Angel Haze, one of the hottest young women in hip-hop, gives off an aura of casual, effortless cool when she talks, belying the devastating topics she raps about: anorexia and sexual abuse, religious fundamentalism and homophobia. Slumped in an office chair in her record label's midtown offices recently, the artist peppered her sentences on activism and social awareness with enough swear words to make an agent blush. Her message was simple: Be happy with who you are, and f--k anyone else who tries to tell you otherwise.
Since exploding onto the male-dominated, macho-oriented hip-hop scene last October with her brilliant, excruciating cover of Eminem's classic "Cleaning Out My Closet," Haze (whose real name is Raykeea Wilson) quickly proved herself a blazing star in a field of up-and-comers like Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd. That track tackled Haze's past sexual abuse with a brutal intensity, ultimately claiming victory over her rapists with a lyrical haymaker straight to the gut.
"And now it happened so often that he was getting particular/And I'm more scared every time -- my speed and ventricular," Haze descends into the song with a jackhammer delivery. But by the end of the nearly four-and-a-half-minute song, Haze re-emerges, scarred but triumphant: "I had to cut off the dead, I had to make myself proud/And now I'm just standing living breathing proof look at me now/I made it through everything, I made you look like a clown."
"Music is such a cathartic thing, its so therapeutic," Haze told The Huffington Post. "I kind of sort of came out the gate projective vomiting every single demon that I had, and everything I had been waiting to say, from jump."
One year after "Cleaning Out My Closet," Haze is getting ready for the January release of "Dirty Gold," her first studio album. Although her rage may have ebbed somewhat, her passion is clearly still of the white-hot variety. The Detroit-raised rapper's latest cover, of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit "Same Love," again showcases her ability to weave skilled rhymes into a personal narrative. In this case, it's a snapshot of Haze growing up queer in a home that rejected any hint of otherness:
At age thirteen, my mom knew I wasn’t straight
She didn’t understand, but she had so much to say
She sat me on the couch, looked me straight in my face
And said you’ll burn in hell or probably die of AIDS
It’s funny now, but at thirteen it was pain
Until the age of 15, Haze and her mother were part of the Pentecostal Greater Apostolic Faith, a church Haze has repeatedly described as a "cult." Although Haze never officially "came out," her mother found out anyway, prompting the dramatic scene that opens the "Same Love" cover.
"When my mom found out she was so angry," Haze told HuffPost. "She was going through my s--t, and she staged this whole 'Nightmare on Elm Street' scene, where she opened the blinds and the curtains in the house so they were all flying around. It’s winter and she turns off all the lights. And she sits down and she tells me, 'God told me, you’re going to die of AIDS.'"
Looking back on those wind-whipped curtains now, Haze lets out a long laugh.
"That s--t is hilarious, when you think about it in hindsight," she said. Still, as a 13-year-old, the confrontation left her terrified and confused. "I knew that I didn’t believe in hell," Haze explained. "But I was also f--king afraid of it."
Roughly nine years later, Angel Haze may be able to joke about her upbringing, but that doesn't mean singing about it has become easier. When Haze wrote her version of the lyrics to “Cleaning Out My Closet,” she told reporters at the time how she "cried like a baby in the studio." Likewise, when she was getting ready to release “Same Love,” she tweeted about her trepidation in a message to her fans.
"It took me like literally 10 tries to say the first line [in 'Same Love']," she admitted to HuffPost. "I don’t want to make [my mom] look like a malicious person. But at the end of the day, the reality of this is that it does happen, it still happens and this is something that kids my age and kids who are so much younger have to deal with now … this whole 'you are going to burn in hell' thing. [Not to mention] all of the disapproval, all of the backlash you get for simply being yourself."
A desire to help others heal through her experiences is a big part of what drives Haze as an artist. She said she looks at her music as an 80, 20 endeavor: 20 percent a personal creative outlet and 80 percent a way to show her fans they are not alone. From this perspective, Haze said she often feels compelled to talk about the past, even if her frankness makes some people uncomfortable in the process.
"I’ve suffered from anorexia for 13 years, and I never shy away from talking about it, because s--t," she said. "I still know people who f--king suffer from it. And it's one of those things that’s an active struggle, and you have to talk about it."
The same thing goes for her outspoken advocacy on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens.
