[Interview] Angel Haze Talks Religion, Sexuality, State Of Female Emcees & Being The Illuminati Baby
Angel Haze’s attitude on a track has the simple message of a small, braggadocios prizefighter: I’m too bad and too fast. Her wordplay and metaphors have all the heavy punch of a speedy combination boxer blindsiding opponents. That winning element makes the New York emcee’s active output worth slowing down to catch, namely her summer debut album Reservation. Haze entrusts her confidence to her vulnerability like she’s dropping hands in the middle of a slugfest to prove once and for all, she’s willing to stand in front of anyone. Haze on the Voice EP, King, Classick and mixtapes takes on brutal, defining question and answer sessions necessary to fight on, but Reservation is the most complete portrait of her balance between animated bangers and intimate poetics.
The 21-year-old shares with The Well Versed how to stand up, stand out and why legacy is more important than hits.
The Well Versed: What was your writing process like with Reservation? What made it differ from your other work?
Angel Haze: I guess it’s more strenuous. With Voice and King, it was just freestyle. It was based off of nothing. I didn’t have to put any effort or any song structure like that. With this, it’s different because it’s mine, it’s like a baby. You have to take care of it. You have to do it right. There’s no screwing around. I’m trying new things as well.
TWV: What have you been doing differently?
AH: I tried new song structuring. Normally I’m not one to take things outside of my own box, but I guess it’s nice to explore other options.
TWV: Reservation is the refinement of your technique from your previous freestyle releases?
AH: Of course. Freestyling is more anything and everything. This is definitely more refined. It’s definitely more like a sculpture. You mold and make it whatever.
TWV: As an artist that prides herself on being open, crafting an album allowed for the most accurate representation of you?
AH: That is exactly what I think is best, freestyling first. People need to know you’re capable of anything before you start making songs. You don’t really need lyrical capability, the ability to tell stories. This is what I can do and this is what I’m going to do [on an album].
TWV: Do you feel digital music distribution has created an environment where your talent must be proven before you attempt to sell anything?
AH: No way, nu uh. You don’t even have to be talented anymore. You can do the opposite. [You] can prove that you’re not talented and the world will welcome you with open arms. I think for people who are talented, it actually takes more because everything has been so dumbed down, now people actually have to use their brain, which seems to be the most strenuous, hard task for people now days. They don’t get metaphor capability. Make a radio hit. Where’s your radio song?
TWV: Is our disinterest in language in general hurting hip-hop?
AH: I don’t believe that there is certain way hip-hop is dead. Everything is expansion. There are certain areas of music that are required now days. We’d be nothing if we had no stupid dance songs or radio hits or the artists who make that kind of music. People do what they do for their own reasons. Their genres are their genres. Hip-hop is still here. You just have to look in different places.
TWV: How do you feel you’ve stood out among the noise? How are you a place where people can still find hip-hop?
AH: It’s about being an artist who has something to say, something with substance to say. Not just being part of the noise. It gets too loud. People want something that makes sense. I get to be that thing that makes sense. At least I’m hoping that much. Having something to say aside from the regular shit that’s out there.
TWV: What do you think you’ve already said that led people to Reservation?
AH: Dream until it comes alive. It’s more my relatability I guess. I can be relatable for a lot of people and they can all mesh with me when they’re down and depressed. I’m really no different than anyone else. It’s just a bunch of teenage angst I’m expressing and they can relate to me on that level. I think that’s the most important thing especially when you can tell people you can do anything. You can come from nothing and be whatever the hell you want to be.
TWV: Because of your religion, you can from a repressed background. Do you feel you were shot out of a canon, that you had so much to say, and that’s why you’ve hit hip-hop the way you have?
AH: No, even still now, I find it really hard to talk about it in song form. I can talk about it openly and everything but I find it really hard to write about where I came from. It’s not that I have so much to say about, “Yeah, I totally grew up in a cult with this that and the third.” It’s more about, how do I say this in an effective way that will mean more than, yeah, I’m complaining about my bullshit life. That’s really hard for me. I’m still learning.
TWV: It’s more about the theme of isolation and overcoming it.
AH: Everyone has to come up. It’s just how you explain yourself.
TWV: You have songs like “The Show Goes On” (King) heavy with an anti-suicide message. I see your interaction with your fans. What’s it like to have that direct connection with people when you’re music has such a personal message that can potentially reach and save a wide audience?
AH: I think it’s amazing. The struggles that I have personally and the ones that they have are so different, but in the same way that I help them, they help me. I can feel so uninspired and so lacking the will and drive and determination to go on and then I’ll get a tweet from someone saying, “I listened to your suicide poem and I don’t want to kill myself anymore. Thank you so much” or whatever, that will totally lead me into other things. Having that relationship with my fans where I get text messages from them at all hours of the night, seeing how they struggle with different things, and having their love for me amplified, being able to feel it, it’s really dope. It’s a different type of family.
