illustration / MISSY MCCULLOUGH
story /MEGHAN O’CONNOR
Angel Haze has been calling you a cunt since before cunt-calling was cool. And yes, that’s a reference to Twitter foe Azealia Banks and what has quickly become a battle for the femme-rapping throne. Some may say Haze has a big ego, and for many reasons this could be verified as true. While Haze can be rough around the edges, there lingers somewhere on the fringe of her verse an admirable openness, and earnestness to tell a story. Perhaps this resonance has something to do with moments of gut-wrenching honesty, like her story of childhood sexual abuse in late 2012 track “Cleaning Out My Closet.” Perhaps this sincerity comes from her air of not giving a shit.
In hopes of understanding what makes Haze tick, I talked with her a few days after watching her perform in Manhattan. The power in her presence is obvious on the stage, and even more so in the industry right now. While the title of “next big female rapper” may be one proclaimed by Haze herself, she has yet to be proven wrong.
I’ve read that you used to be obsessed with Nicki Minaj, back before she blew up. What do you think of her now?
I think honestly, I really am a fan of Nicki Minaj and to really appreciate an artist, you have to understand their entirety. And I don’t know, I think she’s evolved. I still enjoy her music. I don’t have any personal vices or anything. So I think she’s pretty cool.
I’ve also heard you say that you think guys are pitting female rappers against each other because they’re intimidated, because female rappers are more interesting. Do you think this is just a fad, or do you think it’ll stick?
I think it might be something that will get a lot of resistance, especially from female rappers that just disintegrate entirely. But if no one decides to blame, I think it’ll just kinda plague the hip hop community as it has for a while now. But hopefully, with me being an optimist, things get better.
Are there any male rappers that you think really defy that theory? Who are your favorites as far as male rappers?
I think, there are pretty much a handful who kinda defy that theory. My favorites right now though..God, this is hard. I have not listened to rap music in so long. I have though had Kendrick Lamar’s album on repeat for about two months now.
I’ve heard that, that you don’t listen to a lot of new music right now. What reason do you have for that?
Right now, it’s really just particularly because I’m in a phase of recording my own album so I try to keep it as untainted as possible and my ears as fresh as possible. It’s just a preference for me to not drown myself out and start to sound like other people. It’s important for me to kind of stay cleansed. I don’t know. It’s pretty cool. It actually works out for me.
Yeah. A lot of things probably affect you without you even realizing so it makes a lot of sense. You grew up in a very Christian community, didn’t you?
Yeah. It’s actually something I liken to a cult. It’s very true, and it’s a part of my life that I’ve I guess learned to view as more of a learning experience than something I absolutely loathe.
Do you think that affected how much you appreciated rap music as a kid, rap being one of the most controversial genres and probably most taboo to the people around you growing up?
Yeah. Versus what I had growing up, rap was like placidity. For me, it’s like, having that outlet and having the ability and the platform to be able to say whatever I want and have a bunch of people in the world who actually agree spot-on with what I think, is kind of amazing. It makes the world a much more comforting place instead of a lonely one. So I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate everything I’ve gone through. It just really makes for better music and better stories, I guess.
On that topic, I have to ask you a question about your track “Cleaning Out My Closet” because when I first heard it, I was absolutely blown away. Honestly. I really admired what you did there, because I could never tell a story that personal with that kind of confidence to a room of ten strangers, let alone record that and put it on the internet for everyone to hear. So first of all, I wanted to say,I found that song to be an incredibly strong move on your part. Secondly I wanted to ask what incited you to release that track to the public?
Wow. Thank you, honestly. It’s really humbling to have that kind of effect on people. For me, I guess the reason I did it was for a personal need of catharsis. And for me, it was really important, especially crossing into the New Year, to realize that I have a lot of darkness and a lot of baggage and a lot of bad things inside of me, that it’s important to let go of things and make efforts to move forward, you know? I feel like you can’t really carry so much negative with you if you’re trying to go into really positive places and become a more positive person and be about the life you claim you are. So for me, letting it go was like taking that step forward, you know? And I didn’t really plan on it to have the effect that it did have on people. And it kind of amazed me, like I freaked out before I put it out. I have not listened to it more than twice, and it’s not a place I want to go to but I’m glad that it’s a place I left behind me, you know.
