A year before Cali-native Kendrick Lamar claimed that he was the king of the Big Apple, a bold Detroit native rapper intrigued the hip-hop community by declaring that they*, in fact, 'ran New York'. Angel Haze, emerging from the mixtape circuit, had started to make a name for themselves with their highly reviewed EP Reservation. Shortly after, they garnered a record deal with Universal Republic Records. A BET Hip-Hop Awards Cipher appearance, a nasty Twitter feud with fellow controversial rapper Azealia Banks and a debut album later, Haze is now co-hosting a new MTV docu-series alongside Catfish creator Nev Schulman. The show, Truce is centered around mediating families and loved ones that have issues. We spoke to the “Battle Cry” rapper and singer about their new television gig, their own familial issues, new music, race and healing from sexual abuse as a child.
Haze is probably one of the most transparent artists of today. They never wanted to be a poster child for anything, but they have no qualms about living their life out loud. The agender pansexual artist, who understands the need to have representation, was nominated for a 2015 GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding Music Artist.” “I have little girls tell me all the time, ‘that I’m so happy to have a woman of color who’s queer, who represents me in a way that I didn't have before.’ That’s dope! It makes me feel like I’m doing something right,” they said.
Haze’s opportunity to co-host Truce, was just as organic as their willingness to compliment another artist. “He [Schulman] told me he was looking at names that MTV suggested for the guest-host of Catfish. Nev's friend, brother or someone just basically mentioned me to him. And then he went to research me and said that I’d be perfect for what they were doing with Truce,” Haze explained. “I did an episode of Catfish first and very unexpectedly, Nev and I hit it off really well. It all happened very naturally.” On the debut episode of Truce where Haze assisted in helping a mother accept her daughter’s bisexuality, they mentioned that their own mother has been estranged from them for five years. You would think that helping a mother and daughter reconcile would be difficult, when you have issues with your mother, but Haze said that the experience wasn't bad. They actually learned from it. “It’s weird because when you face sh*t like that very openly on TV, strange people come back. That's the only thing that I had to consider while doing it. I didn’t want to bring myself into it because that part of my life is so delicate,”Haze shared. “Once I got past that, it’s nothing because it's an opportunity to actually understand that sh*t. And it’s also an opportunity to help two people who genuinely love each other. You might not agree forever, but it’s not worth losing someone you love. The mom was super crazy. She was unbelievable. It felt good to see her actually in the moment questioning herself.”
Accepting a parent’s absence isn’t easy, but Haze is at peace. If they and their mother never speak again, they're fine with that. “I’m a very honest person. I tried with my mom and after the show aired I got a bunch of crazy text messages. I lost my cool in a way that I think it doesn’t allow for that [reconciliation]. Even as a person who is completely hopeful and optimistic, I don’t know if I can see that in my horizon and I don't mind it. It’s not a big deal to me,” Haze shared.
Haze’s mother raised them in the Greater Apostolic Faith, which Haze describes as “cult like.” They make an audacious statement that basically sums up how that experience affected them, at the end of “Black Synagogue,” which is on the autonomous artist’s debut album, Dirty Gold. “It takes something to just say, f*ck it this is reality. I’m going to deal with it, but do we ever really deal with it? Deal with it. Stop burning. Stop trying to find these substitutes. Stop trying to find Jesus in strangers and Jesus in church and God. And find God in yourself. Powerful thing eh.”Haze says that they now examine everything thoroughly and they refuse to be a sheep. “It taught me to be an observant person, who looks at every angle known to man before I do something. It makes you evolve as a person,” they said. “I can’t follow anyone blindly. I don't feel like I was born into the world to be a follower. I don’t feel like I went through what I went through to just be like alright, Johnny says 'Let’s go to the hill.' No, F*ck Johnny. I want to go do what I want to do. I’ve seen so many people lose themselves to religion, ideals,other people’s beliefs and fear. I can’t allow myself to go down like that.”
In 2013, Haze made headlines for releasing their debut album, Dirty Gold months before its scheduled release, while also taking to Twitter to literally say “f*ck you” to their record label. They shared with EBONY, that although Dirty Gold reflected them, they would prefer to get back to their roots and make the type of music that was made on their mixtape Reservation.“Dirty Gold was dope because it was my lyrics. I wrote it, but it was a record label record. This is my record. It’s something that I put my time into co-producing, writing melodies, singing and doing all of this other stuff,” Haze excitedly described a new track that they're working on, which has an Outkast “Prototype” and Jimi Hendrix feel. “I love Outkast and I always thought about blending sh*t because I feel like I should have been Jimi Hendrix’s daughter. Lenny [Kravitz] got Zoe Kravitz. How come Jimi couldn’t have had me? That would have been dope, but the record is so dope because it’s a love song obviously. It’s just blended very well with all of these different sounds,” Haze said proudly.
