We hang with the Detroit rapper ahead of a London show to talk about learning to use their past and exploring all the different personalities inside their body
When “Cleaning Out My Closet” dropped in 2012, along with her mixtape Classick, Angel Haze’s reputation as a boundary-pushing performer was cemented. The song deals with the raw and brutal subject matter of child rape, laid over a beat widely associated with Eminem, setting them (Angel Haze’s preferred pronoun) apart from run of the mill rappers and demonstrative of an artist unafraid to reach into their past in order to create.
Three years since their debut album Dirty Gold, the wait for the hotly-awaited sophomore album continues, but their latest mixtape Back To The Woods is an adequate taster of what’s coming. “With Back To The Woods I was just feeling that I needed to get everything out of me,” says Angel Haze.
Over in the UK as part of their global tour, we got a chance to hang with the rapper and talk about catharsis through music, mental health and the future.
You have been playing a huge amount of dates – how is touring going?
Angel Haze: We have 34 more dates. It’s crazy that I even get to play 34 dates – some people don’t even get to play one so it’s dope that my shows are sold out. But I am tired ‘cause I have shows six days a week and then one day off. When I am performing I know that every time I’m on that stage I come alive – it’s what I do when I am off the stage that drives me mad.
When did you have your last, ‘fuck I can’t believe I am here’ moment?
Angel Haze: Last night actually. I am playing London and it’s all fucking sold out and shit, that’s just dope. Before, I had a bunch of people telling me that I could not do sold out tours. Like I had shows before and I was maybe doing about 50 per cent of the tickets. Now, my shows have been tight and it’s packed from wall to wall and the crowd know my music – that’s just fucking dope.
Back To The Woods is an independently released project – did you want to reclaim some creative freedom?
Angel Haze: Making the music that I make, coming from where I come from and being able to stand behind the music that I make – it’s amazing to feel proud. With this project I just thought fuck what other people think or what person my label want me to be, it’s all about who Angel is right now.
“I did not know a lot of shit about myself, I did not know that a lot of the shit I was dealing with were mental health issues because black people don’t do mental illness”
Could you call the project an album?
Angel Haze: Well an album for me is distinguished in terms of the effort, time and curation that goes into it. I only spent two months on this so it is definitely just a project for me. With Back To The Woods I was just feeling that I needed to get everything out of me. TK [Angel’s producer] and I worked together tirelessly to create something that represented where our heads were and what the last year of our lives were like.
Was it cathartic? What did you need to get out of you?
Angel Haze: They are all cathartic projects because I do not have anything else, I do not have any family. I am building something right now but at the same time I have to get that person out. There are personalities that I have that I don’t like right now and so my music helps me to explore those characters.
Would you describe “Cleaning Out My Closet” as a cathartic piece of work?
Angel Haze: The problem with my previous records is that I was never there enough – like literally in my brain. I had lived my life but a lot of people do not know that much about me aside from the fact that I was sexually abused as a kid but that is like a tiny facet of me and there are so many other big pieces that come into play.
What are those pieces?
Angel Haze: For the fucking past two years I have ended up in hospital each November 27 because I am trying to commit suicide. I thought I should open up for the first time. I wanted my music to be something that I could personally reach and feel something about. After so many years, I actually went back to my old house in Detroit when I was booked to perform there and that was fucking crazy.
How difficult was that?
Angel Haze: I was like ‘holy fuck’. The place has the devil in there and when I saw it I realised a lot about myself and my life and it just overwhelmed me. I guess I am learning to use my pain and my past and make it a way forward for me. I want to build a paradise from all my pain and go ‘ha’ I built you, you did not build me. The thing is, I wear my scars from my life (I am not a cutter or anything) but I wear my scars and wear them well and now I understand them. If dissociative disorder is what I have then so be it – I see it in all my patterns and my behaviour.
So you’ve begun to realise a lot about yourself?
Angel Haze: I think that I have come more into myself. I started doing this when I was very young and now I am 23 so I am growing up in the public eye. The thing is, I had to learn myself – I did not know a lot of shit about myself, I did not know that a lot of the shit I was dealing with were mental health issues because black people don’t do mental illness – it’s like ‘get the fuck over it’. Learning who I am and that whole cause and effect shit has helped me because I am not so focused on my stress. I am going to turn up, drop my music, see some titties and fuck the shit up.
Your last album was three years ago – your fans are so excited to hear it...
Angel Haze: It’s coming, I have been working on it for months. I am taking 12 or 13 crucial moments from my life, just letting them come to me and then making dope music for those moments. I am getting ideas every day. Sometimes I just wake up and write these thoughts in my notes and then I am like ‘fuck, this is what I am going to do’. It will be like a concept album and when I drop the name of this bitch it’s going to be dope. Most importantly I need my second album to accurately portray the life of Angel Haze, Raykeea Roes Wilson, Raeen or whatever the fuck you want it to be. It’s got to be one of those things that you get.