I feel like the music industry kind of encourages you to build up on those negative parts of yourself because it sells more and so I think it’s really awesome that you’re sticking to you. You’re not just being an artist or a musician, but being you. People like you.
Did you feel vulnerable when you first released it? How do you feel about the people that story is about hearing that track?
I think honestly, I did feel a bit vulnerable. And it was mostly because there are people in the world who honestly live for this type of stuff and the evils of the world tend to excite them and they take it and they run with it and they make it some big ostracized deal and blah-blah-blah. I was scared of that for a minute and then I realized that at the end of the day, I’ve got one life and none of that can affect me so I don’t allow it to. In regards to people hearing it, I guess I don’t know. I wasn’t really prepared for the response. I had gotten a bunch of messages from fans on Facebook and stuff like that saying, you know, it’s really crazy that you told my exact story and no one ever cares about it and people think that I should get over it…and no one understands how it’s actually impacted me. And even some of my more famous friends have come to me and said thank you for this song. It’s like wow, you know? You really never count on that. That just a story, a simple story about something that you’ve gone through that other people could perceive as stupid, could be like some kind of really relieving, cathartic thing. And I don’t know. It was huge for me.
I read in your interview with The Guardian that you would rather be thought of as a female rocker than a female rapper because female rappers are forced to be attractive and sell their bodies, but I think most people would agree that you’re pretty fucking hot. What do you think you do to counter that stereotype of the hot female rapper?
I think it’s more about being me. I’ve been in this really weird phase of androgyny for as long as I can remember and I’m really a tomboy at heart, so just the basics of female rap does not work for me because I’m no good at being sexy and no good at being any of the other shit. So it’s like yeah, fuck that. I idolize Hayley Williams, so my whole persona comes from rock stars that I grew up listening to like Avril Lavigne or Fefe Dobson, people who are just genuinely badass, but you couldn’t look away from them. It’s just that type of shit that I have instilled so deeply into my brain that keeps me from straying from who I am.
Why, if you think guys are trying to pit female rappers against each other to weaken them, did the whole Twitter battle with Azealia Banks happen? What spurred that tweet war?
The feud between Azealia and I has got nothing to do with anything but the two of us.
All things musically aside, if just two people personally have such disdain for each other, regardless of whether they’re in some sort of spotlight or not, they’re going to go at it. And it reminded me of some really high school catty bullshit. If I had thought about it more…I’m just really impulsive, so I get angry when I feel like someone has lied to me or misled me or made me believe that something was true, so my passion comes out and that anger is just-I’m spiteful. I totally would have tried to avoid it; all of my friends told me not to indulge. And I ended up looking like the type of person who thought it was okay and condoned it and I don’t want anyone to think that about me. I genuinely didn’t, but at that moment…it’s just so much stuff that goes on behind scenes. For me, it was like why? Just knock it off. So it got really extreme really fast and I do regret it. And honestly for me, I do wish Azealia Banks the utmost success, and my personal disdain for her has nothing to do with her career. She can do whatever she pleases. I’d just prefer not to be talked to at all.
One more question on the fly. I’m from Baltimore, and I went home the other day and it felt so different. I know that you’re not originally from New York. You’re from Michigan, right? How do you feel now? Do you feel like New York’s changed you?
I lived in Michigan until I was 9, but when I moved to New York, I moved from Virginia. Like Northern Virginia. So I don’t go home, down there, anymore, but I’m totally used to being in really rural areas where there’s a bunch of trees and a bunch of solitude. In New York, I feel like it’s me amplified. Ultimately, more crazy than I’ve ever been. So I try to get away and do things, but…the city is toxic, but in some really great ways. And some really destructive ways. But I just adore it.
I know that your confidence is a huge part of your performance, too. Do you ever have people telling you that they think New York has made you cocky?
Genuinely, I think everyone’s always thought I was cocky. It’s up to them to meet me and then they go “oh, wow.” Typically, people don’t get my really, really dry sense of humor and then I come off as kind of a narcissistic bitch. And I don’t mean to, but it happens. I have had people tells me countless things like “money has changed you” or “being Angel Haze has changed you” and it’s like no, it’s actually kind of changed you. But it doesn’t really matter.
I just wanted to say that I really loved what you said at the end of your show on Tuesday, that anyone can do anything, that anything is possible. I hear that in a lot of your songs. Like “Werkin’ Girls.” I play that song every Friday I leave work with a paycheck. I feel you. I’m rooting for you, for sure.