Angel Haze Is Wrecking It
A lot of the web tremblings around Angel Haze’s #30GOLD have centered on her freestyle over the Ryan Lewis-produced, Mary Lambert-hooked, track entitled “Same Love.” Undoubtedly, Haze does the theme a justice that Macklemore couldn’t help but fail. “Same Love” took Haze’s #30GOLD in a new direction – the tone (thematically speaking, but also in and of the vocals) is so much more tender as compared to the “dream” of the first six tracks, as elaborated in her “Backseat Freestyle”: “murder everything.” If the project up until “Same Love” was to lay the materialistic and sexist excesses of ‘popular’ (bourgeois, straight, masculinist) hip-hop to an eternal resting place, then something new happened when Haze came to focus on that infamous track in which America’s new favorite white rapper wages combat against the hate most-allegedly characteristic of hip-hop – homophobia.
Unlike Macklemore’s lyrics, which emerge out of the liberal-cum-progressive capital-D Democratic context of a Washington State marriage equality campaign, and which narrate the “march on” of “progress” overcoming a generalized homophobia alleged to be characteristic of hip-hop writ large, Haze makes no mention of hip-hop at all. Having already “murder[ed]” a little something of “everything” that had been big in hip hop in the past year, Haze expresses a much more complicated erotic politics, rooted in a much more powerful personal experience with her own mother, and affirms herself and others left and right. “I stand for,” Haze says, “I accept you,” and “Here’s to” a whole wide-ranging series of experiences, offering love both to all those who find it difficult to love her for how she loves, but also, and most crucially, to all those who have her same love.
If “Same Love” delightfully threw our expectations through a loop, then Haze’s last song to be released to-date, a cover of Mylie Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball,” doubled up on this looping. Nearly everything about “Wrecking Ball” is different from what we’ve seen so far in #30GOLD. Let’s consider it simply: on the one hand, Haze doesn’t freestyle on the track, she sings the same words as Cyrus, word for word; on the other, the digital production from the original is entirely dropped in favor of an acoustic version of the ballad. We hear, for the first time in the series, Haze’s singing-chops (we already knew she could spit, after-all).
I can’t stop thinking that “Wrecking Ball” is the most exciting thing we’ve heard from Angel Haze yet. Don’t get me wrong, #30GOLD is brilliant, and “Echelon” has me eager for the debut album to drop. But “Wrecking Ball” wrecks everything – it’s more powerful than the loudest silence. And after how much coverage she got for “Same Love,” it really seems like crickets are the audience for this last track.
We’ve already seen how directly Haze can apply her talents to reconceptualize what it means to have skills as an MC, killing many of the leading male MCs of the past year, twisting their own weapons against them to express a precisely contrary (anti-materialistic, queer, feminist) message. But this newest sgong is the first time she’s dealt with a tune by a female-identifying performer – one whose gender and sexuality, race and class, have been the topic of much heated discussion these past few months. Haze makes the ingenious choice of doing a cover of Cyrus, and thereby sidesteps all these long played-out debates by giving no explicit commentary.
Yet, so much can be expressed with so little: it’s the power of art, the power of music. It’s the differences between these two versions of “Wrecking Ball” that count. To lay these differences schematically: Cyrus’s affected and special-effected vocals sounds weak against the electronic-epics of the production, while Haze’s vocals soar epically over the stripped down and comparatively quiet acoustic guitar. I’m not trying to make some stupid whiteness=artificial, blackness=natural argument here, lifted, say, from the Black Arts Movement or wherever, nor would I say that the analog and stripped down is inherently to be valorized over the digital and elaborate. The point is that the two versions leverage the contrast between the vocals and the music in two different ways. In Cyrus’s version, all the complexity is in the production, her voice is shoved with it through the music industry’s hit production machine. In Haze’s, the complexity is in the range and grain of her voice, held in tension with and against the guitar.
Which brings me to the way I’ve found myself interpreting Haze’s version of the song, and the importance of her challenge to normative gender, sexuality, and race concepts. With Cyrus, all signs point to her version of the song being about the wrecking ball and wrecking of a romantic relationship in which she, the singer, sought to break down the walls of “you” the loved one, who only ever wrecked her. With Haze, that which “you” refers to is shifty as fuck. For one, if “you” is a single person, we certainly can’t assume their gender as easily as we do with Cyrus. But for another, the object of Haze’s wall wrecking affection, in the context of #30GOLD has at least two less obvious alternatives to being a person that make the most of the possibility for “you” to refer to a plural in the English language. First, you could be the audience of listeners – folks out there that, for example, maybe were with her up until she flipped Macklemore’s track last Wednesday and then decided to flip on her. I think a second possibility is more interesting: hip-hop as a whole, a culture she loves, the internal barriers of which she is committed to breaking down, but which has up to this point only wrecked her and wonderful women like her. And boy is Angel Haze wrecking it.