‘I’d started off wanting to be a singer,” admits Angel Haze. “And then I thought no, fuck it, I want to do something that I’m obviously not good at!”
Angel Haze’s route to the top has been anything but predictable. The Detroit-born, New York-based rapper hadn’t been exposed to any non-religious music until her mid-teens, having grown up within the “cultish” Greater Apostolic Faith. She’s poured her – considerable, for anyone, least a 22-year-old – life experience into brutally honest lyrics, most notably with her cover of Eminem’s ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’, in which she details the sexual abuse which she suffered as a youngster.
Haze – real name Raeen Wilson – is in London following a string of UK headline tour dates, themselves following a stint supporting BRIT winners and arena-botherers, Bastille. She’s exhausted. “I’m homesick,” she sighs, “so all my enthusiasm is gone. Tomorrow’s my last show, then I go to Paris for a few days, and then I’m going home. Well, then I’m going to America to tour.”
It’s a hectic schedule, but there’s the distinct impression that’s just the way Haze likes it. Back in December, frustrated at the apparent inaction of label Island, she uploaded debut album ‘Dirty Gold’ to SoundCloud. “Sorry to Island/Republic records,” she told fans on Twitter, “but fuck you. I got here doing this for my fans and if your guys don’t feel the same, it won’t stop me.”
The record was, of course, quickly removed from the site, and then almost as speedily given a ‘proper’ release days later. For many an artist it could’ve been career suicide. For Haze, it’s more proof both of the star’s determination - and an innate intent to challenge herself.
“I didn’t expect it!” she remarks, of her success as a rap artist. “But I’ve always had an affinity for words, so not being able to manipulate them in a way that I was used to, especially when it came to putting them over a beat, was insane to me. I became obsessed with it immediately.” She laughs. “I like challenging myself to learn everything, the inner workings of things. If I don’t know it, then I hate myself.” For a former student of neurology, it’s no surprise she’s treating music like a science.
And now she’s conquered rap, it’s time for the next step. Guitars.
“That’s exactly how I look at it,” Haze admits. “I figure once you conquer something, not that it becomes a waste of time, but the technicalities of rapping, I’ve got them down, I could go perfectly in staccato over, like, anything. I’ve learned every single thing about it, and now I’m probably emotionally exhausted after going over everything I could find, I think it’s time to look forward. For me ‘Dirty Gold’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘Reservation’, and my next project probably won’t sound anything like ‘Dirty Gold’ either.”
The list of artists Haze cites for inspiration is a veritable mish-mash; perhaps unsurprising for someone whose cultural references stretch back “about six years”. “Kanye West,” she lists, “Sia, Adele, Train, the New Radicals. Shit, there are so many different types, it’s also ever so fluid as well. I’m inspired by people who can evoke emotion from me, regardless of what they’re saying, regardless of what type of music they’re playing. So long as I can listen and feel something, I’m into it.”
It’s a similar mixture Haze and producer Markus Dravs concocted for the debut. “I make music that’s so genre-defying and boundless almost in a sense. You listen to ‘Dirty Gold’ and you don’t hear a particular type of sound.” Except a bit of big, in your face club music? “Yeah,” she remarks dryly, “that’s Markus. Markus thought he was special when he did that.”
She laughs. “It came down to us sitting down, me ultimately wanting to make a melting pot of all the things I love about music. We cultivated a sound, and it’s one that transcends me. It’s crazy – for instance I started on [BBC] Radio 1 Xtra with ‘Battle Cry’, and now we’re going to America with it and it’s gonna be on Z100-ish, like very very alternative radio, and it’s on Radio 1 and B-listed over there. It’s one of those things that’s so many different places at once.”
Many places, it would appear, except the American hip hop sphere. Haze laughs. “Yeah. I forgot my niche. But I know it’s not hip hop. I don’t think I’m going anywhere near there. I know it’s crazy, but…” So when Kanye’s bigging you up? “…They’ll be like she sucks, she’s not real hip hop.”
