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From Manhattan to Phnom Penh, the lady has class

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Azealia Banks grew up in New York but her music is loved here. Photograph: Official homepage

If anything, Phnom Penh’s the perfect laboratory for the globalisation of culture. High speed internet and cable television, my two dearest friends in life, have bestowed a mixed bag upon this fair city.

Regional influences play a role, with Korean pop and Thai film having a rabid local fan-base, but through western eyes the overwhelming point of curiosity is how close some of the capital’s aesthetic and cultural tastes skirt the current fads of the west, and how far they lag in other arenas.

Naturally, some Joanna Lumley types would condemn local sartorial tastes as woefully passé, likely not taking pause to consider that Cambodia’s fashion designer community could probably be counted on two hands – unlike, say, its sweatshops.

On the other hand, the guiltless pleasures of piracy and a solid DJ community have allowed those possessing the requisite amount of coin and dance-moves to remain at the forefront of global music trends.

If the next big thing drops in the clubs of Williamsburg or Neuköln for the first time tomorrow, expect to hear it blaring out of the doorways some sleezy corner of Street 51 inside of a month.

At the beginning of the year, playing Azealia Banks’ de facto debut 212 was a kneejerk formality at Pontoon, the Cotton Club and even a few of Daun Penh district’s local-oriented venues, and with good cause.

Recorded when Banks was 20, the song would’ve been an impossible feat twenty years ago. The radio edit cuts a good 40 percent of the lyrics out, censoring 10 uses of my personal favourite four-letter word.

The promotional clip flashes said word on screen for a frame after every utterance, as if trying to turn its audience into modern day Manchurian Candidates ready to spew out the vilest obscenities in the English language the next time a certain code word is triggered.

That’s not even the best reason to love the track, of course. A homage to the more interesting uptown parts of her native Manhattan, 212 starts out innocuously enough, the sweet-faced Banks dancing in a Mickey Mouse sweater before launching into a verbal barrage of menace so poetically sound, so blisteringly insulting that it would make something even as emotionally inert as one of Honda’s ASIMO service robots start weeping with fear.

Modern music consumption has bred fickle tastes, and 212 is now old-hat with after nine months of wild success.

It’s heartening to see Banks’ notoriety rising, with a feature in a recent remix of M.I.A’s runaway hit Bad Girls and a slavish fanbase for the periodic mixtapes put out through her Twitter feed.

One can resent the dilution of local culture through the impact of foreign influences, but to my mind, there’s nothing so sorely needed and underrepresented in modern music than women telling men what ****s they are.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Gleeson at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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