The Emancipation of Angel Haze
By Alexandria Symonds
Photography by Janette Beckman
When you accidentally embarrass the 22-year-old spitfire rapper Angel Haze, she does the cutest thing: She giggles, actually giggles, and buries her head in the crook of her arm like a kid playing hide-and-seek whose turn it is to count down.
And when you embarrass Haze, it will be an accident, for two reasons. First, you won’t have intended to, because she’s all-around fantastic, thoughtful, open, and fun, and only a jerk embarrasses a person like that on purpose. Second, she doesn’t get uncomfortable talking about the many things in her life that might make another artist shy: her extremist Christian childhood and subsequent troubled relationship with her mother; the fans who write to her for advice; the evolution of her sexuality. Ask Haze, born Raykeea Angel Wilson, about any of these things, and she doesn’t flinch. She just looks you in the eye and answers.
She’s not even embarrassed—and this might be a first, for a rapper—to tell you, matter-of-factly, that her earliest musical influences weren’t Biggie or NWA but John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Paramore, and Tracy Chapman. (“To be honest, I have no greater aspirations than to be Tracy Chapman,” she says.) Oh, and the New Radicals, whom she got into after seeing...A Walk to Remember: “I literally hated them, to the core, for only making one album.”
You won’t find much of the New Radicals in Haze’s impassioned, tightly produced debut album, Dirty Gold. In its balance between swagger, emotionally raw lyrics, and Haze’s impressively tight flow, the record owes a debt instead to the first rappers she fell in love with: Kanye West and Eminem. “The 8 Mile soundtrack—I knew all the freaking freestyle rap from that movie,” she says. “Totally could still do it. I could probably do it better than Eminem, to be honest.”
Haze gets a little reverential when she starts talking about Eminem, though she admits the obvious: “It’s sort of hard to explain, being the craziest feminist ever, my love for Eminem,” she says. “I don’t always love the things he says, but I’m just like, he has to be fucking joking. I’m not gonna take that seriously.”
Though their upbringings were very different—until age 10, Haze was raised in a Greater Apostolic community, a Pentecostal sect that she has said prohibited jewelry, pop culture, and even friendships with those outside the group—she grew up near Eminem’s old stomping grounds in Detroit and strongly identifies with him. “He’s from 8 Mile, I’m from 7 Mile. It’s one of those things where you connect with someone so genuinely, like, ‘If you can come from literally a block over from where I come from’—and it’s terribly disgusting; the poverty levels in Detroit are just crazy—‘and you can become this fucking iconic figure, why can’t I?’ ”