It’s harder than it looks to sit down and break burritos with Angel Haze.
The plan, originally, was simple: Invite the New York-based (but not native) rapper, whose recent signing to Universal Republic and imminent appearance on Hot97’s Who’s Next stage have supercharged her white-hot status in the past few weeks, to one of her favorite places in the city (or perhaps the world)—the hallowed halls of a Chipotle Mexican Grill. We’d hang out, talk about Twitter, feminism and hip-hop, and the pop culture references that pepper her statement-making Reservation.
But she had been feeling under the weather for the past week, and when I arrived, Haze (decked out in an all-black ensemble whose defining characteristic is a pair of major-label-couture Juliet sleeves) seemed in no mood to banter: she was midway through a rant to her manager, le’Roy Benros, about her destined romantic solitude. As if my feelings of interloperishness weren’t enough to kill the vibe, I also immediately remembered why people didn’t do this more often—Chipotles are very, very loud places.
So, instead, we transplanted our rendezvous to the basement of S.O.B.’s, which also doubles as Benros’ office (as a manager, his past clients include Das Racist). And that’s where Haze, between a couple of fever-quelling ibuprofens, a barrage of text messages, and a few rehashings of the questions she’s had to repeat more than a few times since Reservation arrived, loosened up (at least, as much as one can in drop-crotch pants). Throughout the interview, she made it clear that New York is less her hometown than it is a trampoline-style home base, one whose walls she banks off, both lyrically and geographically, in her fiercely calculated, long-awaited grab for stardom—and burrito bowl or no, she likes it that way.
Reservation is 14 tracks long. Is there a reason you called it an EP instead of an album?
It was supposed to be an EP, but then somehow it came out to 14 tracks, and it’s like, “Well, that’s not an EP.” So we went for calling it an album, but since it was free, people tried to label it a mixtape.
You said you had a lot of labels asking for you. How did you pick Universal Republic?
Every major label except Interscope. I prefer to do things in a really—I don’t want to say “classy,” because that’s, like, gay—but in a really upfront way, so we didn’t do the typical signing thing where everyone sends in an offer. I met everyone, decided who I wanted to go with, and then negotiated a deal with them. No offers. It’s really important for me to maintain that respectful business aspect in my career. Gotta be upfront, straightforward.
A lot of indie acts tend to almost get too excited and they fall off the edge, and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as they’d expected. Are you afraid of losing anything along the way?
The only thing I can imagine losing along the way is a shitload of friends, and that’s it. And I don’t care about that. I mean, it’s already started. I guess you win some, you lose some. Everybody has this crazy misconception of what it means to sign to a major label. Like, they automatically think your soul is stolen. I’ve had people tell me, “Oh my god, you’re letting Universal change you, change your image.” I’m like, “Universal has not said anything to me about how I dress.” They’re like, “Whatever, just make sure it looks good.” It’s just crazy, because everyone comes with their own thoughts. I’m not afraid of losing anything. Fuck it. If I lose it, it’s not meant to be for me.
You retweet lot of your followers who’ve been accusing you of selling out.
I’m like, “Bitch, yes I sold out. So what?” I said it a long time ago. I never planned to be independent for long. My plan was to blow myself up as big as I could and make them want me. I never wanted to go to a label begging them to sign me. That way, they give you, like, $5,000. I told my fans a long time ago, “Don’t look at me saying, ‘Oh she’s not gonna sell out; she’s real.’ No, bitch, I’m gonna sell out. Just so you know, I’m gonna [do it]. I have family, you know. I have family to take care of. So if selling out, to you, means signing to a major label, then so be it.” The problem with fans is, they’re not really loyal. You can have a few that are loyal to you and you’ll see them throughout your career, but everyone else pretty much jumps on and off the bandwagon. You can’t let anything that people say make you feel any type of way.
You’ve said in past interviews that you were freaked out about being in the spotlight, about getting as huge as you’re saying you want to be.
I’ve put out music under two other aliases that got kind of blown up. It was weird, and I would disappear once it started coming to me. I was 17, meeting with [Grammy-winning producer] Ryan Leslie, and then I was 18, meeting with [RCA VP of A&R] Trevor Jerideau—this time, we actually went back to [Jerideau] and he was like, “I remember you,” and I was like [She makes an awkward facial expression], “… Yeah… it’s whatever… fun times… “
I shied away from attention really easily, at first. I wasn’t prepared for it, and you have to be prepared for it, the massive amounts of attention, and love, and admiration… and hate. Now I don’t give a fuck. I’m completely void of any care that I had about anyone’s opinions about me. My thing, it’s just, “You come up here and do it, then! You’d crumble up here.” That’s the satisfaction I get, knowing no one [trying to challenge me] could get up here and do it.
When did you decide you were ready for it?
Last year? When I was 19. Le’Roy spent a year telling me I wasn’t ready. [That challenged me,] so I moved here [to New York], three months ago, and we recorded the album. It took three months. We put it out a month ago, and it’s been insane ever since.
Angel Haze, “New York”
So how long have you lived in New York, then? People have called you a “New York transplant,” but what does that mean?
