“They’ll forget your name soon,” Azealia Banks warns haters in her breakout Internet smash, “212.” Banks herself shouldn’t worry about fading from pop-culture memory anytime soon. The 20-year-old New Yorker has proven to be one of music’s most intriguing new shape-shifters since she started posting songs and videos online a few years ago. Fast-forward to today, and her cheeky black-and-white video for “212” has amassed more than three million-plus YouTube hits. What’s fresh about Banks is how she combines audacious charisma with lyrical naughtiness and genre hop-scotching: Over ultrafuturistic dance grooves, she sings like a bird (check out her glistening cover of Interpol’s “Slow Hands”) and spits rhymes like a sexpot (“I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten” goes the unforgettable hook of “212”), forging an irrepressible persona in the process. “The beats are like scripts, and the raps are my monologue,” says Banks, who studied musical theater before she took to the mike. Her frankness also makes for good copy: Her shots at newcomer Kreayshawn made their way around the Web in January, and she’s also voiced her opinions about Nicki Minaj, a fellow outspoken female MC, and graduate of New York’s LaGuardia High School (known to most as the setting for the movie Fame ). “I don’t want to talk about Nicki Minaj anymore,” Banks groans. “At this point, I’m being scrutinized for everything.” Understandably, Banks doesn’t want anything to mitigate her speedy trajectory. She’s already collaborated with Paul Epworth—hitmaker for the likes of Adele and Florence + the Machine—and signed a major-label deal with Universal, which will release her debut album this fall. Karl Lagerfeld even invited her to perform at his home in Paris at a gala celebrating the launch of his new line, Karl. It’s all been quite a journey for Banks, whose current jet-set lifestyle belies her hardscrabble beginnings: Her father died when she was 2, and she was raised in Harlem by her mother. “Nowadays when I walk around, I get noticed, which is kind of weird,” Banks says. “It’s really just starting to hit me. For me, a 20-year-old girl from Harlem, it’s like . . . What?”
Photo: AZEALIA BANKS IN LONDON, JANUARY 2012. TOP: TOPSHOP UNIQUE. JEANS: GAP. UNDERWEAR: DANIELLE SCUTT. HAT: JIL SANDER. EARRINGS: STYLIST’S OWN. NECKLACE (FROM SUSAN CAPLAN VINTAGE): CHANEL. CHOKER: MAISON MARTIN MARGIELA. RINGS: FREEDOM FOR TOP SHOP. COSMETICS: NARS COSMETICS, INCLUDING LAGUNA BODY ILLUMINATOR, SHEER GLOW FOUNDATION, EYELINER STYLO IN NUITS BLANCHES, GLITTER PENCIL, AND LIP LACQUER IN HOT WIRED. STYLING: ROBBIE SPENCER. HAIR: NAOKI KOMIYA/ JULIAN WATSON AGENCY. MAKEUP: JANEEN WITHERSPOON FOR NARS/JULIAN WATSON AGENCY. HAIR ASSISTANT: VICTORIA HUTCHINSON. STYLIST ASSISTANT: ELIZABETH FRASER-BELL. SPECIAL THANKS: HOXTON STREET STUDIOS.