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Banks was born in 1991. Her mother raised her and two older sisters in Harlem, after their father died when she was two years old. At a young age she became interested in musical theater, acting, and singing. Aged ten, she began performing in off-Broadway musicals with the Tada! Youth Theater in Lower Manhattan. She had lead roles in three productions (Rabbit Sense, Sleepover, and Heroes) in addition to performing as a soloist. Banks was trained in the performing arts at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. At the age of sixteen, Banks starred in a production of the comedy-noir musical City of Angels. She never finished high school, instead choosing to follow her dream of becoming a recording artist.
We grew up in the hood, but we had some money. But I moved out when I was 14 to go live with my older sister, because my mom just had, well… issues. After my dad died, my mom 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. It was like growing up a feral child, being raised by this person who was always yelling and screaming, hitting you and dragging you around and shit. Granted, she never had any drug or drinking problems – her house was clean, her hair was always done, and we had stuff – but she still fucked me up real bad.
– Banks talking of her childhood.
2009-10: Career beginnings
Under the moniker ‘Miss Bank$’, she released her debut recording “Gimme a Chance” onto the internet in February 2009. The recording was accompanied by “Seventeen”, a track produced by American DJ Diplo which sampled the Ladytron song of the same name. Later that year, Banks signed to record label XL Records and began working with producer Richard Russell; leaving the label later that year due to conflicting ideas.
2011-present: 1991, Fantasea and Broke with Expensive Taste
Following her departure from XL Recordings, Banks left behind the ‘Miss Bank$’ moniker and formally became Azealia Banks, which preceded a move to Montreal. Using YouTube as a portal, Banks uploaded several demo tracks – including “L8R” and a cover of “Slow Hands” by Interpol. In September 2011, Banks released her debut single “212″ as a free digital download from her website, which was subsequently released officially on December 6, 2011 as the lead single from one of Banks’ future releases. The track attained European chart success, peaking at number seventeen in Netherlands, number twelve in the United Kingdom and at number seven 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 Banks would feature on “Shady Love”, a track from American band Scissor Sisters’ fourth studio album, though the feature would remain uncredited. An accompanying music video was released in January 2012 following its radio première from Annie Mac (BBC Radio 1) on January 4, though the release of the single was cancelled for unconfirmed reasons. January 16, 2012 saw Banks release the track “NEEDSUMLUV (SXLND)” on the Internet, coinciding with what would have been the thirty-third birthday of the late singer Aaliyah, who is sampled on the track. A week later saw the emergence of a second track entitled “Bambi”, which having been produced by Paul Epworth, had been selected as the soundtrack for a Mugler fashion show in Paris. It was then in February that Banks revealed the tentative title of her upcoming debut album, Broke with Expensive Taste.
In May 2012, Banks announced plans to release a mixtape—originally titled Fantastic—entitled Fantasea. Preceding its release was the track “Jumanji”, released online on May 11. A second track from the mixtape, “Aquababe”, was made available online on June 13, while the third, “Nathan”—featuring rapper Styles P—was made available online on June 30. 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’ first extended play, 1991, was released in the United Kingdom on May 28 and in the United States the following day.The four-track play, of which “212″ featured, was not eligible for the UK Albums Chart, but the title track charted at number seventy nine on the UK Singles Chart and number one hundred and thirty-three on the Billboard 200. Having originally announced in January 2012 that filming for the “Liquorice” music video had begun in Paris, France with Lady Gaga stylist Nicola Formichetti, Banks proceeded to re-shoot the video with Rankin joining her as the video’s director. The final edition was released online on June 14.
Banks schedulded to release her second single “Esta Noche” on 25th September 2012, but was then pushed back to a undicsclosed date due to disputes between Banks and producer Munchi.