Rapper/singer Azealia Banks was raised with her two older sisters in Harlem by her mother, after their father died when she was two years old. She became interested in musical theater at a young age performing in off-Broadway musicals with the Tada! Youth Theater in Lower Manhattan. Banks was classically trained in the performing arts at New York's La Guardia High School, whose alumni include Nicki Minaj and Kelis. She never finished high school, instead choosing to follow her dream of becoming a recording artist.
Under the moniker 'Miss Bank$', the teen rapper released her debut recording "Gimme A Chance" onto the internet in February 2009, accompanied by "Seventeen", a track produced by American DJ Diplo. Later that year, Banks signed to tastemaking British label XL (via Diplo), but left the label later that year due to conflicting ideas.
The Harlem native continued putting in work on the underground scene as she gradually rose in notability. In 2011 she topped NME's "Cool List" for the year and was touted as the "future of music" by Kanye West. Around the same time she caught the attention of hip-hop blogs with her club-ready throwdown single "212," which was originally released as a free digital download from her website, before being officially released on December 6, 2011. On January 18, 2012 Banks announced she had signed to Universal Music.
The song is named after the area code 212, which covers the area of Harlem, where Banks grew up. It samples the track "Float My Boat" by Lazy Jay, who is credited on the tune.
Banks wrote this in April 2011. At the time she was struggling to pay the rent on a $1,200-a-month apartment on Dyckman Street, in the Inwood neighborhood, north of Harlem. "'212,' it came out of a place of desperation," she told Spin magazine. "But it also came out of a place of anger. It was like, 'F--k all y'all. I'm the best bitch here.' It's about the journey to fame and stardom. It starts out and this girl, she's like, 'Hey, I can be the answer.' She's real ambitious and she's like, 'Yo, I'm here. I can do this. All the same s--t that you got these bitches doing, I could do.'"
Banks told Spin magazine that she's talking to herself when she raps in the bridge: "Why you procrastinate girl? You got a lot, but you just waste all yourself. They'll forget your name soon. And won't nobody be to blame but yourself." She added that the name she was worried about people forgetting was her own.
According to Banks, the British Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, is a fan of this song. The rapper made the admission after meeting her. "Just met Samantha Cameron... She told me she loves 212...... *mind blown*," Banks tweeted. "Samantha Cameron is the Michelle Obama of Britain... This is actually crazy right now."
The song was first released on December 6, 2011. Broke with Expensive Taste was finally made available without notice 1,151 days later on November 6, 2014, following numerous delays and Banks' departure from Universal Music Group.
The video cost Banks just $30 to make and was shot entirely in black-and-white. The clip features Banks dancing in front of a brick wall, her hair in pigtails and close-ups of her rapping into the camera. Despite its meager budget, the video went viral with over 75 million views. She told The Daily Telegraph: "I was surprised! I remember being really insecure about it because I didn't have my hair done. I was really broke, and I felt I looked broke in the video so no one was going to like it."