Angel Haze On Her Debut Album: “It’s Important To Be A Voice For The Voiceless”
Angel Haze couldn’t wait to put out her album. Earlier this year, Haze traveled to Spain, London, New York and California to record tracks for Dirty Gold, her major label debut for Republic Records. Finishing the album two weeks ahead of schedule, the 2013 XXL Freshman was sitting on tracks that showcased her wide range of talents. “With the record, I wanted to touch places I never touched before,” she says. “I’ve always said, everything that I did I wanted it to be a step up—sonically, lyrically."
To the surprise of many, Haze pulled the trigger and leaked her album ahead of its March release date after venting about her label frustrations on Twitter. Republic Records quickly took it down; however, the 22-year-old MC was so passionate about giving her fans the project that the label locked in December 30 as her new release date. Even with her victory, she remains adamant about demonstrating a different side that hasn't been seen before.
"The album isn’t even dark at all. It’s probably gonna hurt a lot of people in a bunch of different ways,” she says. “'Cause I’m used to [being] the punk rock child. 'Cause music is so cathartic and I used it as therapy, I’m not the same person anymore. I don’t know how much I smile a day, but I am genuinely happy, so it’s so hard for me to tap into these sources that don’t exist anymore.”
Haze has already shown bits and pieces of Dirty Gold in buzzing singles “Echelon (It’s My Way)” and “A Tribe Called Red.” Elsewhere, though, Haze’s songwriting talent soars; working with the likes of Australian singer Sia, producer Mike Dean (Yeezus, Magna Carta...Holy Grail) and Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Coldplay), Haze’s genre-bending debut is living up to the hype.
XXL got down with Angel Haze to preview five tracks off Dirty Gold. Read on to hear the making of tracks like “Black Synagogue,” “Crown” and more. —Eric Diep (@E_Diep)
On Working With Executive Producer Markus Dravs
Angel Haze: I had no clue of any producers at all before I started working on the album. Even working with Mike Dean and Mayla and all of them, it was so new to me. It was just like, “Oh, you guys did all of my favorite albums, that’s great.” Markus, he actually sought me out strangely. We met on the beach and it was really awkward. He was just like, “I like you. I want to work with you.” I was like, “Well, how do I know that I like you?” And we went back and he was playing me some stuff. I was like, “This shit is whack.” And then he was like, “Oh, you don’t want a Grammy? I’ll just give it to someone else who wants a Grammy.” [Laughs] But we actually instantly meshed. I could say stuff like that to him 'cause he would get it.
In order for me to complete the album and to actually have it at a place where I am ready to put it out in a month and half, it was a big deal to [work with Markus]. I needed militant structure to be able to complete that. With Markus, he’ll call me: “You have to be in the studio at 10 a.m. Not a freakin’ minute later.” Basically, unless I am sick. I was sick like two days out of the whole thing. “You have to do this. You spent seven hours on vocal practices. You spend two hours writing and then you record it. Maybe four.” And that’s what you do before the day is up. There’s nothing on that checklist that didn’t get unchecked.
When I work with these producers, I kind of look towards these people who would be able to take this melting pot of all the things that I like and make it make sense. The album is hip-hop. The album is rock. The album is pop. All that stuff, but it makes sense in that way. That was very important to me. That multifaceted, that diverse—you can’t classify it as rap, as rock, as whatever. It’s cool enough to be all of those things.
“Echelon (It’s My Way)”
Producer: Markus Dravs
AH: It was so hard for me to write. It was one of those things, I went to the studio and I really don’t do well at writing braggdocious raps. I’m totally the least cocky person alive, and it sucks. But it took me a total of two weeks to finish that song and that was the longest song I worked on on my album. I was like, “Dude, I can’t do it. I don’t know what to talk about. Blah, blah, blah.” And then Markus was like, “I guess you could sing a bit.” He goes, “We are going to put you in this box for seven hours and you are going to sing the highs and lows of the chorus.” [I’m] doing all that opera crap you hear on the chorus. We were just like, “Okay, we should make it fun.” I don’t really know how to have fun; I am way too anxious to do it, to be honest. But I tried, and “Echelon” came out. It was fun for me at the moment. And it ended up changing so much. When I listen to the first draft of these songs, I’m just like, “Wow, these sucked. This is trash.” We just kept on honing it and honing it and it came out. But it’s just fun. It’s about fashion.
Producer: Greg Kurstin
AH: Working with Sia, it was insane to me. Again, I didn’t go to her and ask. I am always way too nervous to do that. Actually, I went to the studio and I was working with Greg Kurstin. He was like, “Yeah, do you know who Sia is?” She was like, “Yeah. She wants you to play me this record. She thinks it’s perfect for you." I was like, “Wait, what? Sia knows who I am? That’s like freaking unbelievable.” We played it and I wrote the song in an hour and we recorded it in the same day and it’s actually still the same draft as that day. It’s just mastered now. It’s cool to have someone of her caliber, especially as a writer, be so interested in what I do. Interested enough to give me one of the best songs I feel she’s ever written.
For me, it’s always important to be the voice for the voiceless. Everything that I do, I mostly do it for a standstance, purely philanthropic. This is 20 percent for me because music is cathartic and therapeutic. But 80 percent for everyone else who doesn’t have anyone to say the stuff that they feel. I don’t know. It’s just for one of those kids who don’t have a voice.
Producer: Mike Dean
AH: Mike Dean produced a song on my album called “Black Synagogue.” It’s an entire church service. Mike is hilarious to work with because he is one of those guys who is so cutthroat and straightforward. If he thinks its sucks, he thinks it sucks. He’s like, “This is some shit, man. I don’t want to hear this shit.” It’s cool to have someone so honest there. We were working on a bunch of different stuff at first. He was doing these interludes ‘cause RZA and Isabella Summers from Florence And The Machine actually produced one of the interludes on my album. It was pretty cool. Mike came and added an extension to that song. The song is 11 minutes, but it’s not split up. Mike is cool and he’s really talented.
“A Tribe Called Red”
Producer: A Tribe Called Red
AH: We’ve been friends for a bit. They are like, “Yeah, we are gonna send you this dope beat.” I was like, “Whoa, heard it.” I decided to pay homage to them as well as [my] roots, [so] I would name the song a “A Tribe Called Red.” It’s mostly about literally those kids again. Everything I do was about those kids, because I was one of those kids. And I had no one to speak to me.
I mean, obviously I wasn’t able to listen to music until I was 16. I found Eminem and Eminem spoke my life. It’s like the first time I read a book that literally spoke to me. How did this person know to write about me? It’s one of those things where you have to have that in your life or you literally will go crazy. When you don’t feel you have anyone representing you, you are too scared to say anything. You need it. That’s all I care about.
AH: I met those guys a whole year ago. And we recorded “Hell Could Freeze” and “Crown” in the same day. It’s crazy because “Hell Could Freeze” came out January of this year and I was like, “Whoa.” Everyone was like, “When did you do this?” We did this a year ago. I didn’t expect it to happen, but it was cool. It’s awesome because those boys, it’s like five of them. I didn’t know. I thought it was one [person]. I was with [Amir Amor] for most of the time. And they all come piling into the studio. Who are you niggas? Where are you coming from? They just kept coming out of nowhere. It was crazy.
[The track] is more reminiscent of Missy Elliott. Back in the day with the weird sounds and the heavy bass. It’s cool. I wouldn’t say I’m queen of anything. I never want to be queen of anything in life. It’s grimy, dark and minimalist. But at the same time, it’s so heavy on the floor and that’s what I thrive on.