‘At one point I spent up to $20,000 in one night at a strip club.' The New York rapper talks feminism and leaking her own album
To celebrate this month's Girls Rule issue, Dazed is running a series of takeovers. To follow on from last week's Stacy Martin special, today celebrates Angel Haze with a day curated by the genre-spanning NYC-based rapper. This includes a DA-Zed of Female Rap, a Selects piece on her favourite new R&B artist Maxine Ashley, an incisive journey through her visual and literary inspiration, and an extensive Q&A with Angel. Keep checking our Angel Haze Day page for more throughout the day.
If anyone was unsure about whether Angel Haze was running things, she put them all straight with an act of rebellion in December that left her label scrabbling in her wake to push her album’s release date forward. Frustrated by its perpetual delay after she’d promised her fans they’d have it in 2013, the New York based rapper (real name Raykeea Wilson) uploaded her debut album Dirty Gold to Soundcloud several months ahead of schedule with the disarmingly polite message: “Sorry to Island/Republic Records, but fuck you.”
It’s questionable how well the move paid off; with minimal promotional effort and a graveyard shift December 30th release date, the album failed to move as many copies as it should have. But the unsung story is the music itself. Unpredictable and brave, these tracks soar from the booming balladry of Sia collaboration “Battle Cry” to the snarl of “Black Synagogue”, a tour de force that breathlessly charts Wilson’s relationship with religion (she was raised in what she describes as a cult until her liberation at the age of 15). Most instantly replayable is “White Lilies/White Lies”, a sinister strip club joint that toes a line between predatory and heartbreaking as Haze spits a monologue about (and to) the women onstage.
Above and beyond label squabbles, Haze is running things because of songs like this: she’s telling unheard stories from marginalised perspectives in a mainstream musical context, and she’s fearsome and fearless as she does it (see also: non-album track “Cleaning Out My Closet”, a no-holds-barred account of the sexual abuse she suffered as a child). In an in-depth interview, she told Dazed Digital about her chats with fans, her love for Eminem and what feminism means to her.
Dazed Digital: Tell me what was going through your mind when you put Dirty Gold on Soundcloud.
Angel Haze: It’s really hard to explain because it’s more what I was feeling than what I was thinking. At that point I was just like 'fuck it, I’ve been done with this album for seven months. For me it’s genuinely about having it touch people. I obviously want to be huge, I want to be as huge as possible - but at the same time I can’t deny myself the opportunity to keep in touch with my fans. And I know now that doing that means that, because it came so far ahead of time, it could obviously screw me over. But at the same time I don’t really care. I needed them to hear it.
I’d worked on it for so long, and it was just overwhelming to have someone saying 'okay, we’re going to put it out in September. Okay, we’re going to put it out in November... Now it’s going to be January.' I get that labels push things back, but I’ve literally been showing and baring my soul, going through so much shit and doing so much shit to ensure that I can have an album out, you know? I finished my album in three months; it’s not ideal. It was one of those things where I wanted it so badly, and I don’t like to feel like my dreams are being threatened.
DD: On the actual album you sing and rap a lot about taking control of your own life and destiny, and so was it frustrating to have people take charge of your art and when you could show it to the world?
Angel Haze: Yeah - but I think that it’s taught me to be patient. Because there are so many things that I have, even at the moment, that I can’t allow anyone to hear. To me art is like, if you feel it, you do it; but for me now, it’s like, if you feel it, you do it, but you wait to expose it. I think at certain points that’s great, and at others it can really drive an artist insane.
DD: One thing that I like about Dirty Gold is how it gets inside what’s usually an aggressively masculine genre – like on “White Lillies/White Lies” especially, it sounds like a sultry strip club anthem, but the lyrics are so frank and upsetting. Could you tell me more about how you wrote that song?
