When she’s not shooting out rapid-fire rhymes about her haters and her beef with religious fanatics, Angel Haze (born Raykeea Angel Wilson) is belting out rhythmical pop verses that blur the lines between hip-hop and pop. The detour toward hip-pop has also allowed other femcees like up and comer Azealia Banks and even rap’s current reigning queen Nicki Minaj, to evade hip-hop’s patriarchy while transcending underground cred for crossover appeal. But Haze is too proactive to wait on the sidelines for success—witness the way she leaked Dirty Gold at the end of December after a dispute with her label over the album’s release date.
A majority of the tracks on Dirty Gold was produced by Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire, Björk, Mumford And Sons), but on any track, Haze proves that she can write, rap and sing really well. The 22-year-old’s most significant chore on her melodramatic productions may be that of preacher to her fellow millennials. “You gotta make a decision to be the one difference in your life and turn it around,” she advises in the pow-wow-inspired, A Tribe Called Red (named after the Canadian Native American DJ collective that produced it). But Haze’s tireless tales of hardship and conquest can’t be shelved as nonsensical first world problems because she rhymes autobiographically about the pain she herself has suffered—notably the abuse she experienced as child as well as her upbringing in the Greater Apostolic Faith, which she likened to a cult.
While the downtempo Planes Fly makes a strong case for the more serene side of Haze’s “gives no fuck” attitude, seldom does she resist a moment to spew a few life coach-styled mantras via her boisterous delivery. For Battle Cry, Haze’s epic collaboration with Australian singer-songwriter Sia, Haze raps forcefully with swift wordplay; while White Lillies/White Lies finds the Detroit native narrating the life of a stripper whose innocence has been swapped for some fast cash. The formulaic lyrics (“She dances and she drops it/The crowd is yelling pop it/There’s a reason she can’t stop it”) on this muggy, Balkan gypsy-like tune warrants a few eye-rolls, mostly because the tragedy of promising women reduced to pole-dancing has been recycled ad nauseum in hip-hop. Black Dahlia, a brassy tearjerker, reflects a deeper pathos. It includes an audio clip of Natalia Kills suggesting that Haze write a love letter to her mother, whom she had a tumultuous relationship with. Choral vocals precede Haze’s tender bars about her mother’s search for love through a flawed religion. Even as she brashly sizes up her competitors on the David Guetta-esque Echelon (It’s My Way), she can’t seem to let go of her religious rearing. “These bitches is awful and me I spit that gospel/That lyrical biblical holy ghost, Pentecostal,” she raps.
She continues to sermonize in the Wynter Gordon/Mike Dean-assisted Black Synagogue and Angels & Airwaves, a dusky, industrial-styled pop anthem where she discusses everything from suicide to self-hate. In the second bridge of Angels & Airwaves, she retains a sluggish singsong tone that reflects her desire to confront her demons rather than escape them: “I’ve been running now/I’m outta here today/I’ve been running now/Questioning my faith.” But then the song concludes with Haze delivering the gimmicky proposition, “Don’t give up on you/I didn’t give up on me.” Her lines feel less contrived on Deep Sea Diver. Here, her firm call-and-response singing makes her potent flow feel more like a charismatic host than an unwanted gatecrasher at a quiet dinner party.
Throughout Dirty Gold, Haze constantly shifts back and forth between aggressive hip-hop rhymes and cushiony pop hooks as if she’s attempting to lull her irate lyricism, or maybe she’s confused about which is worth pursuing. To say that this debut was made with a purpose is an understatement. Haze has aimed to show that, despite her struggles, she’s not a victim. She’s a survivor, a tenacious fighter who is always ready to draw blood, even if it’s her own.