Doing ‘shrooms in the desert can be pleasantly trippy or temporarily terrifying, but for Angel Haze, the hallucinogenic experience changed her life. In February, the 23-year-old rapper/singer and producer Tk Kayembe went to the Joshua Tree National Park for a trip and received a moment of clarity. “We went to Joshua Tree with our exes and we did ‘shrooms in the desert,” she remembers. “And like, we sat there — ‘Yeah, we gotta break up. We gotta break up with these bitches and we gotta make music.’ ” Angel (born Raee’n Roes Wilson) eventually separated from model girlfriend Ireland Baldwin and began work on Back to the Woods. “There was so much in my way, whether it was my label [or] the people I was dealing with. We had to break free of all of it.”
Back to the Woods, out September 14, is the resulting emotional purge, and finds Angel oscillating from grimacing braggadocio (calling herself “your favorite rapper’s mortician” on “Babe Ruthless”) to tragic vulnerability and pain. She raps and sings, rather adeptly, letting the music dictate her flow. On “Exposed,” which was recorded in a substance-fueled haze, she tells her mother, “You probably never gave a fuck about me anyway/I know I’m foolish because I love you with my whole soul/I keep running so I never have to go home.”
Angel has always been incredibly open in her music: about her fucked-up childhood, gender identity (having described herself as “agender” previously), and sexuality. “Putting my honesty and my real truth into my music gives me the ability to be myself.” That honesty bolstered her popularity following 2012’s Reservation and Classick mixtapes. Gut-wrenching tracks like “Cleaning Out My Closet” (on which she recounts being horrifyingly raped as a child) solidified Angel’s as one of the most important new voices in hip-hop. “I thought of offing myself, I thought of killing these niggas, “ she raps. “Wanted to take a fucking brick and push they teeth through they liver/Wanted to smash the fucking world and burn its leftover parts/Wanted to rip it out and just fucking step on my heart.” She inked a deal with Republic Records and released her debut album, Dirty Gold, in 2013.
The deal was too confining (“I got signed and they made me think I needed mad executive producers. I mean, I think there were more writers on my last record than I’ve known in my life”), so Angel is going the self-released, independent route this time. She and Kayembe handle all of the writing and producing, respectively, on Back to the Woods. “Sitting in a room and making a record, just us, was so amazing. It just didn’t even make any sense, so we didn’t stop,” she says. “I had to tap into a part of myself that wanted to do something phenomenal. I wrote every single song by myself. Some of them I freestyled. They came together how poetry does.”
Angel has to get off the phone soon. She’s been up since 4 a.m. — with just a brief nap — and New York Fashion Week has only begun. Her schedule is packed. While most artists clamor to get an invite, Angel’s androgynous beauty has garnered front-row acceptance by fashionistas like Donatella Versace and Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci. She seems to live a charmed life, but scratch the veneer and the issues persist.
Angel Haze has issues. She knows she has issues. She doesn’t try to put a red bow on her shit. “I hate myself. I hate myself so fucking much. Every day I’m destroying myself and rebuilding myself.”
What she’s just said is, of course, heartbreaking, but now Angel laughs. “I think true freedom lies in the ability to accept, like, we are never gonna be happy with who we are. The whole point of life is to evolve and have something to work for. If I loved myself, I would be mad bored.”
Angel Haze celebrates the release of Back to the Woods at Baby’s All Right on September 13. The show has sold out, but tickets can be found on the secondary market.