"I’ve got fans who email me every day," she said. "[They tell me,] 'I’m so ashamed, I wish I could be straight so bad.' And it’s like, why? Just be you, and that’s going to be so much better than wishing to be anything else."
While Haze has in the past referred to herself as pansexual, she admits she'd really rather not apply any label at all. Part Native American, Haze said she's always felt herself to be "two-spirited," a concept others often seem to have a difficult time wrapping their heads around.
This resistance to any sort of identifier is poignantly expressed in an excerpt from queer spoken-word poet (and Haze’s good friend) Andrea Gibson, whose poem “Andrew” Haze quotes in her “Same Love” cover.
No, I'm not gay
No, I'm not straight
And I sure as hell am not bisexual
Damn it I am whoever I am when I am it
Haze said the quote was an instant hit with her fans, who tweet it back at her many times a day.
“People ... really identify with that because the struggle and the kind of pressure to choose has always been there,” Haze said. “When you’re a kid, you choose pink or blue, and that identifies you.”
Not surprisingly, Haze was a stubborn kid with a wide color palette.
“To be able to have someone in life who comes out and says, ‘No, you’re not the only one, I like all those colors, too.’ That’s a cool thing.”
It’s such an essential perspective, this idea that love is a spectrum, and that being different doesn’t mean weak or sinful. That was a large focus of Macklemore’s original version of "Same Love,” which took to task the hip-hop establishment and its fans for continuing to associate the label "gay" -– and its corresponding slur “faggot” -- as being representative of the weak or lesser-than.
Despite an initially positive response, Macklemore has since received some pushback from rappers such as Le1f, who complain that a white, cisgendered male shouldn’t attempt to represent a community able to speak for itself.
When asked about her take on the controversy, Haze nodded knowingly. But beneath the rapper's trademark backward ball cap, her dark-rimmed eyes remained mischievous.
“I get it. I’m capable of understanding both sides,” she said, smiling. “But ... where there are so many people against you, why not accept someone who’s for you? At the end of the day, that’s another voice on your side.”
Ultimately, Haze stresses that having more voices in the mix is a good thing, but “joining the conversation is not good enough” anymore. The self-professed activist-for-life noted, “Talking doesn’t fix s--t.”
As proved by the music video for "Echelon (It's My Way)" -- her latest single -- which depicts a lawn party throbbing with neon-clad models on trampolines, Haze’s forthcoming album will have a decidedly different tone from her earlier remixes. However, while “Dirty Gold” (released by Republic Records) may be a more mainstream work, Haze denied that it would be a departure from her core ideals.
“My message is still the same, and it’s there,” she said. “It’s just said differently. … And if I can continue to be the persona I am, the f--kless person that I am, it will send all the messages I want to send.”
Also on HuffPost:
Los Angeles-based rapper Murs, though straight, recently released a video, "Animal Style," which features a brief, though intimate, kiss between two men, and explores the damage that homophobia can cause.
Frank Ocean, R&B artist and part of the Odd Future collective, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/04/frank-ocean-rb-singer-comes-out_n_1649079.html" target="_hplink">released a poetic coming out statement</a> on his <a href="http://www.frankocean.com/" target="_hplink">web site</a>, without mentioning sexual orientation. Here is an except: <blockquote>"In the last year or 3 I've screamed at my creator, screamed at the clouds in the sky, for some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow. 4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost... Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping."</blockquote>
When closing-out this 2008 concert, Kanye's spoke about gay rumors aimed at him and learning acceptance: <blockquote>"Hip hop, you know how many people came to me, called me gay, 'cause I wear my jeans the fresh way? Or because I said 'Hey, dude, how you gonna say "fag" right in front of a gay dude's face and act like that's okay?' That shit is disrespectful! And it took me time to learn that, coming from Chicago, where if you saw somebody that was gay, you was supposed to stay ten feet away. It took me time to break out of the mental prisons I was in, the stereotypes... accepting people for who they are... open your minds and live a happier life, don't hate on people so much."</blockquote>
In this excerpt from a February 2012 <em>New York Times</em> piece, up and coming hip hop presence Azealia Banks <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/azealia-banks-rapper-comes-out-bisexual_n_1249996.html" target="_hplink">nonchalantly addresses her sexuality</a> and the problem of tokenization that can happen in the music industry: <blockquote>"The aggression in "212" is palpable, not just in the beat but also in the crass lyrics, in which she asserts her dominance over a male opponent. Ms. Banks considers herself bisexual, but, she said: 'I'm not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don't live on other people's terms.'"</blockquote>
In a 2011 interview with <a href="http://www.vladtv.com/" target="_hplink">VladTV</a>, rapper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/fat-joe-gays-hip-hop-rap_n_1084855.html" target="_hplink">Fat Joe said</a>, "There's millions of gay people in the world, girls too... 2011 you gotta hide that you're gay?... Be real!... The hip hop community is owned by gay... I happen to think there's a gay mafia in hip hop... they are in power... if you're gay, rep your set."
