Born and raised in Harlem, New York, Banks pursued an interest in musical theatre at a young age, rehearsing plays with fellow school mate Lana Del Rey. She studied at the LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts before dropping out to focus on her musical career. This had left her mother infuriated and violent, forcing Banks to move out of her house at 15 to live with her siblings.
In late 2008, she adopted the pseudonym "Miss Bank$", and began releasing music through MySpace, eventually being signed to XL Recordings at 17.
However, due to label disputes, she left XL and signed to Polydor, a British-found label under the Interscope Records wing. Her debut single "212", first EP 1991 (2012), and first mixtape Fantasea (2012) received critical acclaim.
Another set of disputes came from Interscope/Geffen/A&M when she learned that they refused to release her album, but instead released her single, "ATM Jam", which was a failure. In mid-2014, she left Interscope and signed to Prospect Park Records. Her debut studio album, Broke With Expensive Taste, was released that November and debuted at number thirty on the Billboard 200.
During 2016, she released her sophomore mixtape, Slay-Z, with higher praise, and was later announced for a starring role on the RZA-directed, Coco, which has yet to open in theaters.
Throughout her life, Azealia Banks has been involved in a high amount of controversies or criticisms due to her comments on social media and disputes with other celebrities.