On December 18, hip-hop artist Angel Haze tweeted, "So sorry to Island/Republic Records, but fuck you." And with that, the 22-year-old proceeded to make the nightmare of any record company come true: Frustrated by the seven month delay of her much-anticipated debut album, Dirty Gold, Haze uploaded all 16 songs to her website. Most artists stuck in label-delay cycles sit quiet and play the game, but anyone familiar with the Detroit-born rapper knows that just isn't her style.
Dirty Gold's March 2014 release date was quickly changed to December 30, 2013, and although market record sales for the album have been dismal thanks to the leak, Haze isn't phased. "At the end of the day, it's not a massive deal to me," she says. "Nobody puts an album out in the last week of the year unless you want to look like you had the worst debut in fucking history. I don't really give a fuck."
Born Raykeea Wilson, Angel Haze was raised in a cult-like church called the Greater Apostolic Faith, which banned music entirely. At age 13, she came out to her mother as a lesbian -- though she now identifies as pansexual -- and was kicked out of her house. At 16, her family moved from Detroit to Brooklyn, where she was exposed to the secular world. She began making a name for herself online uploading unfiltered vlogs and songs to her YouTube account.
Although her debut is more pop-leaning than her 2012 mixtape Classick, every song on Dirty Gold has Haze spitting dark, deeply personal lyrics inspired by her difficult early life. "Black Dahlia," a letter to her mother, was easy to write but difficult to record, seeing as how she could barely get through it without breaking down. "['Black Dahlia'] is filled with everything I wanted to say to her," she says, "but without the malicious 'I hate you for fucking my life up' tone to it."
Haze's strained relationship with her mother is a frequent theme in her music. She blew away critics and fans with Classick's scorching revamp of Eminem's 2002 track "Cleanin' Out My Closet," in which she gruesomely chronicles surviving childhood sexual abuse from ages 7 to 10 -- something the song says adults in her home knew about, but did not prevent. "I feel like I came out of the gate projectile vomiting all of my demons," she says. "Music is very cathartic to me, so doing that song was more of a spiritual cleansing." Though Haze almost never performs the track live, that hasn't stopped hundreds of fans from coming forward to tell her it essentially told their life stories -- the majority of whom are young men. "It opened my eyes to a lot of the stigmas we place on boys and abuse in general," Haze says, "and how they're allowed to suffer."
Haze also set the Internet ablaze with her powerful freestyle remix of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' gay-rights anthem "Same Love," part of her #30Gold series, which had Haze uploading a new freestyle every day for 30 days last October. Putting her own spin on a different popular song each day was a way for Haze to prove that she's "much more multifaceted than most people think." But she was reluctant to record "Same Love" at first. "I didn't have a coming out story," Haze says. "My mom was like, 'I found this stuff on your computer,' then told me I was going to burn in hell and then whatever."
The track, which features Haze spitting the lyrics, "No, I'm not gay / No, I'm not straight / And I sure as hell am not bisexual / Dammit I am whoever I am when I am it," raised more questions than provided answers for many fans. To Haze, pansexuality is based on the idea that "sexuality and sexual attraction aren't black and white," a looser-ended concept that she knows is harder for some to understand. "As far as people saying I have the ability to fall in love with a toaster or something, I think that's really funny," she says. And as for love, Haze says she's open to all. "I chose to never deny myself the simple pleasures of life. Whether that be looking at someone or fucking someone who's beautiful, it doesn't really matter to me," she says. "I want to do what I want to do and I'll fuck with the consequences. But I'm not going to deprive myself."
Shot at Dune Studios
Market Editor: Bianca Bailey / Assisted by Elijah Vielma
Hair by Kyle Malone for Oribe at Artists at Wilhelmina / Makeup by Camille Thompson using MAC Cosmetics and Velour Mink Lashes / Photographer's Assistant: Malcolm Neo