New York City rapper Azealia Banks‘ 2012 song “212” is brilliant.
Let’s leave aside the music, a brilliantly skronky track by one Lazy Jay that’s itself an achievement. Banks’ astonishingly adept delivery in multiple voices (sung, rapped) of her wonderfully complex and alternatively clever and crude lyrics–see Rapgenius.com’s detailed line-by-line analysis of “212”–makes the song one I keep revisiting. Banks is on the verge of becoming a superstar; certainly Lana del Rey and Lady Gaga, both of whom have collaborated with Banks on tracks, recognize it. I hear the song on radio in Toronto, though with certain of choicer words bleeped out. (The staccato delivery of Banks’ “cunt” helps make the song, I think.)
“212” is one of the queerest songs I’ve heard. Banks herself, as Xtra!‘s Lisa Foad noted, is out as bisexual.
It was in February that Banks breezily came out during an interview with John Ortved, of The New York Times. Ortved positioned the queer reveal in relation to “212” – in which Banks taunts a male rival with the fact that his girlfriend would rather be fucking Banks: “Kick it with ya bitch who come from Parisian / She know where I get mine from, and the season / Now she wanna lick my plum in the evening / And fit that ton-tongue d-deep in / I guess that cunt gettin’ eaten.”
Wrote Ortved, “Ms. Banks considers herself bisexual, but, she said: ‘I’m not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don’t live on other people’s terms.’”
Critics and fans were left goggle-eyed by her revelation. Suddenly, Banks’s name came with a built-in hashtag (#bisexual), “is-she-or-isn’t-she” inquiry (Banks was dating a boy), and the notion of “conundrum” (her sexuality as both riddle and dilemma).
Even now, there’s a gap in how Banks’s sexuality is understood. Her queer sensibility has been called “innovative” – but it’s also been misread as “hag mode.”
This inability to understand bisexuality is, as Huffington Post’s Amy Andre points out, in part due to the “monosexual” eye with which we’re “train[ed]” to understand sexuality.
“Monosexuality,” says Andre, “conflates the idea of being and doing” – who someone does becomes who someone is (same-sex couplings = homo; opposite-sex couplings = straight). Within this paradigm, bisexuality is rendered invisible and, therefore, invalid.
Witness the oddity, notes Andre, in “describ[ing Banks] as someone who ‘considers herself’ bisexual, rather than just as someone who is bisexual.” Indeed, this phrasing suggests Banks’s claim to bisexuality is speculative, inconclusive and to that end, debatable.
A recent Bitch Magazine article by Lindsay Zoladz notes Banks’ usage of “cunt” as a landmark for its particularly queer contexts.
Banks is right: For at least two decades, in the queer subculture centered around voguing, drag houses, and ball culture, “cunt” (and its variant, “kunt”) has been used as a slang term meant to describe something beautiful, delicate, and soft. Recently, underground rappers like Cakes Da Killa and Antonio Blair have begun to use “cunt”/“kunt” to describe the music they make: a gritty-yet-glossy, sexually charged microgenre of queer rap. (A search on Soundcloud for tracks tagged “kunt” yields more than 500 unique results.) In music and in life, queering “cunt” expands and redefines the word’s meaning once again—it becomes an embrace of the liberating notion that one needn’t have a biological cunt to be feminine or female. Banks has repeatedly noted ball culture’s influence on her music and style, which means that the most famous lines of “212” showcase a young artist not responding to the word’s derogatory meaning so much as sidestepping it completely; “212” is perhaps the first example of the queer definition of “cunt” going mainstream.
I like it that this song is a global hit, opening up Banks’ career and spawning a video that has received over 36 million views. I like this mainstreaming of queer content and culture.