If you need to reaffirm your belief in the power of hip-hop, check out a song called “Cleaning Out My Closet” by Angel Haze, off her most recent mixtape, Classick. On the track, Haze raps (over the beat from the similarly titled Eminem song) about the sexual abuse she experienced beginning at the age of 7, and how the experience led her to suicidal thoughts. Whether she’s rapping or speaking, Haze’s hurt, humor, kindness, anger, and endearing quirkiness all collide in a fury of rapid-fire syllables. In the song, she also muses about this experience’s effect on other aspects of her life, such as her sexuality (Haze has stated that she is “pansexual”), with an emotional rawness and intense rhythmic dexterity that demands attention—and she’s been getting plenty of it lately.
The 21-year-old Haze (real name: Raykeea Wilson) was born in Detroit and moved around a lot as a kid, with stints in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, California, and North Carolina. She was raised by her mother as a member of the Greater Apostolic Faith, a church that Haze has described as a “cult” and that her family left when she was 10. During her early years in the church, Haze was forbidden to listen to popular music. But upon leaving, she began to write poetry, which eventually led her to hip-hop. At the age of 16, Haze says, her life changed when she heard Eminem for the first time. “I was irrevocably smitten with him because of how honest and brash and blunt he was—and how much of a fuck he didn’t give.” Haze also cut her teeth on Kanye West, as well as on rock acts such as Linkin Park, attracted, she explains, to “artists who say the most honest shit,” which made her want to devote her life to music.
Haze settled back in New York in 2012, and has since released a series of popular mixtapes, including Altered Ego and King, and an EP, Reservation, which includes the song “New York,” which garnered airplay as well as critical acclaim, and helped land her a record deal with Universal Republic. (Haze’s proper debut full-length, Dirty Gold, is due out this spring.) She now lives in Lower Manhattan—“Brooklyn became too hipstery for me,” she says—and these days, is frequently mentioned in the same breath as another brash, young female rapper, Nicki Minaj. But for Haze, making music is less about following in anyone’s footsteps as much as it is about remaining unyieldingly true to her own experience. “I don’t think anyone—regardless of how cocky they are—is ever prepared for this,” she says of her sudden ascent. Although Haze makes hip-hop music, she says she would prefer to be a rock star, citing the greater latitude that classification embodies. “There are so many criteria you have to meet if you say you want to be a rapper,” she says. “With rock stars, it’s about how crazy they are. They get to do whatever they want.”
ANGEL HAZE IN NEW YORK, DECEMBER 2012. ALL CLOTHING: MARC JACOBS. RINGS: DELFINA DELETTREZ AND HAZE'S OWN. HAIR PRODUCTS: KEVIN MURPHY, INCLUDING BODY BUILDER, FULL AGAIN, HAIR RESORT SPRAY, DAMAGE MANAGER, AND SESSION SPRAY. HAIR: DENNIS GOTS FOR BERNS & BLACK SALON/JED ROOT. MAKEUP: TRACY ALFAJORA FOR CHANEL/JOE MANAGEMENT. MANICURE: JACKIE SAULSBERY FOR CHANEL/KRAMER + KRAMER. SPECIAL THANKS NEO STUDIOS.