Azealia Banks and the Harlem Shake

Azealia Banks, openly bisexual hip hop artist, is in the forefront of queer media outlets today. You might know her through her infamous song, 212, or even from the heated feud between openly gay celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton, where she called him a “faggot.” Once again, she used Twitter to homophobically slander Perez Hilton and diss Brooklyn-based music producer, Harry Rodrigues, better known as Baauer. Why? Banks (actually from Harlem) released a freestyle over Baauer’s Harlem Shake on Youtube. He responded by getting it removed. The war ignited and moved onto Twitter. (Note: the Harlem Shake is a new Youtube sensation where a group of people erratically dance to the song. 4,000 videos of it are posted a day.)

Her response was calling him a “pussy” and that he didn’t belong in hip hop. Due to Perez Hilton’s prior tension with Azealia, he stepped in defending Baauer. From there, Azealia once again called him a “faggot.”

She later defending her usage of faggot:

“Here we go again. Everyone pretending to be so shocked and moved by the word faggot… It’s like society is so bored with      itself it needs to hold on to these outdated rules of what you can say and cannot say… Why has society accepted “ni**er” As a colloquialism … But will not accept “faggot”? Everyones always acting like its f**king 1905 in this bitch. What is your definition of the word faggot? Faggot means coward, liar, backstabber…… Energy stealer, blood sucker. Perez tries to get every gay person all riled up when the only faggot I see …….. is him. It’s really time for a cultural shift. All these leftover old world social themes we’re all still trying to hold on to are BOOORRIIING”  (Source)

Baauer has yet to respond.

There are many issues to tackle from this exchange of disses. First starting with where the Harlem Shake really comes from. The Harlem Shake was popularized in hip-hop over 30 years ago. Starting in 1981, Al B used to do this dance at the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem. (The Root) In 2003, Al B was interviewed by Inside Hoops and was questioned about the Harlem Shake. He made claims that it was Egyptian, however the interview was rather incomprehensible.

“It was a drunken dance, you know, from the mummies, in the tombs. That’s what the mummies used to do. They was all wrapped up and taped up. So they couldn’t really move, all they could do was shake.”

It is also possible that the dance actually originated from the Ethiopian dance, Eskista.

Why is Bauuer’s track called “Harlem Shake”? He samples Plastic LIttle’s Miller Time with the line, “And if you bring a forty bottle to battle me/I’ll just punch you in the face/ then do the Harlem shake.”

The discourse on white appropriation over the hip-hop industry needs to be had, as this song has already reached iTunes charts at #2, right behind Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” (Macklemore has confronted entering the hip-hop space as a white man through “White Privilege”).

@youngsinick comments:

Another issue with this Twitter confrontation derives from the deeply rooted racial and gender presentation exclusivity of the LGBTQ movement. Azealia Banks has been a symbol of QWOC (queer women of color), whether she recognizes it or not. Her musical influences come from Ball culture, a counterculture phenomena in Harlem in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s for black drag queens. Hardly any queer women, let alone women, have access to mainstream hip-hop. That being said, she has become a icon. The altercation between Perez Hilton and Azealia Banks cannot be looked at without identifying their backgrounds. Perez Hilton makes his money exposing celebrities’ lives, often using destructive tactics. (A few years ago, Hilton called Will.I.am a “faggot” igniting the Black Eyed Pea’s tour manager to punch the celebrity blogger.) He is a white gay cis-male, with significantly more privilege than Azealia.

Edward Ndopu of Crunch Feminist Collective commented:

“White gay cis men have cultural access to the bodies of black women and black femmes, cultural access that black women and black femmes do not have in relation to white gay cis male bodies. This cultural access allows white gay cis men to caricature black femininities, through mannerisms and voice intonations, as rambunctiously depraved and outlandish. It is a form of ontological mockery that reinforces dehumanizing narratives and racist tropes about black femininities.”

Edward Ndopu eloquently challenges the power dynamics of white gay cis-men and QWOC; the former receives significantly more media representation (however often with stereotypical and clichéd storylines) and are the image of the marriage equality movement. There lacks a battle between the two groups, mostly because they cannot fight on the same field. Whiteness and maleness due to social constructions carries privilege that is inaccessible to anyone else but themselves. Edward stated,

“Although Azealia Banks is queer, she is not part of a population that would have this slur used against her. That being said, there are other words that are deeply entrenched manifestations of oppression that go unchecked each and every day.”

Don’t get me wrong, calling anyone a faggot has serious ramifications. In no way do I encourage the usage of homophobic slurs. It diminishes a non-heterosexual person’s experiences. However when observing these celebrities diss at each other, you cannot “side” with one or another without considering the intersectional issues at hand. No one won this battle, but it definitely opened doors to discussion on many different issues: sexism, gender presentation and identity, sexuality, race, and class upbringing.

Nonetheless, Azealia should have had access to Harlem Shake, just as mostly white college students and local news stations have access to dancing or twerking to the song. If 4,000 dance videos come out every day dedicated to this song, why would her freestyle cause an infringement?

Watch this video for Harlem’s take on the Harlem Shake.

by Jessica Morris, Out Now intern

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