In all, [I’ve lived in New York] about a year. I lived here when I was 10, in the Bronx, for nine months, then I moved to New Jersey. Now I live in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint.
New York is so central to your identity, though. Your song “New York” was Reservation‘s lead single.
I did that on purpose. Everything with me is strategy. New York is one of the biggest hip-hop [scenes], and if you come out as an unknown artist [in my situation] and tell the world that you run New York, it’s gonna start getting regular radio play, and it’ll be like, “Fuck no, who is this bitch?” And that’s the point. It’s all for a reaction. I heard the beat [for that song] and was like, “This is going to be fun.” And then we did the video, and I was like, “This is going to be fun.” I’m just a dick. That’s it.
I feel like I have to ask this—the comparisons people are drawing between you and other up-and-coming female rappers from New York, notably between you and Azealia Banks. Do they bother you?
I don’t mind it, honestly. When I was 15, and Nicki Minaj was coming up, I was telling everyone she was going to be huge. And people were saying, “She sounds like Lil Kim, she sounds like Foxy Brown,” so that kind of thing is a rite of passage. It’s initiation into this game. You have to be compared to someone before you can be you. And then other people are going to be compared to you: “Oh, she sounds like she’s trying to be a knockoff of Angel Haze.” I deal with it; I don’t really care. People have to talk. They have to say something.
Have you ever had someone try to get you to say something to start beef with another female rapper?
Yeah. I always make it blatantly clear, though, that I’m not the type of rapper to [do that]. If I have something to say to someone, I’m gonna say it to them. Azealia and I, we text nearly every day, and if I had something to say to her, I’d just say [it]. She does her own thing, and we’re not in any way similar, so I have nothing to feel threatened by.
Women in hip-hop, people make it seem like there can be only one, like all of them are against each other. It’s a male-dominated industry, and men are scared as shit of women. Women are more interesting, have way more sex appeal, and tend to be smarter than men. So, how can we [as women] make ourselves more relevant? That’s why guys are doing the whole getting-a-girl-to-be-in-their-group thing. I told le’Roy when we were taking label meetings that I didn’t want any label [whose head was] an artist already, I didn’t want anyone who was going to [suggest] that I should be part of their group. No, bitch. I came here solo, I’m gonna stay solo. When guys get a whiff of that, especially with [rappers like] Azealia, oh god, they hate, hate, hate her. And she’s like, “Fuck it. This isn’t going to be a sausage fest anymore.” And she’s genuinely a nice girl; that’s the thing. She has a really brash and hard way of coming across, but she’s really nice.
People expect me to act [a certain way]. I did an interview with some fucking magazine in New York, maybe Rookie magazine, and they were asking me, “You don’t do drugs? You don’t do anything?” I’m like, “Nope. Totally clean.” You have to be something for them. You have to be crazy, but I don’t do drugs… I’m a fuckin’ virgin. I’m chilling. Leave me alone.
There are a lot of expectations laid out for what women ought to be, especially in hip-hop, and there is this legacy where the most over-the-top or explicit female rappers are the ones getting the attention. Your music is a little more subtle.
It’s because I’m fucking depressed. I was at the dentist the other day, and they were putting me under with the [nitrous gas] and I was thinking the dumbest things. Like, “What is the root of the word ‘driven’? Why am I thinking about this?” I’m always in my head. It’s really annoying sometimes, honestly. With [Reservation], there were a bunch of songs that didn’t make the album because I was too much in my headspace for them. You have to make [an album] as versatile as possible… I live in my head, I don’t live in reality. And it’s sad.
Angel Haze, “Smile N’ Hearts”
How does your upbringing—
That cult shit. [Haze grew up in Michigan with a military family that practiced with the Greater Apostolic Faith, a church with roots in Detroit.]
Uh, yeah. How does that affect how you make music now?
Growing up [around that] has me preoccupied with greater divinities. Being as tortured as I was as a kid—how do I express this without sounding religiously conservative or outlandish? Most of my tragedy happens in my head. I don’t know if I really believe in the concept of demons, but I’ve seen some shit. Growing up that way, it stains you, like, you got stains on your white cashmere sweater, and you hate yourself for it, but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away because you love it that much. That’s made me an introvert. [But] I ask questions about everything. My mom hates it.
You’ve said you didn’t really listen to any hip-hop growing up, either. How did that shape the way you approach your craft?
It doesn’t affect me, really. It confuses me, though. A friend sent me an article someone wrote the day I got signed, and they were like, “How can Angel Haze get signed? She’s not real hip-hop. She doesn’t even know what it means to have listened to legendary hip-hop artists like B.I.G. and Slick Rick, and all them. First of all, relax, bitch. Second of all, before rap, [the first] rappers were influenced by writers, or DJs. It’s not like they [had] another rapper to listen to and be like, “Oh my god, I want to be just like them.” They found their inspiration elsewhere. That’s what I do with mine. [Peter] Rosenberg played me my first Biggie song last night… He played “Warning.” And I’m finally getting the comparison The Fader made between me and Biggie, because he’s a storyteller. I wouldn’t know these things, because I didn’t listen.
