23-year-old rapper, Angel Haze, has lived a tough life. From sexual abuse between the ages of seven and ten to living in a cult and finally becoming a renown and respected artist - the least we can say is that she’s lived. She is strong, she is funny and remains a puzzle, and some sort of mystery. With her first album - ‘Reservation’ - Haze opened up to the public, unveiling her darkest memories in ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’ or encouraging self-acceptance in ‘Same Love’. She addressed her sexuality, childhood and family, without any waffle or taboo, through covers of famous tracks that lulled a whole generation. Last year she released a new album - ’Back to the Woods’- equally honest and raw. "Overall I just feel like freedom is a message - to feel, to be, to change, to evolve and grow. Or to just be a dick - sometimes I’m just an asshole and I can’t help it, it’s juts who I am". She is looking towards the future, learning to forgive or forget the demons ofher past and embracing every emotion she felt over the past two years - or lifetime. Whether you like it or not, Angel Haze will write her story taking you with her, through empowering melodies and truthfully mind-blowing lyrics.
Words by Maria Mokina, photography by Alexis Chabala, styling by Rickardo Mattocks-Maxwell, make up & hair Neusa Neves
What are you working on now?
I actually just finished my second solo full-length project. My first one was ‘Reservation’. When I say solo, I mean I did it alone with just me and friends, nobody, no label or outside influence. So, my most recent project is ‘Back to the Woods’. I was working on that for four months. I wrote the record —which consists of 13 songs — I wrote the record in 2 months and then it took me another 2 months to record it and mix it. But it’s finished. Rad.
How many records/albums do you have in total?
Aw man, I only have two. I signed in 2013, so technically it’s only been a little bit, but it feels like it’s been forever.
When was the moment when you realised “Damn, I’m famous!”?
(Laughs) I mean, I wake up everyday now and I’m like, "Yeah fuck, I’m getting there". It’s weird because someone I used to know told me to appreciate the ‘climb’ — ’cause you get fame in portions. 10% - 20% - 30%. And he told me to appreciate every little bit that I’m getting, because once you hit 100%, you never get back to 0. And you’ll miss it. So I’ve tried to pace it. I think I truly realised the fame when people started recognising me in the streets and then it didn’t stop. I was like "Okay I get it now, it’s not a one-time thing, it’s an every day thing". (Laughs.) And it happens here too! I mean I was in Five Guys yesterday and I looked awful — no make-up, no anything — this little girl just froze up next to me and she said, "Oh my God", and I’m like, "I can’t take no pictures, not with this face". I feel like I’m very friendly with my fans. I think, overly-friendly even. Once I had my shoulder dislocated, ’cause I jumped in the crowd and this girl hung on to me for her dear fucking life and just ripped my shit out. And I was like "Oh my God, this is painful". After that I would never go back in the crowd, but I love that shit. I love that people feel so passionately about me that it’s cool. I never had love growing up, but I get it now — from them.
Where does the name ‘Angel Haze’ come from?
Hmm, I just made it up, to be honest. I just tell a different lie every time someone asks me, so here’s another one (laughs). Okay, so one time I tried heroin, and I had an other-worldly experience. In this experience God came to me and he said, "Aaliyah came to him", and you know how Aaliyah’s name is Aaliyah Haughton, right? Well Aaliyah came to him, and told him that I was the one. So I just borrowed her first and last initials. So Angel Haze — Aaliyah Haughton. God gave me that! You see that? How psycho is that? (Laughs.) But really, it is just a metaphor for things that are high. Like ‘angel’ in the spiritual room, and then ‘haze’ — weed.
Why do you rap?
Well I sing too. Hmm, I don’t know. I do a lot of things actually, so for me music is just a safe place. Whether it’s rap, whether it’s singing, whether it’s playing an instrument or creating — that’s the only way I can answer that: it’s just my safe place. I play the guitar. I actually taught myself, with ‘Learning the Guitar for Dummies’, and it’s really just chords and tabs. I started a class early and my coach had to move back to England, so I was like "fuck…", then I just took what he gave me and went from there. I’m not really good at it but I can play. I’m learning the piano, but I really suck at it at the moment, so… But I just started two months ago and my hands just get cramped up, it’s really annoying that I can’t just get it. So kids are just geniuses, it makes me really sad that I’m not agenius…I wish!
