Angel Haze is an enigma who defies easy categorization. Since their self-released debut mixtape, King (2011), the Detroit-born rapper, singer and writer has interwoven the themes of abuse, despair, and suicide, with expressions of hope, courage, and triumph. Haze’s truth-spewing storytelling has attracted a global cult following and accolades, such as coveted positioning on singles charts in the US and UK and 2014 MTV VMA and BET Award nominations.
Their first studio album, Dirty Gold—which Haze leaked out of frustration with former label Island/Republic—focused on their childhood experiences growing up in an oppressive religious sect, and spawned the confessional collaboration with Australian singer Sia, “Battle Cry.” Their latest EP project, Back to the Woods, promises to paint an expressionistic portrait of a self-possessed, future-focused artist.
“I am overly concerned with cultivation of the self,” Haze confesses.
The deep-seated need to confront sorrow, love, and fear, is a clear holdover from Haze’s previous projects, but on the TK Kayembe-produced “Babe Ruthless,” Haze shirks sentimentalism in favor of unbridled braggadocio. On the track, Haze both lays claim to the hip hop throne and marks their opponent’s graves. “I’m your favorite rapper’s mortician,” they boast. In one fell swoop the track also addresses mental health and racial oppression: “I am outta my mind, broke out of my cages, runnin’ in the woods on some runaway slave shit.”
The consummate intellectual, Haze started out as a poet and briefly studied Neurobiology. Finding inspiration everywhere from the paintings of Jean‐Michel Basquiat to the social commentaries of Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell, Haze also draws from the forceful, staccato delivery style of Tupac Shakur and the often cocky, blunt, and comic storytelling of Kanye West.
Haze’s biggest inspiration, though, is nature. “I used to sleep in the woods…I trust nature,” Haze admits. Accustomed to a nomadic lifestyle by their mother, who moved them from state to state as a child, Haze roamed following a clean break with their label in late 2014 and a romantic breakup. They ended up in Northern Virginia, which is considered home. “I found the woods there when I was 17. My mom finally broke up with someone and we got our first house. It was on the Trail of Tears.” On the track, “The Woods,” Haze sings about moments of spiritual sublimity found in nature and the transcendence of the past, which is part and parcel of the creative vision for Back to the Woods.
Although genuinely interested in connection, Haze insists the only way to relate to them is through the music. “The music is my home. It was hard to live…the music feels like something to live for.”