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  • Photos by Michael Flores
    Words by Arye Dworken

    In the breakout video for her single “212,” rapper Azealia Banks beams an eager, ever- present smile and dances playfully in front of a blank-canvas brick wall. Her pigtails draped over a Mickey Mouse–adorned sweater, she spits blush-inducing verses like an R-rated Pippi Longstocking. Banks is confident, care-free and, most of all, undeniably intriguing–a girl you feel like you want (need?) to know.

    This isn’t, however, the Banks we meet near Central Park. The Azealia Banks we’re chatting with is genial but quite reserved–a slight 20-year-old in pink patent-leather platforms who isn’t afraid to remind us we’ve “already asked that question.” And has no qualms about telling our photographer where she wants to do our photo shoot: near her high school, Fame’s LaGuardia Arts–not at the Harlem neighborhood where she grew up, as we’d previously planned.

    But none of this should be surprising. After all, Banks has flourished on her own terms for more than a decade. “By the time I was eight, I was really mature and got a key [to my mom's house],” says Banks. “Catholic school was around the corner, so I would go home with some soda and some chips and use that time to sing out loud.”

    Since then, she spent years as a vocalist and developing actress, at one point getting props from Diplo and earning an ill-fated development deal with XL owner/M.I.A. impresario Richard Russell in 2009. Now, thanks in part to “212,” Banks is enjoying somewhat of an early-career do-over, turning heads as an MC with a machine gun for a mouth and even topping (yes, topping) NME‘s annual Cool List for 2011. She’s planned to spend time in London to work on music with producer Paul Epworth (of Florence + the Machine and Adele fame), and anyone paying attention to Banks’ Twitter can only assume that she’s days away from announcing some sort of big label news (“I’m about to be rich,” she Tweeted on Nov. 11, followed by, “I love having secrets,” and “The music industry is a battlefield, and I’m ready for fucking war”).

    Clearly, 2012 belongs to Banks. “I really feel like I’m going to change the scope of pop music,” she tells us. And Banks is stone-faced serious when she says this.

    Read our interview below or check out the fully enhanced iPad pressing here