“I’m the master of ‘I don’t give a fuck,’” says Angel Haze in a self-made video on her YouTube channel, aptly titled “How To Give No Fucks”. It’s a kind of backhanded manifesto on self-respect; after all, as she says, the kind of blasé person that she is must “first accept that they are not shit.” In the same way that she presents this brash attitude to a world that might not know quite what to make of her yet, Haze makes no apologies for the emotions that she bares on Reservation, her debut EP. The offerings on Reservation belie her YouTube persona; only someone who gives at least several fucks could offer up something this personal, this diverse in its influences, and this polished. She talks a big game, but she raps an even better one.
The more you get to know Haze through her music, the more you realize she is full of these kinds of contradictions. When she sings, her voice sounds like a vulnerable young girl. When she raps, she’s androgynous — swift and powerful as any man or woman. “We seen a lot of shit that kids should never have to see, like the shelter, and every night we starved ourselves to sleep,” she tells us on “This Is Me”, the album’s opening track that is gut-wrenching in its honesty, lyricism, and emotional power. While Haze seems eager to prove that she’s just as capable and deft as a male rapper, which she is, it’s also heartening to see that she’s not afraid to use the medium to do more than brag about Escalades.
“New York”, a fierce, infectious track with a Gil Scott-Heron sample that’s been generating some internet buzz, is a different take on Haze’s considerable talents. “I am whatever they say I am,” she raps in a low voice over a subtle handclap beat. “I spit till my lips need sixteen stitches.” Her speed can sometimes be dizzying, but her voice is always level. New York has been the playground and muse for many a rapper, but Haze’s take is fresh; it’s not so much an ode as a narration. It’s too early, she seems to be saying. She’s not complacent or content enough for her own “Empire State of Mind”, and that’s probably a good place for her to be.
Haze is certainly a challenger to the precedent that the de facto queen of rap Nicki Minaj has set in the past few years. Where Minaj is fantastical and over-the-top, Haze is understated and raw. Where the self-styled Barbie thinks that presentation is everything, Haze frequently appears fresh-faced and makeup-less in videos and photos online, staring out from beneath a knit hat or backwards baseball cap. Haze is bisexual, sure, but that seems to be beside the point. She’s also beautiful, and it’s refreshing to see that this fact seems to be of little to no interest to her. She’s too busy taking a run at New York.
At times, Haze’s outlook turns bleak. On “Suffering’s First”, a track near the end of the album that relies on Latin-style guitar flourishes for its hook, she outlines her own life’s philosophy: “So if it hurts, the struggle is first, to live is to die, we all suffer the curse.” While this muted sense of foreboding isn’t present everywhere in the album, you can hear it as a kind of motivator. For Haze, it’s better to make art now, better to express yourself. ”I enjoy being myself; I’ll be damned if I’m you,” she quips, and maybe it’s too early for her to realize that we don’t want her to be anyone else, either.
Essential Tracks: “This Is Me”, “New York”, and “Suffering’s First”