"I don't give a fuck about your business," A$AP Rocky said in a <a href="http://www.spinner.com/2012/02/17/asap-rocky-hip-hop-homophobia/" target="_hplink">2012 interview with Spinner</a>, adding: <blockquote>"Man, if you're gay we can be friends. If you're straight, we can be friends. I'm not gay, I don't plan on being gay, I don't condone it and I'm not sayin' I'm against it. I really don't give a fuck and I don't think anyone should care about what another man's preference is... unless he's interested, if you know what I'm sayin'. People need to leave gay people the fuck alone. Like, who cares? If you still care about shit like that you need to just hang yourself like the rest of them KKK motherfuckers. For real. Who gives a fuck?... I don't care and it's like fucked up that hip-hop is so retarded. They don't want to accept nothing."</blockquote>
In an interview with <a href="http://www.vladtv.com/" target="_hplink">Vlad TV</a>, rapper The Game said: <blockquote>"Beyonce should have said 'Who run the world? Gays!'... It's a free country, be gay, you can do that. Game don't have a problem with gay people, Game has a problem with people that are pretending not to be gay, but are gay. Because, the number one issue with that is that you can be fooling somebody and you can give them AIDS and they can die, and so that in the closet shit is real scary... it's just not fair to other people... there's a lot of man fans in hip hop."</blockquote>
In a CNN interview, Jay-Z reached to Obama's endorsement of gay marriage, saying: <blockquote>"What people do in their own home is their business. You choose to love whoever you love. It's no difference than discrimination against blacks, it's discrimination, plain and simple... [Obama endorsing same-sex marriage] is not about votes, it's about people...it's the right thing to do as a human being."</blockquote>
"I think there have been many gay rappers, they just haven't come out of the closet," Minaj said in a <a href="http://www.out.com/entertainment/music/2010/09/12/curious-case-nicki-minaj?page=0,0" target="_hplink">2010 interview with <em>OUT</em> magazine</a>. She added: <blockquote>"Yup, lots of them. They're lurking around the industry now... obviously, the majority of the men in hip-hop don't want you to think they're gay. That's just the reality of it...I'm a woman, so I have a lot more flexibility. And I don't lose credibility in any way if I say I think girls are dope and sexy."</blockquote> She's also stated that one of her alter egos, Roman Zolanski, is gay (see above video).
In an interview with TMZ about Frank Ocean coming out, rapper <a href="http://www.tmz.com/2012/07/07/lil-scrappy-tmz-live-frank-ocean-aids-gays/" target="_hplink">Lil Scrappy controversially said</a>: <blockquote>"I'm glad that he came out so all the real women that love to mess with real men -- the straight men -- we can keep the AIDS situation down, you feel me?...[Homosexuality] is a doorway to AIDS, scientifically... Half the rappers are gay, you feel me? The 'real gangsters' and all that, they're gay, but they ain't coming out... you a coward if you don't stand-up... at the end of the day, a person will respect if you say you would rather be Adam and Steve."</blockquote>
In response to Hot 97's Cipha Sounds and Rosenberg Show asking him what he though of Jay-Z coming out in support of gay marriage, rapper T.I. responded, "To be honest with you, I don't care. I don't see what the big deal is, why some people are so against it. Why could you be so against it if it doesn't effect you or your lifestyle?... If something doesn't effect you, you should not take a strong position against it."
Faced with a press release that said, "Teen idol Omarion announces that he's bisexual," and a Twitter uproar fueling speculation, Omarion called Hot 97's Funkmaster Flex to clear up the rumors: "I did not release that statement. Whatever people like is their business, but I'm not gay, or bisexual. I love women, and that's just what it is."
