For those of us who have followed Azealia Banks since her breakout hit “212,” by now, we know she isn’t perfect. The Harlem-born rapper and artist has shouldered her fair share of controversies and Twitter beefs over the past few years, at the same time that she has produced consistently impressive dance and hip-hop tracks. Her most recent project, Slay-Z, was a shimmery effort, if a little understated compared to her explosive 2014 debut full-length Broke With Expensive Taste. That project came with a surprise: a nod to Banks’ childhood growing up in a Dominican neighborhood of Harlem. As we reported in 2014, the bop “Gimme a Chance” included a full merengue interlude and Spanish-language verse.
Today, we’re learning more about the 26-year-old’s experience with Dominican culture. Yesterday, she posted a thoughtful note on Instagram about her first performance ever, at the tender age of 3. In the fuzzy photo, Banks appears on stage in a traditional típico dress.
This was my verrrrry first performance of my life EVER. I'm three years old in this photo. I went to a primarily Dominican Presbyterian headstart on 155th street between Amsterdam and Broadway – all my teachers were and classmates were Dominican except for me and a few other black kids, but because of my neighborhood I spent my entire childhood immersed in Dominican culture. Dominican palos music and merengue / bachata were a HUGE part of my first times ever doing anything having to do with the arts. Here's me getting my big break and cheesing so hard before my first chance to do perform ever. I remember this day sooooooo much. The outfit cost $21 dollars and I made that tissue paper flower I have in my hair in class.
In the post, Banks reminisces about attending a Head Start daycare center near the border of Washington Heights in Manhattan. “Because of my neighborhood I spent my entire childhood immersed in Dominican culture. Dominican palos music and merengue/bachata were a HUGE part of my first times ever doing anything having to do with the arts,” she wrote. “Here’s me getting my big break and cheesing so hard before my first chance to do perform ever. I remember this day sooooooo much. The outfit cost $21 dollars and I made that tissue paper flower I have in my hair in class.”
Though Banks’ affection for Dominican culture is thoughtful, her comments come with a history of complex and sometimes misguided attitudes towards Latinx communities. In 2015, the rapper voiced her support for Donald Trump’s immigration policies in a series of Instagram posts, a dangerous perspective that was rooted in flawed logic and a misunderstanding of diasporic blackness. Earlier this year, she found herself at the center of controversy again due to her comments on fellow New York rapper Cardi B. After “Bodak Yellow” soared to the top of the charts at the end of September, Banks claimed she “wanted spicy Latina” Cardi B, not “poor man’s Nicki,” as Vibe Viva’s Marjua Estevez reported.
Despite the scandals, Banks remains committed to honoring the Dominican community she grew up in. In the same XXL interview, she showed love for Cardi and explained how much she identified with the former reality TV star, who reminds her of “all the girls I grew up on the block with, all the Dominican babysitters.”
[H/T La Galería]