Like Missy Elliot admitted in a J. Cole song, “nobody’s perfect”. ANGEL HAZE has had to reinforce that during her time as an emcee because she’s not a conventional rapper that casually browses the depths of her creative passion. The 22-year-old Michigan-born lyricist is a go-getter. An instigator. A driving influence for a corner of rap music that’s often brutalized by eschewed looks and nonbelievers. And most of all, she’s fearless. The latter attribute is visible in her debut album Dirty Gold (out now on Universal/Island) but it was hard to brush off in our recent conversation at Toronto’s Soho House. Even in a 10,000 square-foot space, Haze’s poise was locked-in and influential as she took a break from developing a new project to shed light on everything from creative control to the importance of fluidity.
Is there a difference between being an artist and a musician?
Definitely. I think for artists, obviously the derivative comes from something that inspires you whereas musicians can just write songs about anything. You can either be like – and I hate to say it because I love One Direction – One Direction or Tracy Chapman. There’s a stark difference between those two. I think the most important thing that comes with being an artist is being someone with something to say, not just someone who’s a part of the noise.
I read that you’ve been criticized for not listening to rap until you were 16 as you were reading Edgar Allan Poe. To me, it seems like the people who criticize your so-called lack of understanding of rap music are actually the ones lacking an understanding of the concept of inspiration.
I think it’s so funny because when I first started, I would read all these blogs that would say I didn’t deserve to be signed as a rap artist because I didn’t know shit about it. It’s fine for people to have their opinions or whatever, but it made me think about who inspired rappers. Obviously it was the poets, the writers, and the people who started before them, so technically if you look at it that way, I am inspired from the same root as them. It shouldn’t matter where I come from or what I’ve listened to. I wasn’t allowed to listen to music, so it’s not like it’s my fault. But I just think it’s stupid and they definitely misunderstand the concept of inspiration.
Has gaining an understanding of prose/flow from less conventional sources helped you?
Definitely. I don’t even know if I’ve mastered what my sound is because I’ve only been doing music for about two years now, so it’s one of those things where I’ve been figuring out who I am along the way. The project I’m working on now sounds nothing like Dirty Gold. I just put that out four months ago and I’ve immediately started something new. I suppose that’s the essence of all the stuff I’ve learned – like the fluidity of being an artist is about learning that there is no one sound and you’re never held captive. Today I took the time to listen to Kings Of Leon’s really old albums, like Youth & Young Manhood, and it sounds totally different from Only By The Night and their latest one. It’s interesting to see people cultivate a sound that travels with them instead of them trying to stick to one thing.
I agree. Often I will talk to artists and they will tell me they took a really big change of direction with their new release, but it ultimately reflects who they are as people.
Who I was a year ago is definitely nowhere close to who the hell I am now and I mean that in the greatest sense and also in the most drastic one as well. I have more demons, but there’s also more smiles. My growth as a human being has so much inspiration to what my sound is in regards to music.
If music and art is something that is supposed to be inspired from within, then really how important are exterior influences?
They’re not at all, but again that’s the whole root of inspiration. I think of everything like the movie Inception – you plant that seed, you spin that thing, and you watch everything evolve from there. That’s really how my life has been. I don’t think it’s important to have any sort of inspiration that doesn’t come from whatever seed is already inside you. I’ve been rooted in poetry my whole life. I’ve wanted to be Edger Allan Poe since I was like nine-years-old. He’s tattooed on my thigh and everything, so it’s real… like the obsession (laughs). I would definitely say if it comes from within then everything outward doesn’t matter.
Music is something so personal – an extension of the artist who creates it. Do you think the modern music industry tries to take ownership of it or even dilute that personal anecdote?