“Tons,” apparently, of abuse has been thrown Haze’s way, claiming she was undeserving of the term. “When I was first signed,” she explains, “they were like you don’t deserve it, you’re not real hip hop, you’re a fraud. Obviously because I’m not influenced by the 90s or whatever. But you have to work out for yourself. For me, it was where the fuck does influence come from? Who influenced B.I.G.? Who influenced the people who started doing this shit? The writers. Like, it was the poets before it was anything, and I was born a fucking poet, so you can’t tell me I’m not meant for this shit.”
Haze enjoys the work of Charles Bukowski, Chuck Palahniuk, Sylvia Plath, and cites Edgar Allan Poe as “the reason I started writing.” Her favourite book, she explains, is Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’. “I’ve been reading it on tour for like three months now,” she says. “Like, over and over again. Dan [Smith, Bastille] got really mad at me one night. They were having a party for Woody [drums] in Plymouth, and I was like yeah I’m not gonna go out, I’m gonna stay in. I ended up staying in all night reading Malcolm Gladwell. Then I tweeted about it and he was like yeah, you guys are fucking boring!”
Haze’s ‘Music can transcend your personal pain.’ bookishness, for want of a better term, hasn’t only got her in trouble with tour mates. The powers that be thought it too much too. “When I made my album, a lot of people told me I was being too lyrical for people, that I had to dumb it down, that I had to say things that the ‘normal’ American population would understand, to be mainstream, that is. And for me I thought OK, I’m gonna split it up. Because you know, people usually hear a beat, and they go fucking bonkers for it. They don’t care what you’re saying over it. Instruments are just as important as the lyrics. I’m never going to dumb myself down, but I’m gonna make it… bouncy, for people who just wanna hear beats, you know? And give the lyrical people who wanna listen to what you’re saying that, and there’s variety for people who want both.
“It’s like the Bastille track,” she continues, referring to ‘Weapon’, the track Haze collaborated on with the band back in September of last year and performed live for the first time on these tour dates. “The beat’s so catchy, the hook’s so catchy. The words though, they’re real and we didn’t dumb them down for anyone. And it’s gone over so freakin’ well, man.”
Collaboration aside, it’s a tour pairing that caused many an eyebrow to raise – not least the respective artists’ own people. “It’s interesting,” she explains, “when we decided to tour together, my agent was going what the fuck, and their agent was going what the hell, dude, and we were going, we have so many mutual fans, it’s hilarious, when we go out to the shows, there’s like half the crowd singing my songs! It’s just one of those things, we blend.”
“To be fair,” Haze quips, “Dan is sort of ghetto. I’m just gonna lay it out there.”
And despite the star turns, the catwalk shows, the making friends with international pop stars – Angel Haze’s greatest triumph is probably the intense relationship she’s fostered with her fans. A quick browse of her Twitter feed reveals many a heartfelt thanks. “It’s crazy,” she muses. “I played a show in Manchester the other night, and as I was going to my bus, there was like a hundred kids out there screaming my name. They were losing their shit because apparently to them, as a person, I mean so much.
“And like, I was with Kanye a few weeks ago and like, to have him even given an ounce of a fuck about the music that I make is amazing. So I’m like dude, I’m your biggest fan, I idolise you almost, this is crazy. So to have an effect on people, to come full circle… I still can’t even believe it to be honest with you.”
With Haze having offered out her entire life story via lyrics, or, as she puts it “projectile vomiting my demons everywhere I possibly could,” it’s no surprise fans are so ready to open up to her. “Yeah,” she agrees. “I think as far as fans go, the people who are most drawn to you are the ones who relate to you the most, And the fact that they do relate to me, that they come back and say they’re going through X, Y, Z, that I’m helping them through it with ‘Battle Cry’, it’s just one of those things, holy shit.
“I learned first-hand the way that music can transcend your personal pain and become someone else’s literal promise and hope and all that other shit. So I put out ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’. Then I realised it was real, and from that day forward I vowed to pour my soul in to everything that I did. Regardless of how annoying it is. I think of music as philanthropy. If you’re not doing everything that you can in the world to make it better or easier for people to live in, then you’re not doing the right thing.”
Angel Haze’s new single ‘Battle Cry’ is out now via Island Records / Republic Records.
Taken from the new, free DIY Weekly, available to read online, download on Android via Google Play, or download on iPad now.
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