Angel Haze: I used to frequent strip clubs. At one point I spent up to $20,000 in one night at a strip club. It was sort of like a learning experience for me... seeing all the women there, they were beautiful, beautiful girls, and I’d sit and I’d talk to them and they’d be like, 'I hate men. Everything that I do I do because I want to abuse them.' Just seeing their world, seeing from their point of view, made me want to just write a song that’s not one of those super demeaning ones. I would love to hear a stripper dance to that song in the strip club, to be honest, but also I wanted to write it because I don’t see the point in glamourising that sort of lifestyle.
"My desire towards helping people – and I know that sounds super Miss America, but I’m so dedicated (to helping people) that I can’t even lie about it. I feel like I have a purpose with this"
DD: The album explores a lot of difficult subjects and feels like it gives voices to outsiders, victims, underdogs. Is that who you’re picturing when you go into the studio?
Angel Haze: Yeah, I think I generally attract a fanbase of people who are – not victims, but who are lost, and who are looking for a way out. Music speaks volumes, music totally heals broken bones, and I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t been in the same position.
DD: It’s cheesy when people describe female rappers as the 'female version of X', but there’s some really interesting links between you and Eminem – did you model yourself on him at all?
Angel Haze: To be honest, yes. I feel like every artist moulds themselves or crafts themselves on something that’s influenced them, and for me, Eminem and I are from the same place, I’m from 7 Mile, he’s from 8 Mile, we are literally a block over from each other. It’s crazy to see him come from the place where I come from, which is so stricken with poverty you can’t really overcome it, and to see him become such a fucking icon.
DD: You came up against a bit of a backlash when you were first starting out, what kinds of things did people say?
Angel Haze: At first it was just people saying that I didn’t really belong in hip hop because I wasn’t allowed to listen to music until I was 15. I don’t know any of the history of hip hop to be honest, I didn’t hear my first Notorious B.I.G. song until January last year, and it’s not a big deal to me because I was like, just because I don’t know it doesn’t mean I don’t belong. It’s not about influence solely in music, it’s about being able to connect with something. It hurt at first, but then I just stopped giving a fuck about it after a while. After a long while, actually.
DD: Did you ever feel discriminated against because you were a woman trying to make it in a masculine field in particular?
Angel Haze: Yeah, for the most part, I feel like that’s just a given though. At the end of the day people are going to take male rappers who suck tremendously and say, 'These guys are better than you, they’re the best thing that’s ever happened on earth,' and it’s just like, no, they suck.
DD: What motivates you more than anything else?
Angel Haze: My desire towards helping people – and I know that sounds super Miss America, but I’m so dedicated that I can’t even lie about it. I feel like I have a purpose with this, and it might not be forever, but I have to do what I feel like I’m here to do, and that’s just to help. I don’t even understand what else it could be about, and that’s how headstrong I am on helping other people. That’s the only thing that motivates me.
DD: Do you have any goals specifically, people you want to help?
Angel Haze: I just have all these visions... One of my fans wrote me literally last night – she’s from a Middle Eastern country, and her mom wanted to send her away to get married to someone and she didn’t want to. She was saying, 'She just wants to control me, I think the only option left for me is to run away.'
DD: Do you get a lot of messages like that from your fans?
Angel Haze: Yes.
DD: How do you respond to that kind of thing?
Angel Haze: I feel like it’s not asking very much to respond to them, to use my brain for a second to say hello. People talk to me about their friendships, their relationships, their parents, their personal lives, their struggles, whether it be drugs or sexuality or anything, in the belief that I will answer them. I might not have the best answers all the time but I try.
DD: Do you call yourself a feminist?
Angel Haze: Yeah, totally. I am completely all for women and rights equality, I don’t move from it.
DD: What does it mean to you?
Angel Haze: It means to protect women. It means to allow them the same opportunities as men; to teach my daughter – if ever I had one – to understand that there’s nothing that a man can do that she can’t do, there’s nothing in this world that a man can have that she can’t have. I feel like, being a feminist, you have to raise your daughters not with the ignorance or the egos of men, but the mindset that this is my world, I can have anything I want. For me, that’s important.
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