I always wanted to be a songwriter, though; I was listening to people like Justin Nozuka, Jason Mraz, Train, New Radicals, Coldplay, My Chemical Romance, White Stripes, people who really have [those] layers. I listen to people who write. I love poetry, I love to read, I did journalism, took all the creative writing classes.
You used to do a lot more spoken word stuff, too. Do you still do that?
I’m not miserable enough. I have to get back to my roots. I have to get down in the dumps, because right now it’s not working. It’s boring when I can’t write the misery inside me.
That’s the curse of being an artist, though, to be plagued by your demons.
Yeah, you have to be depressed. You have to be alone. I was depressed for the two weeks I was in London.
You were there to sign the deal with Island, right?
Yeah, and also to do promo over there. It’s so weird to go to a place [you’ve never been] and still be working to get big in fuckin’ America. I go to Europe for a week, and they’re all over it… Europe is two years ahead of us. I got styled [there] and people are asking [if my drop-crotch pants] are gauchos.
It seems like you’ve been updating your wardrobe a lot since you got signed.
Apparently I do lookbooks for people now. I do photo shoots for people. I get free clothes for doing that shit. I’m straight with it. I didn’t know that I was a model’s dream size. It’s annoying—I eat so much and I don’t gain any weight. I went to London and ate [a ton of pizza and burgers] and lost four pounds. I was telling my friend, “I’m so stoked, I’m gonna be so heavy when I come back.” I stepped on the scale when I got back, and I was like, “I hate my life.” Everyone looks at me and says, “That bitch is anorexic as fuck.” And I try to eat a lot. I’m fiending for that Chipotle right now. [She whips out what can only be described as a Chipotle trading card that one can exchange for free burritos.]
Angel Haze, “Fall For Your Type”
Are there things about the rap game that you’re trying to change?
Honestly, I don’t give a fuck about the rap industry. I’m aiming to be more of a rock star. In the rock world, you don’t have to be living up to [anyone] who wants you to shoot at people and be a thug. I’ve never once—and I’m really into rock music—heard someone tell [Paramore frontwoman] Hayley Williams she has to be sexy. She walks around in baseball t-shirts if she wants to; she does whatever she wants. You get that freedom in the rock world. In the rap world, you have to be explicit, you have to be sexy, you have to take a picture with something [positioned] between your legs. Unfortunately, I’m skinny. I don’t have an ass. I don’t have time for that shit. For me, these n*ggas can do whatever they want. They can evolve, in a hundred years, maybe, and have a gay rapper for once. I’m not trying to be a part of that.
Well, that conversation is actually happening right now, about sexuality in rap.
I don’t think rap will ever be ready for a gay male rapper. I know a gay guy who raps about [having sex with] other guys, and you can be gay, but it can’t translate that much to your music. I mean, it’s really progressing, especially with people like Azealia, who’s openly bisexual, and obviously, me—I’m not bisexual, though. I’m pansexual. I want to date a transsexual person so bad, but I’ve not found one yet.
It seems like your fans are really obsessed with your sexuality, from the tweets you retweet.
They are, especially now. But I’ve told fans blatantly, “Why are you worried about who I’m fucking? You’re never gonna have a shot at it. At the end of the day it’s none of your business, because you’re never going to enter that realm of my life.” I need to find someone who doesn’t know who the fuck I am.
You’d better get on that quick, then.
I’m destined to be alone. It’s a part of my poetic vibe. I feel like, as long as I’m longing for a love that doesn’t exist, I’ll be able to make music. I’ve had such writer’s block lately because I’ve been so happy. I just have to write myself back down into my misery.
On a happier note, let’s talk about your Kool A.D. collab!
We met in the studio, and he did “Jungle Fever” right in front of me. He’s incredible. I had to kind of mirror him on that song, his eccentricity. It was really fun, but I actually really hate that song.
What’s your favorite song on the record, then?
“Supreme,” um… yeah, only “Supreme.”
How do you see your career playing out?
I never want to become something that I hate. I don’t hate that much shit but I don’t ever want to rely on sex to sell records. If I get to that point, I will fucking quit. I’m building a retirement fund, and then I’m done. I don’t want to do this shit forever.
What do you want to do after this, then?
I want to go back to school. I was in school to study neurosurgery, at Penn State—I never started, because I had to choose between that and music. But I met Sandusky, I met Paterno. Hilarious guys, you’d never think. I was blown away. I had pictures of me with them on my Facebook. Anyway, if I go back and don’t do neuroscience, I want to do psychology, but then I don’t want to be burdened by other people’s bullshit.
Speaking of psychology, what do you think your future looks like? What’s going to change?
Other people are more worried about it than I am, but my image changing. No one at my label is telling me to look one way or the other; they just tell me to look “together,” to not confuse people, to wait until things blow up. If Lady Gaga came out dressing like she does now? You have to grow into that.
Sounds like a plan.
You’ve gotta be careless with this shitty-ass world, man. As a kid I was so fucked up and preoccupied with what people thought of me. Being the new kid in every school I went to, to being homeschooled and going to Introvertland. Moving to New York got me out of that. Now I can be in a room full of people and not care.
Angel Haze plays S.O.B.’s on Wednesday.