Azealia Banks :: Fantasea :: Winter Records
** RapReviews "Back to the Lab" series **
as reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon

[Fantasea] Last year's Azealia Banks review by Jesal reminded me that Azealia had some other releases we hadn't covered - one of which was her free "Fantasea" mixtape. Having no better excuse than "It's free - so why not?" I decided to check it out and give the RR audience my two cents on it.

Coming when and where it did, at the height of Nicki Minaj rising to mainstream fame, the comparisons between the two are inevitable and unavoidable. There's little doubt Azealia Banks is inspired by Nicki when you hear "F--- Up the Fun." She's rapping with empowered bravado of Minaj, not to mention the fast tongue dexterity, but the most surprising thing is that she seems to have Nicki's accent too. That's the one that I'm trying to wrap my head around.

I mean it's not impossible - Banks grew up in Harlem and Nicki grew up in Queens, so they should both sound New York. The difference is that Nicki was BORN in Trinidad and Tobago, so her style is often written about as though that brief chapter of her life shaped her flow. I guess what Azealia Banks is showing me is that Nicki's accent is more United States than I had previously estimated. Banks doesn't have many collaborators, but Styles P does join her for the song "Nathan."

There are so many different producers on this album/mixtape it's just about impossible to list them all, and if you suspect going in that would result in a disjointed sound... you're right. Established rappers can make a variety of soundscapes work if their personality is strong enough to own the track, but Azealia Banks was still somewhat new to the scene at this point. It feels like she's trying to hit on an oceanic theme with the Hanna-Barbera-esque mermaid on the cover and songs like "Neptune," "Atlantis" and "Aquababe" but it never coalesces together.

It seems like EPROM & Machinedrum are going for some type of industrial, futuristic neo-hip-hop sound on the latter track, but it's honestly not that pleasant to listen to. In fact there's an incredible dischord to "Fantasea" in general. It's almost like Banks realized she sounded TOO MUCH like Nicki, so she tried to differentiate herself by creating an anti-pop sound. It actually has the opposite effect - it makes me appreciate Nicki's pop sensibilities in a way I never had before. A few songs come close to making this techno trance rap work - "Chips" is tolerable, "Luxury" has a big enough bass bottom to be a club track, and the singing of "Neptune" featuring Shystie (the only other guest) is weirdly entrancing. For most of the rest of the album it feels like Azealia Banks was getting bad advice and wasn't strong enough in her own identity as an artist to turn them down. Thankfully she's matured since then.

Music Vibes: 4 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 4.5 of 10

Originally posted: September 22nd, 2015