Someone I used to know told me to appreciate the ‘climb’ - cause you get fame in portions. And once you hit 100%, you never get back to 0.
How do you make music? Do the lyrics come first or do you work with the melody prior to writing the words?
Well, with this record I went through a very dark time and so, all of this was created when I locked myself in my house. My brother and I did this record together so, down the line, it’s 50/50 with the producing and writing. Every time I was sad or I remembered something, we would create. It was really originally inspired by a thought or a feeling. And then it become more. So, whenever I have a feeling, or a memory, I have a song on my record that sort of walks you through a rough and tough time for me. I had the thought first and then I had the lyrics. And I had the "Oh yeah, baby, don’t take it away from me", and I sang it one time in the choir stand, then we created it from there — it was the lyrics and then we build the music around everything. Sometime I would go up to my brother and say "Oh hey, I really want to do something", and I always have my voice memos going — I have like 700 voice memos of me just talking and making melodies.
What does your music mean to you? Is it more a message to your fans or an expression of your thoughts, pain and feelings?
I think overall it’s about expression. If I’m mad, if I’m sad or if I’m in love or in despair of any sort, I know I can always say what I want in my music. Overall, I just feel like freedom is a message — to feel, to be, to change, to evolve and grow. Or to just be a dick — sometimes I’m just an asshole and I cant help it, it’s just who I am. I don’t try to control myself, I like to allow myself the freedom to be the entirety of my person. I don’t like to limit myself or to tell myself down for anybody, ’cause I am not asking that of anybody around me, so I don’t feel like I owe it to them. I’m just fucking crazy — I do what I want.
Do you think life would’ve still made you a hip-hop singer if you didn’t have the childhood you did?
I truly think I had to go through everything I went through to get here. The message is so much bigger than me, because it’s universal. There’s more than me, who’s gone through this. There are kids that are going through this right now, who don’t feel like they have anyone to relate to. And the fact that I have a platform and that it's expanding itself, means that more people have representation. So my pain is much bigger than me. I need to see that shit, I need to feel how I feel every day, I need to want to commit suicide sometimes, because other people are doing their shit and they need to see that someone is strong enough to get through it. I’m not trying to be a role model or an idol or anything like that. I wasn’t put here to do anything more than be an example and a light, because I have the ability to be. Or I can just be a dick — but I chose otherwise.
When you wrote "Cleaning Out My Closet", who was the first person you showed the lyrics to?
Was it Leroy? Yeah, it was my agent Leroy, he was in the studio when I did it. And, it was so hard for me to record, ‘cause I had written it, and I was like "just put the beat on, put it in a loop", and I’m super-super nervous about recording shit the first time in front of people — I’m just like "Fuck, this is now not just a thought, it’s an actuality and people can judge it". I’ve always been shy and protective of my art and shit. So I recorded it, I was trying to get it right but I was so scared in the room, because I feel like when you say certain things, you call forth certain energies and, being consumed, that was such a dark place for me and a dark time. And it’s something that, you know, as often as I cannot, I don’t return to. To be in that booth was weird. I did it, I came out and he was like "Jesus", and doubted the fact that I should do it — I thought it might be too much, too fucking much. The only reason I did this song is because I know I want to be something, but there are people who know shit about me, who would dangle it over my head like, "Get the fuck out of here. People ain’t gonna blah blah blah" and I’m like, let me tell everybody. But out of the middleman, everybody knows now, nobody can use it against me. But also, it helped people and it did something I didn’t fucking expect.
So you don’t have any connection with your family. Do you think you could forgive your mother one day and start seeing her again?
