At 21 years old, New York rapper Angel Haze is at an emotional level some folks twice her age have yet to reach: confident, self-assured, and completely in-tune with who she is as an artist and as a person.
What’s truly impressive is that she’s a model human being in the face of a lifetime’s worth of hardships. After growing up in Greater Apostolic Faith, Haze and her family left the church following mistreatment and abuse. Years of moving around, finding temporary homes in Pennsylvania and California, led the family to settle in Washington, DC. Despite the promise of an honest-to-goodness home, Haze’s trials continued when she dropped out of high school. It’s a profound and interesting tale, one ripe with drama that’s been tweaked and distorted to play up Haze as a lonely girl with loads of issues.
“I’m so jealous of people with hometowns,” Haze says. “I’m not one of those people who saw themselves as part of a city or town. I’ve never even had a birthday party. So I definitely have that MJ (Michael Jackson) complex.”
Talking to her, though, you won’t find a hint of forlorn in her relaxed, yet deliberate tone. She’s got a Zen-like peace to her, with a stormy interior life whipping around just under the surface. It makes for the kind of presence that’s fully and completely engrossing.
“It’s really funny how much they change up my story,” Haze says. “It’s gotten so non-factual that it’s become absurd. It’s more of a ploy, really, because they take who you are and emphasize it. And then people ask, ‘Are you really that mean, that bitchy?’ Like me or not, it’s gotten to the point I don’t care at the end of the day, and I do what I want to do. You can’t even understand the amount of no fucks I give.”
It’d be easy to label Haze as being hardened by her experiences, left cocooned in a shell of anger and misplaced rage over her lot in life. But underneath that rough exterior, created and forged to keep her vulnerable inner person protected, Haze fancies herself as nothing more than a poet who’s turned to rapping.
“Poetry has enabled me a certain kind of depth and clarity,” Haze says. “My poetic side lets me be me, while my rap side lets me be this cocky bitch.” She’s particularly fond of poets Andrea Gibson and Joshua Bennett, whose rich fantasy worlds inspired her to make a go of writing. “I can think so far and imagine like them, so why wouldn’t I try?”
Her sonnets weren’t what brought her online buzz, but rather the videos she began filming from her living room. With titles like “Fuck Who Likes YOU!” and “If You’re Contemplating Suicide”, Haze treated them like intimate diaries, filling them with poetry, remixes of songs by Lupe Fiasco and Kanye West, and diatribes and rants that shared the gritty details of her painful childhood as equally as they unveiled her biggest annoyances and idiosyncrasies. It’s perhaps with these pieces that she learned her most valued skill of all: camouflaging her emotions to fit the circumstances.
“If you know yourself, you can pretzel your emotions and be any way you want to be,” Haze says. “I can turn on my bitchy or coy side, manipulating myself to be who I want. It’s a skill that makes my life better.”
Haze applies the same kind of ability or tendencies to her sexuality. Self-described as pan-sexual, Haze says she “can’t be bothered to label myself. If you do so within this industry, you box yourself in. So I’ll be open to any sexual experience and turn it off and on and be someone different, because I’m comfortable with who I am and I won’t let anyone change me.”
Her ideas on gender and sexuality extend beyond her personal life into how she moves about the entertainment industry. As a female rapper, she joins a hyper-sexualized contingency, like the over-the-top, cartoonish aesthetic of a Nicki Minaj, an artist Haze has no intentions of ever lumping herself in with. “I want to be a rock star,” Haze contends. “There’s no gender roles or requirements to be a rock chick.”
Haze’s chance for rock stardom comes with the release of her debut EP, Reservation (out today via True Panther Sounds/Noizy Cricket/Biz 3). An initial version of the effort was recorded last year, but Haze says the end result wasn’t right, and had become too “strenuous and daunting.” So, she left Virginia and moved to New York City, where there was a sense of change so palpable she “could taste it in the air.” Haze adds, “I removed myself from that mind-state, stopped working with family and people I knew, and started getting rid of my personal issues.”
But not all of them. Haze is the sort of artist who needs to hold on to that heartache and regret and disappointment to make something truly profound. It’s a layered approach, with the first step recognizing herself as a victim of her own emotions and shortcomings. Her life’s issues made her grow up faster, but she’s made the time now for that crucial space to be immature.
“I’m pretty childish and frivolous,” Haze says. “This makes me a bully, with a specific anger. If you had that, I wanted that. Or, whatever you have, I don’t care because I’m better than you. Competition makes for great music, and I think you have to be a child to become an adult.”
It’s only at that point where the woman and her music get the opportunity to transcend. Sometimes that work is more deliberate, as is the case with the EP’s track “Castle On a Cloud”. The pristine yet somber piano lends an air of simplicity, giving Haze plenty of room to utilize her rapid-fire flow that bubbles over with years of deep-seeded anger harnessed into intent and cutting wit. Lyrically, it exemplifies her two core ideals, emotional sincerity and a perpetual fearlessness, with Haze weaving a love letter to a friend as he painfully emerges from the closet.
“I had the opportunity to see him recently,” Haze says. “As he was coming out, he was saying stuff like ‘I feel sick’ and ‘I don’t like being alive.’ I wanted to be there for him and to help make him stronger. He hugged me for a really long time after hearing it.”
Sometimes Haze’s work isn’t fully in her hands, as exemplified by “Wicked Moon”. Sonically, it’s more complex, with strands of dub-inspired bass buzzing and whirling around guest star Nicole Wray’s ethereal vocals. Still, Haze’s emotions and acts of wordsmithery are on display as she forges an even more intense story of abuse and personal domination that bursts forth from her tiny frame with the intensity of a dark flood. The descriptions and feelings are so vivid and yet so mangled, the line between fact and creative license is blurred; either way, there hasn’t been darker acts of lyrical mastery since the early days of Eminem.
“This song’s about one of the most traumatic nights of my life,” Haze says. “My brain was all polluted with thoughts of suicide, and I saw all these scenes and shadows on the wall. It genuinely just came out, like it was writing itself, and I told the engineer, ‘Dude, it happened.’ There was this conflict of interest, cause it was too real for him, too real for me to almost finish.”
Thankfully for the rest of the world, they finished, and now Haze will have to contend with translating her songs and their corresponding emotions to the live setting with an upcoming run of shows. Despite having just a few gigs under her belt, she’s already got a great coping mechanism to deal with her inherent shyness: “Normally, I go out of my body, but I’m still pretty aware,” Haze explains. “I won’t ever know what I’m doing, and I create a kind of an alter ego. I don’t see the crowd. Ever.”
Undoubtedly, she’s got her eyes placed instead on the future. Superficially, it’s dreaming and scheming of collaborations with the likes of Childish Gambino, Lykke Li, and Jason Mraz (who she admits to being utterly obsessed with), preferably all together as one grand super collabo. Beyond her career aspirations, the prospect of her future home life fills her voice with a tinge of an almost unfamiliar, yet totally deserved sense of optimism. For everything she’s accomplished and everything she looks to conquer in the coming months, her biggest dream is far more wholesome and life-affirming than rocking stages and nabbing critical praise.
“I want to start a family of my own,” Haze admits. “And give them what I never had.”