Azealia Banks' Twitter Suspension May Be A Musical Blessing

Azealia Banks Reading Festival 2013
Joseph Okpako/Redferns via Getty Images

Azealia Banks performs on stage on Day 3 of Reading Festival 2013 at Richfield Avenue on Aug. 25, 2013 in Reading, England. 

The launch of Azealia Banks’ music career was a memorable one. The spunky video for her 2011 debut single "212" perked up industry ears: a bar-ready, potty-mouthed woman who was able to swerve in and out of rapping and singing while flaunting her Harlem-bred attitude. Banks had a diverse taste for house, dubstep, garage, and other genres (see: her 2012 EP, 1991, Fantasea mixtape and her 2014 full-length debut, Broke With Expensive Taste) and made magic with every note her voice touched.

But it’s tough to remember much of her material given Banks’ online history. Her internet squabbles with both VIP and casual tweeters showed how viral negativity could spread faster than good music, seemingly hogging more attention than her career. In her latest online controversy, which landed her a Twitter suspension on Thursday (May 12), Banks side-eyed singer Zayn Malik for possibly stealing ideas from her "Chasing Time" video for his new "Like I Would" video (she posted photos on Instagram of instances where she felt both visuals shared similar aesthetics).

After Malik tweeted several responses including "why you been saying nasty things about me? I wasn't talking about you lol?," Banks fired off a string of tweets at the former One Direction-er that included racial and homophobic slurs. On the same day, when child actress Skai Jackson said that Banks needed to "simmer down," Banks turned the vitriol toward the 14-year-old, insulting her body and accusing her mother of "pimping her out."

Azealia Banks Goes on Racist Rant Against Zayn, Gets Booted From U.K. Festival

Despite Banks' incendiary Twitter persona, she rallied a group of staunch defenders with her outspoken demeanor since her arrival. In a moving interview on Hot 97 in December 2014, Banks showed an understanding of systemic racism that moved her to tears, possibly explaining her aggressive honesty. "I feel like in this country, whenever it comes to our things, like black issues or black politics or black music or whatever, there’s always this undercurrent of kind of like a 'f--k you.' ...’Y’all don’t really own shit," she said, before speaking about cultural appropriation and centuries worth of racism. "Everybody knows the basis of modern capitalism is slave labor. There are major corporations caking off slave labor. Until y’all are ready to talk about what you owe the very f--king least, you owe me the right to my f--king identity."

Fearlessness to say whatever she wanted was part of what made her so endearing, especially when she was rallying against what the restraints of the business. She fought for her release from Interscope Records in 2014 before teaming with Prospect Park for the release of Expensive Taste. But in July 2015, she and Prospect Park split ways. While she announced that she was a "free agent," the company released a statement saying that she was no longer represented by the management team, but that she was still signed to the label. Last August, she tweeted that the label held her album under contract until February, which could explain why Slay-Z didn’t drop until this March. "Pain from the game… i guess i was so desperate to get my album out that i took a bad business deal," she soon admitted on Twitter.

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But instead of turning the odds in her favor, her life in the spotlight seemed to be in virtual disarray. Banks seemed to collect different online foes regularly, including Iggy Azalea, Perez Hilton, an associate editor at Vice, Lil Kim amid a few digs at Béyonce. Too often, her insults weren’t whimsical jokes but rather hurtful, racist and homophobic slurs, breeding a hatred that affected everyone who read them, not just those the tweets were directed at.

At this point, the cycle was like clockwork: Banks would tweet a bigoted remark, get called out for it and often unsuccessfully defend herself by bringing up pro-black messages that sometimes didn’t apply. Many of her defenders, this writer included, feel like they’ve been played -- from protecting one of our own to enabling destructive behavior from someone who took such defense for granted.

Along with the stream of slurs on her account, Banks also went after Erykah Badu in February 2015. When Badu admitted that she didn’t listen to Banks' music, Banks accused her of being jealous of her future success. "When artists grow old and begin to recognize their own mortality they throw shade at younger spirits," Banks tweeted. Coming for black music royalty like Badu only hurt the support she received from fans who thought she needed to respect her predecessors (one Twitter user offered, "@AzealiaBanks is so f---ing corny, why would @ErykahBadu be jealous of you? Check her resume,then check yours. Enough said.") 

The two artists resolved their beef publicly on Twitter, but just last month, Banks also accused Béyonce of trying to "capitalize on a national conversation" with her "Formation" video and Super Bowl performance. For every fire Banks puts out, she starts another one -- or five. And when she isn’t spewing insults, she’s spending too much time fighting with fan favorites instead of focusing on the music that deserves a place alongside them.

Azealia Banks Returns to Twitter, Delivers Download Link to Her 'Slay-Z' Mixtape

In comparison to other disputes, though, Banks' tirades against Zayn Malik, Skai Jackson, and the UK grime scene this week cost her a check: UK radio station RinseFM removed her from her headlining stint at their Born & Bred Festival. The Twitter time-out gives her the best chance to rebuild her music career with the potential she showed less than a handful of years ago. Artists use social media to help boost their careers or visibility but there is still value in silence -- especially when running to a keyboard results in losing potential fans versus gaining them.

When it comes to her next move, apologies from Banks may come across as insincere, especially when she continued to beat her chest on Instagram following the suspension. (The one she attempted right before her account was suspended also fell flat, though the hashtag #AzealiaGotSuspendedParty was born.) Ignoring the backlash wouldn't help either and could come across as inconsiderate and irresponsible. Even if Banks were to shockingly abstain from all Twitter beef for the next year, the fallout would still have her mentions loaded with angry, resentful critics reminding her of past offenses.

Perhaps, Banks’ best bet is to take the suspension as a cue for a self-imposed social media sabbatical. In a non-stop media cycle where backlash from celebrity posts may only last a few days (examples include 50 Cent and Ted Nugent), this suspension and a break from Banks' Twitter behavior may accomplish what she couldn’t do herself: returning the focus to the music.

The repercussion of Azealia Banks’ unfiltered Twitter voice may block her from receiving any plaques in the immediate future but she could still learn a lot from her public blunders. When music was all the internet had from Banks, many craved more material. If she can stay off timelines, lay low for a while and steadily deliver stellar songs, maybe she can earn fans’ trust back and bring attention back to the incredible talent that made supporters embrace her in the first place.