“My identity is the music – everything you need to know about me is in the music. My home is in the music. It’s where I originate, it’s where I fall apart, it’s where I come to life.”
On this opening to ‘A Tribe Called Red’, from her debut studio album ‘Dirty Gold’ (review), Angel Haze sounds tired and frustrated by the questioning around ethnicity, gender and sexuality that seems to be the constant focus of the journalists she comes into contact with.
“It becomes really redundant to have the same questions asked to you, when it really honestly is about the music!” she vents. “You can’t scream that in someone’s face and go, ‘Dude, it’s about the f*cking music!’ I don’t talk about my sexuality in songs because you don’t need to know about that. Everything that I write is completely unisex; you can apply it to any type of situation.
“Sometimes I just get really over-anxious. I’m not really good at talking to people. And to be honest, mostly every conversation I ever have is super scripted to the point where I’ve mapped out exactly what a person’s going to say and exactly how I’m going to respond. It’s a very weird thing for me to go through. I’m always super-nervous and fleeing for it to be over.”
The 22-year-old (who, if you must know, originates from Detroit and identifies as being pansexual) has recently released her debut under slightly controversial circumstances. Having promised fans that they would hear it before the end of the year, she leaked ‘Dirty Gold’ via her SoundCloud account rather than waiting for Republic/Island’s March release date.
“I knew exactly what I was doing and how consequential it was,” she explains, “but that doesn’t ever take precedence to me over how important it is to always keep your word. They’d already known prior that it was going to happen, and it was going to be a thing that they’d have to keep me from doing or make strides towards making it easier for me not to do it. After that happened it was just like a basic screaming war, with a really long meeting where everyone’s like, ‘Okay, well, f*ck it. If you want to do it this way, do it this way! Just know that there will be repercussions. But if this is what you want, then this is what we’ll stand behind.’”
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Angel Haze, ‘Echelon (It’s My Way)’
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Haze used to post webcam videos of her performing impressive spitfire freestyles over popular hip-hop instrumentals onto YouTube, attracting ridiculous numbers before she would take them down. The freedom of this maverick mentality has made fitting into the structure of the recording industry difficult.
“It’s been incredibly hard to adapt, being that I’m so used to being able to put out music whenever I want. I’ve done it for a year – there are things that I still have that I won’t put out yet, or I can’t put out yet or whatever. It’s just trying to understand where all of it comes from and trying to convey your issue to other people.”
Despite this, she doesn’t regret having signed to a major label, appreciating the advantages that come along with a more calculated approach. “It’s great. I mean, you have that support. That’s the key reason: you have that machine behind you, which makes you a force to be reckoned with, rather than just a YouTube personality.”
The earliest writing we hear on ‘Dirty Gold’ is ‘Vinyl’, a bonus-edition track that started life as a tweet on July 13th 2012, the same night she released her ‘Reservation’ mixtape.
“That was a year before I actually started recording,” she remembers. “I usually just write them as words to start off with, because I don’t want to get so caught up in my head to a cadence that I can’t put it to anything. So I just free write in a journal and find bits that I’d like to use for a song [later], then I play off of that and create an entire song.”
The recording of ‘Dirty Gold’ took her to a number of locations, including Spain – which she hated – New York, Hawaii and London, inspiring the instinctively nomadic soul. “I find it hard to commit to being in one place,” she admits. “I lived in LA recently, for like four months, and then I moved back to New York because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I’m at heart naturally a drifter, and I think that’s really well conveyed in my music.”
‘Dirty Gold’ plays like a self-help guide, sharing some of Haze’s own experiences and offering strength and encouragement to those finding themselves in similar situations.
“I don’t genuinely view my life as being for myself,” she says. “My life is not my own. My purpose here is not to have had experienced all the things that I’ve experienced and keep them to myself, or to allow them to turn me into someone who not only doesn’t want to help people, but in turn hates them.”
She is set on making music that can heal, and the track ‘Angels & Airwaves’ describes using music as therapy. She speaks specifically to a demographic that she feels is voiceless within hip-hop, explaining: “I recently feel like Kendrick Lamar speaks to a sector of the people that obviously need to be spoken to, but there are certain kids who don’t have anyone to speak for them. And my intention as an artist, as a rapper, writer, poet – whatever you want to call me – is to touch those people. Music heals everything.”
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Angel Haze feat. Sia, 'Battle Cry'
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Words: Grant Brydon
Photos: Bella Howard
Fashion: Madeleine Ostlie
Make-Up: Jane Bradley
Hair: Darren Hau
Angel wears own jeans and jewelry, all other clothes courtesy of Saint Laurent. Thanks to the London Edition Hotel.