Inside Azealia Banks' Rocky Road to Releasing 'Broke With Expensive Taste'

Azealia Banks performs
Joseph Okpako/Redferns via Getty Images

Azealia Banks performs on stage at Wireless Festival at Finsbury Park on July 5, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. 

Did combative New York rapper Azealia Banks "pull a Beyoncé" when she released her long-delayed debut album, Broke With Expensive Taste, on Nov. 6 with no prior setup?

Not exactly. Where Beyoncé's midnight surprise in the iTunes Store was the result of a meticulously secretive and well-plotted campaign, Banks' was just the opposite: It was the culmination of two-plus years of nasty Twitter battles, public spats with former label Interscope and multiple management changes.

In July, the 23-year-old walked away from a lucrative deal with the house that Jimmy Iovine built, retaining the rights to her music. Two months later, she found a partnership with Jeff Kwatinetz's Prospect Park, whose management company and label are handling the release, with distribution through Caroline and Capitol Music Group.

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"We thought the best way to mend fences with the world was to release the music [without advance notice]," says Angelica Cob, who co-manages Banks at Prospect Park. "To use the traditional setup strategy didn't make sense, because it would feel like the girl who cried wolf. We had to make the strongest statement possible, and that was the music."

The plan appears to be working. Even Perez Hilton, who was engaged in a Twitter battle with Banks, told Billboard: "I'm glad that after a very tumultuous few years Azalea Banks was dropped by her label, allowing her to finally release her long-delayed debut album! And I'm even more glad she hasn't insulted my son or gotten into any major Twitter fights lately and instead people are focusing on the music, which is surprisingly good. Congrats to her!"

Those close to Banks say that while she isn't easy to work with, her brashness has, in some ways, helped her brand. "It's just that Banks doesn't listen," said Kevin Hussein, a songwriter also known as Strictly Business who has known Banks for years and who worked on 12 of the album's 16 tracks. "She's brassy and crass and she does what she wants, but more importantly, she had a vision and the label [Interscope] didn't get  it."

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Hussein's lawyer, Elliot Resnik of Shukat Arrow Hafer Weber and Herbsman in New York, said that he never thought the album would actually be released. Now that it has, he added, it has the potential to redeem her -– for now, at least.

"People used to see her as a tutorial for how to screw your career up," he said, "and she obviously has a problem controlling her emotions online, but I think people see her as more than just a provocateur. If people just saw her as a curiosity, they'd stream it on Spotify and leave it there. The proof will be in the sales pudding.

Indeed, it's too soon to call it a happy ending, but Broke With Expensive Taste debuted at No. 30 on the Nov. 22 Billboard 200. Here's a look at Banks' bumpy road to release:

SEPTEMBER 2011 Following a soured deal with XL Recordings, Banks' self-released "212" becomes a viral hit. Within months, she is performing for Karl Lagerfeld in Paris.

JANUARY 2012 Banks announces she has signed with Universal's Interscope. In eyebrow-raising interviews, she reveals her bisexuality and says she dated a 57-year-old man when she was 17.

APRIL 2012 Manager Troy Carter, at the time working with Lady Gaga, signs on to represent Banks.

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JUNE 2012 Banks parts ways with Carter amid a Twitter rant accusing him of planting false stories about her in the media. She then switches representation to her then-boyfriend, Coldplay manager Dave Holmes. The following month, she self-releases the Fantasea mixtape and tours to promote it.

JANUARY-APRIL 2013 After inciting social media battles with Hilton and Rita Ora, among others, she lashes out at rapper A$AP Rocky, insinuating that he's gay. Rumors circulate that she was dropped from Interscope as the single "Yung Rapunxel," released in March, falls flat.

SEPTEMBER 2013 Banks posts a tracklist and says her album is due in January.

JANUARY 2014 "I'm really in hell here," she tweets. "Universal needs to just hand me over to another label who knows what to do with me ... I'm tired of having to consult a group of old white guys about my black girl craft."

JULY 2014 Interscope releases Banks from her contract, and, after a legal battle, she wins the rights to her music. 

An edited version of this article first appeared in the Nov. 22 issue of Billboard.