I never knew my family growing up. Like we were in a church, we left the church, they turned their backs on us and everything, so it was just me, my mom and my brother. And it was definitely a cult: you couldn’t wear pants or earnings or talk to people from outside the church. You couldn’t do fucking anything — not even listen to music. I would talk to kids at school and, like, my brother and kids from the church would go back and tell everyone, and I would get my ass kicked for it. I think a lot of lost people who are looking for love and something to believe in and somewhere to belong, end up in really dark places if they are not careful — and that’s the only thing I can say about that. I heard Eminem’s ‘Headlights’ which is on the Marshall Mathers LP 2. Eminem did ‘Cleanin’ Out My Closet’, and he did a bunch of different records about his mother, and he’s like maybe 50 or something today — I don’t know how old he is actually. And he, at that point, had just learnt that he wanted to forgive his mom. But he went through so much stuff. To me, I’m always on about how I don’t want to be old and fucking miserable, because I like to look at people and learn from them, so I don’t have to go through shit. But it’s weird, I feel like in a really big way I’m not mentally or emotionally prepared to handle that — I’m just a step away from it. And I think that one thing that drives me forward is my ginormous desire to never go back home. ’Cause when my mom kicked me out, she told me I was going to fail, so everyday I wake up with that thought in my brain and I just go for it, ’cause I can’t go back there — she can’t be right about my life. The funny thing is, that relationship is a lot more complicated that I’ve ever gotten the chance to explain. I’m not involved with my family in any way, shape or form now — but when I was, my little brother was actually the son of that guy. So, it’s a very complicated story, very intricate. It’s difficult. He’s a sick person. But the biggest thing I learned in my journey is to forgive and that shit is hard. You just feel like you’re letting yourself down, ’cause you want to be angry and you want to get vengeance — but the best thing is moving forward. It’s the best fucking vengeance there is. I struggle with forgiving my mother, because I’m this way because of that shit. Sometimes I think there’s a darkness to everybody and mostly mine is like "Rrrawwrr". I was diagnosed with a lot of different shit this past year — I just don’t even want to go down that path. And I feel like if my mom had protected me, I wouldn’t be this fucked up — and I would feel like I had a chance. I don’t feel like I have a chance. So I don’t know if I can forgive that, but I can try.
If I’m mad, if I’m sad or ifI’m in love or in despair of any sort I know I can always say what I want in my music.
What is your relationship to religion?
I don’t have one. I understand ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’ as two different things. Religion is for the blind. Spirituality is for people, who have opened their third eye and have moved forward in the world. I focus on trying to cultivate a sense of peace and personal freedom — that’s all I care about. Anybody can believe in whatever they want to believe in, I don’t care.
What would you say to the girls who have faced a similar experience and are now trying to live with it?
Oh man. I don’t think there’s anything you can say to anybody. I mean, you survive. The only way in this life is to try to outlive everything, that’s the point. If you had an easy life, you would be very horrifically fucking bored — if my life was simple, I would probably hang myself from a Joshua tree. I think that trial and error are just as important as happiness and life in life. You have to learn to appreciate them both, equally. When you do, you realise that yeah, there’s fucking pain, but then there’s love that fills the deepest of breath. You just have to go and trust yourself. Trust yourself to protect yourself. That’s the only thing I can say. I don’t have the answers because I’m still going through it, I’m only 23.
Being a female rapper is not easy — often the industry represents quite a man’s world built on an environment full of cars, money, and “sexy chicks”. Do you think it’s time for a change?
Nah, that sounds like a day in the life of Angel Haze: bitches, cars, money, drugs, you know? Like, I think that the thing about the industry is that it doesn’t need change, it needs equality. I get to be just as aggressive, just as prominent, just as affluent and sometimes just as useless, as the boys do. That’s what it means to me. Not that men shouldn’t put cars, bitches and money in their videos, I can do that too. But it’s not looked at the same exact way. Women don’t get the opportunity to be artists. Period. I don’t care about stigma, misogyny and feminism and all that shit — I mean I do, but to an extent. I think that alignment is everything and everybody should be equally aligned in the same way. And when it comes to expression you can’t tell anything about it: if someone’s into cars, bitches and money, then that’s what they’re into — some people are not and that’s okay too. We need all of these spaces and all of these ways of life to exist to keep us moving forward in society. There’s a lot of shit that needs to change. I think equality is the first thing, the first step forward — especially for rap.
Usually artists are massively involved with the fashion industry one way or another. Do you have any projects in that area?
