. "So, this song is probably what y’all are here for," she drawls in her languorous New York tones. There’s an impatient whoop from the crowd. They know what’s coming. Almost as soon as the words are out of her mouth it starts, the familiar drum beat intro, the steady thumping of feet as the crowd begin to bounce up and down on the wooden floor. "Hey, I can be the answer," she begins and is immediately drowned by an audience participation that continues for the next three and a half minutes as the room screams lyrics, made up lyrics, c-words, n-words, f-words, whatever falls out of their mouths.
As we arrived some hours earlier, the surrounding scene was somewhat different. There was still an air of badass-ery about the place, anyone with eyes can see the appeal of this 20-something Harlem rapper and the effect it has on the ever-absorbent young. Acclaimed feminist to some, over-hyped diva to others, her attitude precedes her, an electric current that radiates throughout each and every crowd-goer. One boy unbuttons his shirt completely, his NY snapback bobbing through the crowd as he makes his way to the bar, stumbling over a girl and treading on her feet. She glares at him, lip snarled in momentary aggression before she turns away and cackles theatrically to her friend.
Zebra Katz, aka Ojay Morgan, has already started his set. Joined onstage by fellow rapper Njena Reddd Foxxx, the two storm the stage, dancing frantically between vocal bursts, Foxxx whipping her hair with full gusto, Morgan flamboyantly bouncing up and down on his heels and lunging into the crowd. "Does anyone know where the nearest library is?" he asks. The joke is lost, fluttering to the ground somewhere between the bar, and a girl unimpressedly picking at her nails. What follows is ‘Ima Read’, a slang-ridden vocal track that has become somewhat of a queer anthem in recent months. It’s no elaborate work of art, but the simple repetitive lyrics over a darkened drum fill make it tantalizingly irresistible, and no-one complains when they play a rehashed version immediately afterwards.
DJ Cosmo warms up the speakers pre-Azealia, playing everything from ‘Crazy in Love’, to Julio Bashmore, to 90s classic Deee Lite’s ‘Groove Is In The Heart’, before The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’ fades in and all of a sudden she appears, wearing a huge pearly white grin, thrusting her petite figure around with wild, yet commanding sexual abandon. The tracks come thick and fast, all backed by house-loops and R&B patterns, prefaced by fleeting footnotes: "this is a song I wrote when I was 18", "this is one of my favourite songs I’ve written this year." It’s hard to believe this woman is still to release a debut album, yet has graced the covers of a plethora of pop culture magazines, provided muse for fashion designers and even had full blown Twitter beef with Lil Kim. All the same, it's difficult to register the fact that just over a year ago, barely anyone knew who she was. The ‘212’ crescendo arrives and you feel like you’ve only been watching for five minutes. A quick, last chorus glance to your watch, and she’s gone, not even a sequin nor feather left behind.
Photo by Mike Gray taken in Liverpool.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 07:33:50