Similar to Haze shocking the world by singing on their mixtape, Classick, they’ll be doing more singing this time around as well. Haze said that they’re not necessarily deviating from rap because singing naturally always came first. “I started as a singer. So naturally for me, when I'm in the studio, it used to annoy me when I wanted to full time rap. I always started with singing and the melodies,” they said. “I’m as blended as my talents are when it comes to approaching them. There is nothing that I approach strictly from a rap or singing angle. I go with the flow.”
Haze's prolific storytelling also seems to come naturally. Their catalogue includes beautifully-told stories about painful subjects, sucg as being repeatedly sexually abused and raped as a child. The records are a form of letting go for Haze. After recording, they don’t go back and listen. Haze feels as if rape is something that people don’t overcome, but acceptance is a huge part of coping. “I don’t necessarily think anyone can ever get over something like that. I believe that there are many things that are unforgivable and not excusable. For me, it had to do with looking at my life, all of the love, joy and beauty of everything that happened. And learning to appreciate it and my struggle because if it wasn’t for that, how I was raised and my trauma, I wouldn’t be the person that I am now. I’m not trying to be cocky, but I’m f*cking in love with who I am now. I couldn't see that if I wasn't hurt in those ways. It took a lot from the public and a lot of self acceptance. There’s absolutely nothing you can do to go back and change it, but there’s a lot you can do stepping forward,” they said. “It’s just acceptance like any part of life. It needs to be thought about. You may need to cry over it. My last few years of my life have been the worst in regards to me feeling and going through things. I mean going through sh*t,to where I wasn't sure I would be here the next day sort of thing. So after dealing with it and allowing myself to feel instead of trying to suppress it for the rest of my life, I found a way to look at my life as a possibility that’s endless instead of me being a dirty, crushed, disgusting thing that nobody's going to love.”
During a recent episode of Catfish co-hosted by Haze, colorism and self hatred were themes. Haze was able to use this as a teachable moment for both the guests and an opportunity to reflect on a past beef with Banks. “I made a comment that made a lot of people think that I was a colorist, when I was arguing with Azealia Banks. Even before that, I’ve been always advocating for dark skin girls and women, for brown skin women. For people to understand that colorism is a divider,” they said. “When I made the remark, the next day I realized that I f*cked up. You shouldn’t have said that because at the end of the day when you fire out those shots, the whole world is watching. Little Black girls in the middle of it get hurt. They think what is wrong with my skin? I didn’t attend for it to come from a place of malice in that way. I seriously had to spend a year questioning myself, like 'Is there some sort of preference in your brain?' We’ve all got some sort of self-internalized hatred that we’re afraid to admit it’s there. I really had to examine myself and come back and go 'You f*cked up and you need to accept and admit the fact that you f*cked up.' So when I go through those moments, when people go 'She’s anti-Black,' I realize it’s because I put myself in that position by making a comment as frivolous, careless and stupid as I did when I was young. Obviously, you have to address it. I addressed it a long time ago. I apologized right after. It’s just messed up. When you know what’s wrong with the world, sometimes you can also be what’s wrong with the world.”
During this time when Black people are tirelessly having to prove that Black lives matter, Haze has been one of few in entertainment, who is constantly vocal about current injustices, although they were raised to not question white supremacy. They feel that more celebrities should join the conversation. “Right now is a moment. As many times as we see Black kids being killed on the news with no consequences and you are a Black famous person with the abilities and freedoms that most people don’t have and you don't utilize that to bring attention to the point that this whole entire thing is one big injustice, I feel like you're messed up,” they said. “I think more people need to be talking about how white ain’t right, how Black kids need better schooling and housing. How America keeps Black people from owning houses and out of suburban areas. We need to talk about these things.”
*Haze prefers to be referred to by the pronouns they/them.
Glennisha Morgan is a Detroit-bred multimedia journalist, writer, photographer and filmmaker. She writes about intersectionality, hip-hop and the women in it, pop culture, queer issues, race, feminism and her truth. Follow her on Twitter @GlennishaMorgan or at www.GlennishaMorgan.com.