Well, I’m collaborating a lot because I have a genuine interest in fashion — not only in curating it, but as a designer. I’m too lazy to do a fabric though, but as far as the designing, new ideas and putting fabrics together go, I’m really passionate.
I think my relationship to the fashion community right now it’s burgeoning, because I’ve made sure that I tailor everything to me — everything that you see on me is my signature, whether it’s my shirts being completely ripped and destroyed, to my boots having all sorts of stuff on it. It’s again creating a relationship. But I love Givenchy, I love Helmut Lang, I love Phillip Lim, I love Moncler, I love random brands. I think that merging is cool. I love combining all of these, because you always find the best jeans in those weird-ass thrift stores that you never, ever want to take off to. You have to shift like that in order to thrive fully — my wardrobe comes from all over the place, I have shit that costs like 6000$ and have some that costs like 12$. I’m not ashamed of it, because the shit is still awesome. I do fashion week every season in New York, but more than going to shows, I’m more interested in collaborating with designers, so I’m looking forward to having a lot of shit happen this year.
BTW, that’s how you met your girlfriend Ireland Baldwin – at New York Fashion Week, didn’t you? Are you still dating?
Aw no, we’re not dating anymore, actually — I mean we don’t have any beef for anything, she’s a great girl, I just needed to focus. We’re some variation of friends, we’re as friendly as you could ever be with your ex, you know. Am I dating someone? Nah, I can’t, man, it’s tough to tame me — I’m in the wild phase that everyone goes through, but permanently.
In another interview, you mentioned how much of a romantic person you are. How would you define romance?
What gets me in trouble is that I’m a very romantic person. The fact that I can be so romantic with literally every single person I meet... It’s fucked up. I love seeing people happy and love seeing them smile. I think people are so beautiful when you compliment them on something they don’t even think you noticed: "You have amazing brown eyes, I love them because brown eyes are mysterious and you can’t really see them". Romance is just my nature — I want to make people feel good all the time, but that doesn’t mean that I want to date you. I’m not good at dating. I’m good at the whole act of it but as soon as it gets serious, I’m just not into it anymore.
The fact that I can be so romantic with literally every single person I meet — it’s fucked up.
How often do you feel happy?
Whenever I’m on drugs. Asking me if I feel happy without them is a trick question: ‘Angel Haze admits drug addiction’ (laughs). I feel happy all the time — so with or without them, that’s it, I’m good.
So what’s next for you? Do you think about what you could be doing in the next 5-10 years?
Oh, fuck yeah. I’m one of those people who has to wake up with a goal — so I have mad goals. Whether that’s in fashion or finally going and crossing over into the animation world and doing a show of my own, with my friends. Or, I have charitable interests too, I wanna build a bunch of groups homes for lost and abused teens and curate scholarship funds for those kids, so that they can go into the world and be something. So, I’ve got a lot of shit to work for, which is great, ’cause that’s just the start. If I can get through that and stay alive, then I get go through a lot more by the time that I die.
If you could choose any singer (past or present) to write an album with, who would it be?
That’s so tough, because there are so many people that I appreciate for different reasons. I would honestly though — because I think of Kanye as a phenomenal art-curator — I would definitely go with him for now. Kanye’s the dude. He’s dope. And then I would get Jean-Michel Basquiat and Claude Monet to collaborate on my art work with him, and it would be dope. I’ve never really tried to approach Kanye, because I’ve never felt satisfied with my music. I’m not satisfied because there are things that I wanna grow towards, but this is the point in my artistry, where I actually feel confident and proud of my work.
Why did you decide to learn Tsalagi (Cherokee tribes language)? How much time did it take you? Say something on Tsalagi, please...
Well, that’s sort of a half-truth / half-lie. I like to think that people believe that I learnt it by myself, but no, of course not. I’m not a baby genius or anything. I went to classes, basically because they offered them for free, because the language is dying today — and they want people to know the language, so it does not die out. ’Nigohilvi’ means always and ’do hi yi’ means peace. In English it looks a bit hard, because of the ‘v’ — people trying to pronounce it, and I’m like, "nah, my nigga, let me just help you" (laughs).