We Saw This: Angel Haze
Angel Haze is not a large person. This was the first thought that struck me while taking in her set at S.O.B.’s last night, lights flashing and smoke—both from fog machines and from kids puffing lye—obscuring the stage. She’s probably five foot seven, and rail-thin, but listening to her music you’d never know it. Her mixtape Reservation is completely amazing, an albumesque statement equally rife with bravado and self-doubt. Though this was just the second show of her nascent time as an artist to watch, she performed as if she were a seasoned pro, commanding the stage and projecting herself like the was the titan she seems like in her music.
And hey. Haze can rap her ass off. She performed alone, with an offstage DJ and no hypeperson (sporadically joined onstage by dancers, both pre-planned and not). She took absolutely no shit from the audience, who started out the set underenthusiastic, coming to life as the set wore on. This is awesome, because most audiences get really hype at the beginning, start to lose interest halfway through only to rally once the band plays the hit at the end. When some asshat in the audience drunkenly bellowed, “I’m tryna fuck!” to her, she responded with a quick, “You’re tryna get kicked the fuck out is what you’re tryna do.” The crowd loved it, the dude who yelled it probably ended up sleeping in a gutter or something.
As a rapper and performer, Haze has some fairly clear stylistic touchstones. She rapped over Aaliyah’s “Hot Like Fire” on her track of the same name, prefacing it with, “This song is about my motherfuckin’ idol. Her name is Aaliyah. The fragile-yet-tough vibes of Aaliyah are strong with Haze, who dropped the braggadocio for a second to get all Drake on us. That’s not a metaphor; she literally re-wrote a Drake song and performed it. She momentarily ceased to prowl the stage, nestling the microphone up on a stand and rapped her version of Drake’s “Look What You’ve Done,” discussing a childhood of transience and occasional homelessness with her mother. Haze began rapping at the age of 11 by writing poetry, and she settles into the plaintive fellings-rap of Drake ably. She does not, however, rap like a poet who also raps. She’s fully in command of her cadence, occasionally speeding up her flow for a few bars just for the fuck of it. I don’t think she dropped a word during her entire set, which in a land of hype men and hype women filling in your bars for you, is exceedingly rare.
As a female rapper who resides in New York, it’s unfortunate, but inevitable, that Haze is going to draw comparisons to Azealia Banks, the other rising female rapper who resides in New York. So, let’s go ahead and dead that shit. Azealia Banks and Angel Haze are nothing alike. They live in the same town and both just signed to major labels and are both women, yes, but that doesn’t mean they should be compared ever. They’re trying to do completely different things, and stylistically they couldn’t be more different. Making obvious comparisons based on gender and stuff is stupid.
Haze got the biggest rise out of the crowd at the end, when four dancers came up onstage to perform her (relative) hit “New York.” It was great, but its chorus of, “I run New York!” rang a bit hollow—after she got offstage, the DJ put on A$AP Ferg’s “Work,” and a mosh pit formed. Haze may very well run the city one day, but for now she’s still fighting amongst the pack of other rappers scrapping to be on top. Still, something tells me she’ll be able to break out.