In the latest Calvert Report, our man John Calvert starts to feel unusual as he sees Angel Haze live at Hoxton Bar & Kitchen.
“I’M IN THA murder business / I kill’d all dem other bitches,” raps Angel Haze, standing 10ft tall directly over me like a steel monument. I’m in the front row with a girlish squeal rising in my throat, feeling like a naughty little monkey about to get a couture army boot to my quarter-Hebrew smile if I get any closer to that black leather leg. But I’m close enough at least to observe Haze’s gaunt cheeks as they suck creases towards her face-dwarfing mic, and to spot her bare, tough midriff lining up with every spat syllable, and also her sly grin, and her vulnerability, her menace, and even the old soul in those big eyes. This Detroit-born, self-professed virgin who passed up a career as a neurosurgeon for music is pure presence, utterly commanding. And she has this writhing crowd in the palm of her hand. She is, indeed, in the murder business.
So it’s starting to kick in. Total female supremacy in such close proximity does funny things to your practiced male reserve. Thoughts of swearing and fights at school pop into my head, thoughts about how the Irish helped build New York, die gristled nicotine subhumans, and make good soldiers. I think about my Dad, who drinks Oxo Cubes and loves the boxing, in our groaning broken-glass Ulster. But it doesn’t matter, because all I can focus on is Amazing Angel and the very distinct energy a female artist exudes and about crawling on the ground towards the brilliant fan-demonium behind me, falling into puppyish servility alongside the cruel-eyed R&B girls and the on-trend Luger fans, the most beauteous of multicultural London. Then there’s the requisite 7ft tall teengirl, who always dances with awesome maneuverability and who seems to follow me around the London gig circuit accentuating my hobbit-y 5’7″-ness in diametric opposition to her outsized proportions, making us both look shit. “This one’s for YOU” Haze shouts, singling out a boy in the crowd of about 18. He claps and claps and I’m right there with him, all my affected E8 cool succumbing to breathy submission. Now I wanna, be your dog.
What I’m talking about here is true female power, and the almost cowering reverence female rappers are able to engender in the male hip hop fan. Depending, of course, on the rapper in question. Minaj, Banks or Haze. What’s your tipple in the year of the superwoman? Haze’s power derives from her realness, a vanishing quality in millennial female rappers, in the decline since the days of Foxy Brown and the hip soul soul of Blige. It’s that down to the cult of the ‘freak’ in femme-rap, the ‘alien schtick’, and the attendant epidemic of surrealist lyrics and cold conceptualism which can be traced back Missy Elliott’s Under Construction, and on through Peaches art-electro, Young Money’s Weird-o revolution, the Gaga effect and the trend for abstract, grossly artificial pop-ness, as femme rappers head charts-wise.
Back in the day, woman rapped about real life, narrated, and delivered their stories in a recognizably human vocal style. With there being a good chance that Minaj, Banks and Haze will be locking horns for the foreseeable future (as it happens, it’s widely known they’re the best of friends), at this point it’s Haze who seems to be the artist and her combatants the entertainers. Like her sexuality, Haze’s image is fluid and ill defined — it’s un-manufactured. Haze doesn’t make pop music. She makes hardcore, a term used more and more sparingly these days in reference to female rappers. Haze has dimension, and a searching soul, while the music carries a reassuring homegrown weight. Fuck it, an authenticity. Especially in comparison to the oddly trivial Santigold and M.I.A, that hollow poseur. Haze’s vaguely masculine flow is hard, flat, direct and real, which, unlike with Minaj and Banks’ flow-toggling albums, means there’s consistency between form and content — Haze’s lyrics being of a similarly gritty, utilitarian nature, centred on that Detroit misery, her slate-grey interior life and her survivalist childhood in a cult. She has a voice, whereas you’d be hard pushed to define what is Minaj and Banks are actually saying to the world. So when the 21-year-old takes to the stage tonight, it’s gravitas, history, heart and struggle that supercharges her pop appointment and makes her vicious. She dominates not because she’s some heightened ‘monster’ in the Minaj vein, but because she’s flesh and bone.
Dressed a little like Aaliyah in the ‘Try Again’ vid, for an all too brief 40 minutes she makes a party of this pillbox back-room off Old Street.”You guys were the first to embrace me, London,” she screams, “so I’m gonna return the favour.” Much skullduggery ensues. Reservation‘s contemplative tracks are off the menu, ceding to a set comprised solely of her fastest club tunes, like ‘Jungle Fever’ and the dancehall ‘Werkin Girls’. For the latter, Haze invites on to the stage “all the ladies who work”. The first two aren’t shy, bombing up the stairs, followed by what you might describe as a booty-proud proper supertrooper. The obscenely pelvic beat kicks in, and it’s like that time Boyzone danced on a chat show and Rodney wotzhisname looked like the albino catamite from John Gacey’s worst nightmares. It’s disgustingly funny.
The poutys execute their joyless music-video moves, but everyone’s going mental for the bespectacled, spaghetti-legged AfroCarri girl in the middle. Inevitably some cad gets on stage with the girls and gets a big laugh. Next thing, Spaghetti’s right over to him, giving it some mad dutty wine, doing that dancehall move when the female puts nose to dirt and vibrates whatever jelly her mother gave her inches from the male’s crotch. The problem here is, the guys shitfaced and there’s accidental contact. Thankfully the song ends and the DJ hits the rewind, cutting the beat. Angel Haze: “Get the fuck off my stage”. More cheers.
This is the jolly part of the night. The business of devastation comes later, when the year-defining ‘New York’ rolls into life, the song Haze wrote when she moved there and wasted no time releasing a track that proclaimed she was already the don, just to aggravate the native MCs. After a spot of a capella ad-libbing, a cover of Missy Elliot’s ‘Gossip Folks’ and ‘Starry Eyed’ which samples Elliot Gould’s’ ‘Starry Eyed’, as popularised by irritated Skrillex’s tedious girlfriend, Haze declares “I’m the best rapper out… and if you don’t think so you can get the fuck out of my party!” Then the snapping handclaps begin, then the bass. She plunges into the crowd and tunnels out of view “I’m running / running through the jungle…” Everyone’s either grooving or clearing a path. Haze resurfaces, rushes the stage and climbs up to the DJ booth to lean out over the crowd below, mic outstretched. She goes: “Rooftop / Brooklyn, made this shit in…” We go “Covert!!!!” Again the diamond hook rings out. Again we’re all “Covvvvvvv-ert!!! I think about saying ‘Calvert’ instead, ’cause I’m feeling this nasty jam and it’s making me superbad. It’s been a long time since I spoke to a woman.
© John Calvert, The Quietus, 11 October 2012