Heaven, a popular venue central to the London gay scene, is not a usual setting for a hip-hop gig. But truth be told, Angel Haze, the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based rapper does not exactly fit within the mainstream frame of hip-hop culture either. Declaring herself as a “voice of the voiceless”, candidly discussing her pansexuality, and being notorious for self-sabotage (she leaked her debut album 3 months prior to its release), she’s a promise of something new to the scene.
Entering the club, the thing I was anticipating the most, aside from Angel herself, was to see her London audience. It’s no secret that there is a massive gap between the British and American hip-hop scenes, the former being less prominent and popular than its counterpart. So I wondered, who are the Brits that enjoy getting lost in the Haze? There was no sign of ratchet divas or ghetto B-boys.
The blend of people attending was quite surprising: trendy gay boys and their fag hags, glittery gals in BOY London snapbacks, nerdy kids, and quite a few Americans. Instead of the rough hip-hop swagga, the vibe coming from the crowd seemed to be quite soft and… girly. It was not exactly what you would expect from that kind of show (aside from the Americans, naturally), yet as a fan of unexpected juxtapositions, I couldn’t complain.
Haze herself is a surprising character as well. Her songs paint a picture of an intimidating persona, ready to annihilate you with verbal venom at any minute because “her tongue is the f*king rapture”. The girl who entered the stage, wearing a simple oversized white shirt and matching white Chucks seemed more angelic than her stripper-y stage name and rough facade would suggest. With a bandana wrapped around her microphone, she resembled a hip-hop version of Steven Tyler. She may not be Aerosmith’s Demon of Screamin’, but she definitely is a Machinegun Rap Beast.
She started the show with one of her recent singles ‘Echelon (It’s My Way)’, a catchy song that is a well-balanced fusion of hip-hop and pop. She was accompanied both by a band and a turntable, yet the entourage did not overshadow her fast and furious rhyming speed. She demonstrated her sensitive side with a memorable performance of ‘Black Dahlia’, which is an address to her mother who was a member of a religious cult and one of the causes of the rapper’s demons. She emphasized the song’s personal significance by partially performing it on her knees.
Her interpretation of ‘Counting Stars’ by One Republic, which she serenaded to a fan picked from the crowd, was an unexpected yet well conducted deviation from her main set that demonstrated her skills in the pop department. Haze had a fantastic connection with the audience; effectively making the tumblr-esque crowd channel their inner ghetto realness.
During the encore she performed ‘New York’ introducing it as “the song that made her pop”. And it made her pop for a reason. With a strong electronic backdrop that amplified the “I run New York” chorus, it sounded even more invigorating live than on the record. The last song of the evening was the track with the stadium anthem potential: ‘Battle Cry’. A lucky contest winner joined Haze to perform part of the song on stage. While the fan was rapping, Haze sneaked off the stage to finish the song among her fans from the viewing balcony in the back, leading the show to a spectacular coda.
Angel Haze redefines female emancipation. Feminine yet fierce, vogue yet vitriolic, she “cuts the fake sh*t” and instead of confining herself to any kind of stereotype she transcends them, constructing her own idiosyncratic persona and delivering a soulful and strong performance.