ARTICLE PATRIK SANDBERG
PHOTOGRAPHY BJARNE JONASSON
STYLIST TOM VAN DORPE
"I came from underground, dude.”
It’s as succinct an answer as any to the question of where the prodigiously talented, beguiling young female rapper called Angel Haze hails from exactly. Despite popping up on YouTube freestyling at the beginning of 2011, the 21-year-old’s 2012 emergence—heralded by the impressive 14-track EP Reservation, released online—came as a surprise. Made popular by intense word of mouth, the record instantly felt like a breath of fresh air for listeners who prefer a more introspective, thought-provoking style of hip-hop.
“I wasn’t ready back then,” Angel says of her initial exposure. “I kind of prepared myself this year and thought, Fuck this. It’s my turn now.” With two more mixtapes since, she has swiftly established herself as a big name to watch, inking a deal with Universal Republic while her EP was still catching fire in the blogosphere. Born Raee’n Wahya, in Detroit, Michigan, the artist has overcome some adversity to get to where she is today. Raised in what she describes as a “cult situation”—the controversial Apostolic Pentecostal sect—young Raee’n frequently resided in homeless shelters and was forbidden to listen to secular music. “Either you listened to Hezekiah Walker or you listened to nothing at all,” she says, laughing. “I was allowed to listen to music when I was 16, and the first person I found that I related to was Eminem.”
Still, rapping was not the young girl’s first choice of profession. “I actually wanted to be a traveling poet,” she says, “which to my despair is kind of what I am now.” She started to rap at the urging of a friend. “He was like, ‘You write great poetry, you should turn it into rap.’ When I first started I was fucking terrible. Learning wordplay and metaphors was what I spent most of my time doing. For me it was learning the craft before I could claim that I mastered it. I still haven’t, but I think I’m pretty good now.” Evidently the feeling is shared by fans of all stripes. Today Haze splits her time performing for urban hip-hop crowds and indie-leaning Pitchfork readers alike.
“I love the diversity, honestly,” she says of her fan base. “I can relate to those kids who are thrashers or metalheads or who love acoustic rock. Then I can relate to kids who love Eminem or Kanye West. I play shows and I am completely confounded by how many different types of ethnicities are in the building.”
As for the inevitable female rap comparisons, Angel is unconcerned but realistic: “I’ve learned through observation that the way hip-hop works is generally that when girls come out they are always compared to whoever the hottest rapper was before them. It’s a rite of passage. When you’ve established your own voice, then everyone who comes after gets compared to you. To be a female rapper, you have to be pitted against other females. You have to be the only bitch that matters. In other genres, females reign collectively because they realize their sounds differ tremendously. In hip-hop, they say she sounds like Nicki Minaj even if she isn’t doing anything like Nicki Minaj. You get compared because she’s the biggest one. She was the only one for a while. She started it for a generation of female rappers who are coming up now. You have to give her credit. I feel like some sort of cosmic shift is happening where, goddamn, there are more female rappers than any of us imagined and they’re all pretty fucking awesome. I love Missy Elliott so much. She’s instilled in me that you respect everyone, regardless of how they treat you and how they come off. Respect your peers. Missy Elliott is like the bejesus of rap.”
One thing besides her unique sound that sets Angel Haze apart is her style. “Every day people say to me, ‘Oh my god, you look like Aaliyah so much.’ And then they say, ‘Are you a lesbian?’” She laughs at this juxtaposition. “It’s like, bro, it doesn’t matter. I’m not fucking you. Everyone in TLC wore boxers and baggy pants and they were still cool!”
As she puts the finishing touches on her debut album, Dirty Gold, with producers like Salaam Remi and Malay, known for work with artists including the Fugees and Frank Ocean, Angel Haze is ready to leave her own mark of strong, female hip-hop. “I want to evolve more sonically. I want to sound like I took a step up. It’s fluid in the way that I write, it’s written based on the emotion I put behind it. Everything I do is working up to that album release. But I also have like five other EPs. It’ll be fun. I’m a working girl.”
Dirty Gold is available this spring from Universal Republic
Hair Roberto Di Cuia (L’Atelier NYC) Grooming Asami Taguchi (L’Atelier NYC) Manicure Marisa Carmichael (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics) Photo Assistants Joey Trisolini and Stephen Wordie retouching bespoke digital Location Jack Studios