Jesus, Take it Easy: Angel Haze

by Quinn Aux Penn

The Cultastic Upbringing of Hip Hop's New and Raw F'Emcee
Laughs when I ask her if she runs the account herself. “Pfssh. Who else is gonna talk all that shit I talk?” She has a point. No assistant’s going to write, This nigga Rick said I dance like the fat one from nsync. I’m salty, as Haze did on November 20, or Bitches talk about their feelings all day long on twitter. Get a diary, bitch, as she did a day prior. Tweeting’s not exactly a talent, but the sheer volume of her output speaks to her tenacity, and that natural drive is presumably what brought ink to paper in deals between the 21-year-old, attitude-copping, up-and-coming rapper and her new labels, Universal Republic and Island, in the last year.

Rarities like Haze put a flame to the ass of hip hop, illuminating questions that are typically eclipsed by Kanye’s mink coats and Nicki Minaj’s catfights with Mimi. She’s not sexed up. She doesn’t have a mentor. She says she’s not even an avid fan of contemporary hip hop. But only a year on the music scene, and her raps already have people talking about what she’s capable of doing for the music industry. Can female emcees run hip hop? Can they rise above the male-dominated music scene that hasn’t been frontloaded with f’emcees since the days of Foxy Brown, Lil Kim, and Missy Elliot? If so, is Haze the one to do it?

Early on, Haze harnessed a raw honesty about her personal life that’s reminiscent of Eminem, who made a career out of calling out his own shit before anyone else could. In her riff off “Cleaning Out My Closet,” her predecessor’s angry, accusatory anthem that spells out his broken childhood, Haze churns out her own disturbingly explicit lyrics about the serial rape that defined her youth.

“Imagine being seven and seeing cum in your underwear/ I know it’s nasty but sometimes I’d even bleed from my butt / Disgusting right? Now let that feeling ring through your guts,” she sings, following up with a slew of personal fallouts, from suicidal thoughts to an eating disorder.

It’s hard to stomach, let alone listen to twice, making the song a risky endeavor for a musician who wants to make it big—and Haze does, which is why she dropped her plans for a neuroscience degree at Penn State to pursue music. But she doesn’t seem concerned that brutal, parental-advisory honesty is incompatible with success. “I kinda get too deep into my dark side,” she says. “But you make shit that you’re true to, your fans are gonna be there regardless. And at the end of the day, it’s not really about being commercial. Because I could make a shitload of money just going on tour for a whole year and then doing it over and over and over again … It’s important to have those people who genuinely believe and buy into what you’re saying.”

No one talks about these sorts of hard truths, but Haze does, and it makes her accessible to her fans. “In some sense, you have to accept the fact that your fans, because they look up to you, you become their role model. You become the person they look to for advice, the person they look to for inspiration, the person they look to to excavate the bullshit inside of themselves. So the only responsibility that you have is to always be honest with them.”

Raised in the Greater Apostolic Faith, Haze’s uber-religious “cultastic” youth shielded her from mainstream music until she was 16. In the five years since, she’s transformed from an insular East Coast kid to an insider in elite circles. Dropping her religious upbringing for decidedly unholy lyrics, her trajectory is Katie Perry-esque, minus the wide eyes and oversized lollipops (actually, you kind of picture Haze bitch-slapping Perry if given the opportunity to meet with her, but that’s beside the point, or at least, inconvenient for the analogy).

Before she was writing rhymes, Haze was penning poems in a house in “the middle of nowhere,” Virginia, where her mom still dials up Angel to remind her to thank God for her good fortune (“I’m like, whatever. Totally won’t,” says Haze). Though she’s migrated to the urban hustle of New York—which she brags in one of her selfsame tracks that she “owns”—the fit is less organic than she portrays in her songs.  “It’s so noisy. It never stops. You can never go outside and not see anything, ever. It’s always going. There’s no chance for me to catch my breath ever. It’s constant noise and my head is already crazy, so it’s way too much on me, man.”

Arrogance is a staple of hip-hop, but Haze’s brand of braggadocio is multifaceted, alternating between ferocious and fragile. “Everything that I put out, they think is gold, eventually,” she says of her fans. “I fucking put out a song two days ago called ‘Gimme That’ and like, I bullshat that song, I wrote it in like 30 minutes and I’m like, ‘yeah whatever,’ and then someone sends me a text and is like, ‘Yo, this is a hit. This might be one of the hottest songs you put out.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ And then I’m like, ‘Wait, wait, do I actually have to do anything?’”

But her readiness to say, “That’s just me being me”—a catchphrase of choice for the pint-sized powerhouse that she tacks onto her brash statements—hints at a need to say it, suggesting she’s got a soft underbelly on occasion. She admits that some fans are right that she could lay off the f-bombs on some of her tracks. “I’m like, ‘Fuck yeah, no censorship! But then I listen to it and I’m like, ‘Yeah I guess I could mellow it out.’”

Chalk it up to a hastened childhood or a readily available verbal arsenal, Haze has a precocity about her that gives the impression she’ll make savvy decisions in her rise to the top. She’s smart—wise even—and cutting open brains for a living probably would’ve served her well.

“There’s a lot of shit you do as an emcee. It’s not just about performing. It’s not just about making music. This is a real career. It’s about structuring yourself, it’s about being censored. It’s about knowing how far you can push something, being creative, being all this other shit. You have to work like every fucking angle, all simultaneously.”

And she gets that that kind of responsibility is rare for her age, even if she won’t thank God per her mother’s instructions. “I feel lucky as fuck.”

Haze will trade her boots for sneakers if you comp them (on this occasion, red high tops with leopard skin patterns), or spend eight hours posing in glitter lip gloss and a neon crop top, even though “fucking taking tons of pictures” is a part of burgeoning fame she’s less than psyched about. But what she won’t do is categorize herself. Though she raps about heavy issues, she says she’s not a conscious rapper, and she’s arguably as much an R&B singer as she is an emcee. In the infant stages of her career, she’s grooming herself to cross over into other genres.

“Nothing on the new album sounds anything like anything on Reservation,” she says, referring to the album she released in July whose title doubled as a nod to her Native American heritage and the dibs called on the spot she says is hers in the hip hop scene. “I’m, like, in this little heartbroken phase right now so some of my music is like, ‘Ahhh, will this bitch ever shut up about her heart-breaking whatever?’”

It’s hard to picture the scrappy tomboy rapper playing into the sex-saturated world of pop or releasing a twangy folk album, but then, it also seems unlikely she’d listen to Jason Mraz to get in the headspace to write rhymes, and yet, that’s what she does.

“I’m not trying to give away my secret though,” she says, “so you gotta keep that shit under wraps.”