I would go as far as to say it’s a 50-50 thing between the artist and the labels. I just base everything off of living in America and watching what we are as a society here. Everything is about what’s on television and if you’re not talking about this, no one is going to get it because they’re not ready for it. It’s much like an article I did on Noisey where I was talking about how depression is the new fad for all teenagers. I went to fucking Norway and I met so many kids there who are suicidal, and that could also be attributed to the fact they never get sun there. It’s crazy. But I liken everything to that, like what’s influencing our culture. I sometimes make music that’s a fucking drag and I try to do things differently, but I can’t because it’s not who I am. Other people can and that’s the fun in all of it.
Should record labels be giving artists more control?
If the artist can handle it, then yeah. But if not, then fuck no! Like if you’re just raging against the machine and you don’t know what you’re fighting for, then there’s no purpose in fighting at all. But if you actually do have something to say or you’re someone with a message or story or if you just want to see people prosper, then why not? Or just don’t sign with a label at all. Go the Macklemore route.
With the way technology is progressing and the appeal of the DIY scene, do you believe the traditional label/management will soon become irrelevant?
No, because the modern music industry has all the cash, DIY doesn’t (laughs). I think it will always be a steady business, but the artists – depending on who they are and what they can do for themselves – will gain a lot more control compared to previous years.
Do you think labels put too much of an emphasis on selling singles?
Definitely. Everybody wants their own single and then when you get it… (pause). One of my friends, who shall go nameless, had a number one single and he’s so pissed at himself for caring so much about it because he can’t get out of the shadow of that song. He’s trying to put out a few new singles and they’re not all doing as well as that first one. I don’t know if it should be a gradual build to having that crazy smash but it definitely sucks for some people.
I’m sure you’ve been frequently asked some variation of “what’s it like to be a female rapper” as if your gender is relevant to your career choice. What do you think it will take for the music industry to finally get over those stereotypical gender roles?
The same thing it would take for the rest of the world to get over those stereotypical gender roles, equality, and every way shape and form of it. Whether it’s in the workplace, sexual situations, how households are run, and how people look at themselves. It takes an entire shift in humanity – not just in how the way the music business is run – and I think once it changes out there, it’ll change in here. People follow and everybody else should lead by example.
Do you ever worry the confessions you make in your songs will be what defines you in the public eye? As in people will see you for how you were as opposed to how you are.
Oh, fuck yeah. All the time. I meet people in person and they say the craziest stuff, like “I thought you would be a bitch”. Like they would try to shake my hand and I’d punch them in the face, but why would I ever do that? They say it’s because my music scares them and I’m like, “Oh, do you mean that thing that is part of expressionism? It’s a fucking catalyst dude, and I just pour myself into it”. Me as a person is totally light years different from who I am in my music. I think it sucks it becomes definitive of who you are as a person, but for me it’s great because I just try to show progress though all of it – from Reservation to Dirty Gold to Troubled Child, and all the other stuff. It’s all different and it’s all different sides of me, so I suppose people just take what they want.
You seem to have many philanthropic goals. Is music a platform for you to attain those goals or is it more of a cathartic release for the time being?
Music is a platform to attain tons of things as with fame comes opportunity. For me, philanthropy is a really important venture of mine, whether it’s I want to build orphanages in other countries or even in America because you need them there. Or help kids who are struggling, youth who are dealing with depression and their families don’t want them or whatever – I just want to give them the opportunity to have a life that isn’t polluted by what they’ve been through. By way of music I’ve had many opportunities. I just joined a new charity called Outreach Group and I’m just learning the ropes right now. It’s amazing what you can get your hands on and the things you can do by picking up a microphone and having people listen to you sing or rap. It’s sick.
If you weren’t an artist and you didn’t have to consider money and conventional success, how would you choose to spend the rest of your life?
I would be Willy Wonka because he was so fucking cool. Then I would be Edward Scissorhands, the neurological surgeon who cuts your fucking head open with different things. Or maybe I just do have too much of an imagination. I quit (laughs). Really, I would just do the things that make me happy, but because society is ruled by a monetary structure, I can’t even imagine what that world would be like. I need money to do the things that I want – to help the people I want to help and to live a life that I can control. I can’t honestly imagine or tell you what I would do.