TWV: Did you play upon pre-conceived notion of sexuality by titling your mixtape King, making a statement about who you wanted to be in this game?
AH: I’ve proclaimed myself the gender bender. Gender rules don’t apply to me. I don’t conform to what females are supposed to talk about like sex. I don’t think I have a record about sex in my catalog. It’s more about, I don’t want to be boxed in. if you’re going to box me in–it’s going to be in the box that I make for myself. That’s what everything I do is about.
TWV: Do you feel there is an uphill battle in getting recognized as an up-and-coming female rapper?
AH: Female rappers aside from all the beefing and whatever, no one is exactly the same. No one is saying the exact same thing. Everybody has their own segregated link. You do in a way that no one else does you. There’s no comparison. There’s no parallel to draw other than we are female. Nobody is doing anything remotely the same.
TWV: Conversely, it seems there is more access to female emcees now.
AH: I think slowly female rap has revived itself…so many different styles, different people, plays on words and backgrounds. It’s almost gonna be an insatiable appetite where there is gonna be so many girls, the boys won’t know what to do. Every group will want a female at the forefront. It’s interesting to see how things can line up.
TWV: Who were inspired you while writing Reservation?
AH: Childish Gambino, Kings of Leon, a lot of Creed, a lot of rock and roll. I don’t know why but rappers totally aren’t my cup of tea….anything I can get my hands on.
TWV: What kind bar did Reservation set in surpassing your previous works?
AH: Reservation surpassed everything I’ve ever done because it’s mine. It’s was me having to come out with something new…It’s about what I’ve done for myself, the legacy that I will create through my music will be about topping this. King ties into Reservation because I guess it’s [all] a story. It gives you more background to who I am versus what I can do.
TWV: How much do you feel your background informs the theme of self-preservation?
AH: A lot of it is rooted in the things I couldn’t do before. I wasn’t able to listen to music until I was 16. Not music in the sense that I wasn’t able to listen to anything, but what they would refer to as secular music or worldly music, radio shit, I wasn’t able to grasp that. So coming to hip-hop, learning and doing the stuff that I’m doing now, growing in the same way in life was kind of hard. I think it all ties into me being bigger. Being more than where I come from. Letting other people know that you can be more too. You don’t have to succumb to whatever you’ve been through. I can totally be bat shit crazy but I don’t have one care in the world.
TWV: What’s been the strangest part of your three years in hip-hop?
AH: It’s so weird especially because I live in New York now. New York is really big and a lot of kids feel me over here. Everywhere I go someone’s like, ‘OMG you’re Angel Haze.’ I get people bum rushing me with poems and stuff. It’s so strange. I come from a wooded area where no one knows me because I’m ‘burbed out to New York, where seemingly every kid in Times Square, Union Square, Soho, everyone knows me so it’s crazy. OMG I can’t go into these places. It’s surreal that this is what the internet does for you.
TWV: What’s your favorite part about your haters?
AH: The fact that they are seemingly pre-occupied about what you do. A hater is just a fan who won’t admit it yet. You love me. You totally love me. You can’t stop thinking about me. You cannot stop trying to find things about me to hate so you obviously love me. I love it.
TWV: What should keep Reservation in a hip-hop head’s rotation?
AH: The realness of it all. I’ve put a lot into this about my personal life that people normally wouldn’t talk about. I’m hoping they can see me for who I am. A lot of people have perceptions of me that get more warped as they don’t know who I am. The veil is dropping, me over myself.
TWV: What do you see for yourself in the future?
AH: I want the tours. I want the albums. I want the record deals. I want it all, but I want to leave something behind. I want something I can have for a while. I want my career to be longevity or whatever. I want to do a bunch of whole other stuff that has nothing to do with music like animal shelters and homeless shelters for people and stuff like that. I’m hoping I can get all of this done and go out into the world and be myself, that isn’t just Angel Haze the rapper. I want to be like Jay-Z and Beyonce.
TWV: You want to be the Illuminati baby?
AH: Blue Ivy over here.
TWV: So it’s equally important to you to do something beyond your music?
AH: The internet is a real crazy thing; you can do so much with that. You can put your face on YouTube and be the biggest name on YouTube and eventually end up on TV somewhere, eventually end up doing all these other things. I guess that is a big part of it, but for me, I guess it’s aimed toward community more than about myself. None of what I do is about me. I want you to know who I am, but I want to help you essentially.