40 Glocc & Zoo Life
Speaking about Young Money, Lil Wayne's record label, rappers 40 Glocc and Zoo Life said, "The majority of the industry is gay, all you dudes is fags. You know you dudes is fags," and, "You n***as is hugging each other in the studio, kissing each other and shit. What kinda shit is that?" Some other low points: "Young Money is the new 'Brokeback Mountain'," and, "Make sure you put a cork in your butt, 'cause your shit is wide open."
The following is a July 2012 <a href="http://globalgrind.com/entertainment/russell-simmons-letter-to-frank-ocean-gay-bi-sexual-comes-out-photos#ixzz20XAvuyks" target="_hplink">letter to The Global Grind</a> about Frank Ocean coming out, from rap mogul Russel Simmons: <blockquote>"Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have. His gifts are undeniable. His talent, enormous. His bravery, incredible. His actions this morning will uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people. Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart. Frank just found his. Frank, we thank you. We support you. We love you."</blockquote>
In an interview with <a href="http://www.divamag.co.uk/category/arts-entertainment/lady-sovereign-britain's-out-lesbian-rapper.aspx" target="_hplink">Diva Magazine</a>, UK rapper Lady Sovereign confirmed rumors that she was, in fact, a lesbian: <blockquote>"Magazines would always ask about it but [questions about my sexuality] would get stopped by my publicists. It was my choice, too, because I was a bit worried about it but now I don't really give a shit. You can't hide away forever. It's just stupid and now I've come out I feel a lot more comfortable with myself. But it was a bit scary back then because some people do have horrible opinions."</blockquote>
Tyler, the Creator
The Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective, Odd Future, has faced criticism about its use of homophobic slurs, to the point that the group <a href="http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/2/article_11002.php" target="_hplink">was disinvited</a> from the New Zealand's Big Gay Out music festival, after <a href="http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/2/article_11002.php" target="_hplink">complaints</a>. Collective front-man, Tyler The Creator,<a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1665860/tyler-the-creator-defends-lyrics.jhtml" target="_hplink"> told MTV news</a>: "Well, I have gay fans and they don't really take it offensive, so I don't know. If it offends you, it offends you." When fellow Odd Future member Frank Ocean <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/04/frank-ocean-rb-singer-comes-out_n_1649079.html" target="_hplink">came out</a>, Tyler, The Creator <a href="https://twitter.com/fucktyler/status/220409501487079424" target="_hplink">tweeted support</a>.
In a July 2012 <a href="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1689598/50-cent-frank-ocean-gay-support.jhtml" target="_hplink">interview with MTV News</a>, 50 Cent spoke about <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/04/frank-ocean-rb-singer-comes-out_n_1649079.html" target="_hplink">Frank Ocean coming out</a>: <blockquote>"Anyone who has an issue with Frank Ocean is an idiot... I could care less about what his personal preferences in his actual bedroom. To say you don't like Frank Ocean is to say maybe you don't like Luther Vandross or maybe you don't like Kenny Greene. 'Cause there's artists before him that have made these choices, just not, they haven't made the choice to expose it or the general public before an actual release of music... The results of how popular [Frank Ocean's] music becomes now would say how cool or uncool it is to be in the open... Obama is for same-sex marriage... If the president is saying that, then who am I to go the other way?"</blockquote>
Pop star Beyoncé, who is married to hip hop mogul Jay-Z, and has acknowledged and voiced support for <a href="http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=48242" target="_hplink">her gay fans</a>, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/beyonces-shows-support-for-frank-ocean_n_1660031.html" target="_hplink">posted a poem</a> to her <a href="http://www.beyonce.com/news/frank-ocean" target="_hplink">web site</a> in support of Frank Ocean coming out.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes," Eminem addressed his frequent use of the word "faggot" (skip to 9:00): <blockquote>"The scene that I came up in, that word was thrown around so much, you know? Faggot was, like, it was thrown around constantly, to each other, like in battling...I don't have any problem with nobody, you know what I mean. Like, I'm just whatever." </blockquote> Eminem has also discussed gay marriage in the past and told the <em>New York Times,</em> "I think if two people love each other, then what the hell?... I think that everyone should have the chance to be equally miserable, if they want."