The very first words of Angel Haze’s studio debut are cutting, given how this set’s release has played out. “I’m making it for people who just want to get lost.” It seems that they did, on the way to the tills: ‘Dirty Gold’ sold well under 1,000 copies (UK) when it was rushed to release by the artist herself, after her leaking of the album on SoundCloud forced her label, Island, to put it out on December 30. A time when everyone is out buying new records, obviously.
‘Dirty Gold’ is yet to chart in Brooklyn rapper Haze’s homeland – but a first week position of 196 on this side of the Atlantic does not bode well for the future. And she’s only herself to blame – by pressuring her label, a company that’s been doing this since the late 1950s so has some idea of how to structure an album’s release and promotional campaign, into action against their innate business senses, Haze has compromised the appeal of these tracks substantially. She’s been a bully, basically. She’s thrown her weight around, and her toys well and truly out of the pram.
But then, we perhaps should have seen it coming. Since 2012’s excellent ‘Reservation’ mixtape, Haze – real name Raykee Angel Wilson – has been operating at the vanguard of hype and has traded enough lyrical blows with peers to fill a rhyming-slanging dictionary. Foremost in her sights: the equally career-wobbling Azealia Banks, whose own debut album proper ‘Broke With Expensive Taste’ still hasn’t emerged, despite being initially slated for a September 2012 release. Both artists have exhibited a desire to self-destruct in the public eye.
Haze has had her ego inflated by column inches building her up to be one of the decade’s most-likely-to MCs, with reason enough to do so at the time – but rather than turn that expectation into end product worth the entry fee, she’s realised less than her full potential with ‘Dirty Gold’. It’s not a bad record by any stretch, albeit one where the turgid does bump ugly against the terrific. But it’s irrevocably tarnished by the manner in which it has found its way to commercial availability, by its maker’s naïve act of rebellion against those who were – who remain – invested in making her a success.
- - -
‘Echelon (It’s My Way)’
- - -
As on ‘Reservation’, Haze is dominant throughout ‘Dirty Gold’, the usual slew of featuring MCs and singers conspicuous by their absence on this (relatively curt at just over 50 minutes long) major-label rap record. Sia appears on the inevitable-single-to-be ‘Battle Cry’, a Greg Kurstin-produced affair that mixes saccharine soppiness in its verses with soar-away choruses that just don’t sound right without X Factor-style fireworks erupting behind them. But apart from the Australian singer, the only other notable collaborators appear in the production credits: Markus Dravs, of Arcade Fire and Coldplay fame, and Rudimental, who are on board for the bonus track ‘Crown’.
Lead single ‘Echelon (It’s My Way)’ is an effort that doesn’t dull dramatically on repeat spins, spiky of prose and bouncy of beats, as vibrant as city-centre bustle. It’s one of a few numbers here that touches upon Haze’s religious upbringing – she was a member of the Greater Apostolic Faith, until a pastor threatened her family. ‘Black Synagogue’, as its title implies, associates itself with themes of faith, too, while ‘Angels & Airwaves’ talks of finding salvation in another kind of comfort, music, when obstacles stack up before you, told with first-hand sincerity.
Haze has overcome her own array of terrible hardships – not least of all being raped as a child (documented in the terrifying, non-album ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’, here). She’s battled discrimination – for being black, for being a female in rap, for having a “pansexual” attitude to relationships: “Love is boundary-less,” she’s said, brilliantly and accurately – and come out the other side with a clutch of decent songs, amid a few duds.
Amongst further standouts here are ‘Deep Sea Diver’ (a Dravs production), the groggy grind of mid-set peak ‘White Lilies / White Lies’, and the thrilling flow of ‘Black Dahlia’, which colours Haze as the flipside to Saul Williams’ most-turbulent tirades. The latter, addressing her relationship with her mother, expresses a selflessness – “I’d do it all for you, so you can have your happy ending” – directly contradicted by Haze’s immature impatience in seeing ‘Dirty Gold’ go public.
Despite its shortcomings, this album could yet elevate Angel Haze to mainstream status, to the kind of recognition that someone with her obviously singular talents deserves. She put the groundwork in. She grafted. She did it for herself. But when the time came to bring others into the mix to take things that step further, she went and slipped on a banana skin of her own peeling.
With the right management, critical attentions could have been carefully guided towards this record’s truest triumphs, setting a precedent for some strong reviews. But by hearing it all at once, with little context beyond that which Haze made under her own misguided direction, what comes through most clearly is a girl scared of letting go: of her past, of what she used to exclusively control. It’s almost as if she doesn’t want to get lost, at all.
Words: Mike Diver
Listen to 'Dirty Gold' via Deezer, below...
- - -