Angel Haze: ‘Rap is the only uncensored version of life’
The rapper, just 22, is unusually honest, from her lyrics about a rape when she was a child to social-media posts about her relationship with Ireland Baldwin
Angel Haze performing at Glastonbury recently: ‘Being honest in my music was being honest with myself.’ Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
Most musicians spend years trying to unearth that shiny diamond of truth and honesty in the rough of their artistry. Angel Haze, a 22-year-old rapper from Detroit via Virginia and New York, got there faster than most with her version of Eminem’s Cleanin’ Out My Closet. Haze lived on 7 Mile Road in Detroit.
“When I was seven envisage me at the bottom of the stairs / And I solemnly swear that this is the truth, no fallacy here / See I was young, man, I was just a toddler, a kid / And he wasn’t the first to successfully try but he did / He took me to the basement and after the lights had been cut / He whipped it out and sodomised and forced his c**k through my gut.”
The track continues in horrific detail about the childhood rape that Haze, born Raykeea Angel Wilson, suffered, before ending on an affirmation.
“I had to deal with my s**t, I had to look at my truth / To understand that to grow, you’ve got to look at your root / I had to cut off the dead, I had to make myself proud / And now I’m just standing, living, breathing proof, look at me now.”
Hip hop has muddled through many taboos – drug use, sexuality, ill mental health – but Haze, an unapologetic and staggeringly intelligent young woman, cleaned out her closet, slammed the door and moved on.
Women in hip hop
Haze broke through with minimal but forceful tracks such as New York and Werkin’ Girls. Straight away, Azealia Banks comparisons were made. (As for women being pitted against each other in hip hop, Haze is philosophical: “It’s really annoying, but I find it more annoying that sometimes we indulge.”)
Haze is being heralded as one of the bravest new voices in rap. “I was 18 when I started recording. I just was doing it because music was cathartic. Being honest in my music was being honest with myself. It was therapeutic. I had no clue that half the world would hear it. I didn’t intend it to be for anyone.
“Now it has transcended my own personal hoopla and s**t, and has become sort of a hope or beacon of light for kids who are like me or were like me. That’s the greatest experience anyone could ever conjure from tragedy: to become something good. I suppose, now, my music is just different to what brought me to the spotlight, but it’s fun and who I am. It’s not about pain any more.”
Pain has been very present in Haze’s apparently chaotic life. Her father died after he accidentally shot himself in the stomach while drawing a gun on someone else. Her mother got into a relationship with a preacher of the Greater Apostolic Faith, which made for a strict environment to grow up in.
Entering her teens, poetry became a refuge. She sports a large tattoo of Edgar Allan Poe on her leg. “I was a writer before I was anything else. Rap is a learned skill of mine, it’s not a natural talent. But poetry was the root of all of this. [Rap] is the only uncensored version of life. So to tell it like it is, especially in music? I jumped right on that.”
Haze’s speedy delivery on tracks such as A Tribe Called Red channels her focus on self-actualisation, overcoming difficulties and putting out an uplifting and empowering message.
At Glastonbury, she played one of the sets of the weekend, and her energy live keeps up with the content and sentiment of her tunes.
“In a perfect world, I would be a studio artist. But, in reality, I’m best live. For some twisted reason, I happen to be really good live. I’m not trying to be cocky or anything, but it’s true.”
Haze’s Instagram feed is full of photographs from Glastonbury of her and girlfriend Ireland Baldwin, an 18-year-old, 6ft 2in model, and the daughter of Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.
Haze and Baldwin are a very contemporary couple: interracial, female, living their love out on social media across Twitter and Instagram. They straddle a combination of being upfront (“We f***, and friends don’t f***,” Haze told the Telegraph, talking about how bemused she was when the media kept referring to them as “best friends” when they are clearly in a same-sex relationship), and voicing a couldn’t-care-less attitude (“Making this about race or the fact that we’re both women is rather outdated,” Baldwin tweeted, “This is a new world we live in, people”).
Last of the romantics
“I would consider myself the last of a dying breed,” Haze says when asked about her romantic disposition, “I’m overly romantic. I’ve got this fixation with this idea of a perfect love I’ve conjured up in my head over the years. I spend all my time searching for that and not quite finding it, but then finding some sort of a, I don’t know, some sort of an alternate.”
That’s a risky game. “It definitely is dangerous, because nothing ever, ever matches what you expect in your fantasies in reality. It’s all a matter of circumstance. I think if I thought about love in the way that it was realistically, then I would be completely depressed and unmotivated with regards to it.
“If I thought of love as a mountain to climb to some sort of paradise or some other worldly magical place that two people share, then that’s more to aspire to.
“I’m all about giving myself something to aspire to. Even if the rendition I come up with doesn’t exactly match, it was birthed in some form of desire to have something that’s impeccable. Something durable.”
Haze’s penchant for inspirational sentiments makes her quest to write a self-help style book (she cites Chicken Soup for the Soul) less peculiar.
Having overcome so much, and gone on to achieve even more, her ideas are certainly worth listening to. Her music connects, she thinks, because of her ability to bare all.
“Even if something is disgusting for me to say, and disgusting for you to hear, I think the rarest thing in life is honesty in a way that puts you in a place that you don’t need to be. But that place also leads you to serenity. You could be raw by experiences. You could be anything. But so long as you’re honest with yourself, you can totally find solace.”