BBC Sound of 2013: Angel Haze
- 2 January 2013
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
New York-based rapper Angel Haze has come third on the BBC's Sound of 2013 new music list.
The list, compiled using tips from more than 210 tastemakers, aims to highlight some of the most exciting emerging artists. We are revealing one artist from the top five in reverse order every day until Friday, when the winner will be announced.
Angel Haze remembers the date 8 September 2011.
That day, a shy, Detroit-raised, schoolgirl switched from being Raykeea Wilson and became straight-talking rapper Angel Haze.
"I was like, 'I have to do something. I don't want the mediocre life.' For me, it was a life or death situation," she says matter-of-factly. "I can choose to be happy, or choose to be miserable every day - waiting until I die."
In the 15 months since, the 21-year-old has risen to become one of the most talked about new talents in hip-hop.
But Haze's route to the cusp of stardom has not been all that typical.
It has been reported that her strict upbringing meant she was not allowed to listen to music, she has been written about as a "childhood cult survivor" and, by her own admission, she endured a troubled youth.
"I grew up in a really strict church," she begins. "It was considered a sin to listen to music. I was totally aware of it. I wanted to be into it, but I wasn't allowed to.
"And I was actually in a cult," she explains. "I don't like to describe it that way too much because the word 'cult' just sounds crazy. It was that, but... it was cool. It really altered the way I think and perceive things."
At the age of 16 came a life-shaping decision: Haze's mother gave her permission to listen to music - and it changed everything.
"I went crazy," she laughs. "I was like a kid in a candy store. I felt free, and immersed in music."
Not knowing where to start, she began by researching tracks she had heard in films. As her passion grew, she took to listening to as much music as possible - everything from Paramore to Eminem, New Radicals to nu metal, European classical musical to US rock.
At the same time, she revisited the poetry she had been writing as a teenager. With an abundance of freshly discovered musical influences, her personal style rapidly developed.
Working under the name Angel Haze, she released a pair of mixtapes online in 2011 - Reservation and Classick.
Her suave beats, punchy delivery and spectacular vocabulary - which she puts down to copying out the entire dictionary, twice, when she was grounded one summer - immediately caught the attention of journalists and industry bigwigs.
But it was one track in particular, the powerfully raw Cleaning Out My Closet, that stopped listeners in their tracks. Rapping over an Eminem sample, Haze talks graphically about her experiences of sexual abuse as a child and a series of rapes beginning when she was seven years old.
"When I wrote it I cried like a baby in the studio," she recalls.
"When you open up and give so much of yourself to the world, to the public, it feels like it's almost your dying day.
"I just let go in the studio and wrote. And when it came out, people were like, 'Oh my god you helped me, you told my story.' It was so worth it. At that moment I didn't care about anything else. It helped at least one person. It's like 'wow - that's a magnificent feeling.'"
She pauses: "I don't regret it. Had none of that stuff ever happened, I wouldn't be the artist I am today."
Indeed, it shocked many that a newcomer could arrive with such a brutally honest musical statement. But Haze says she does not want to be defined by the troubles of her past. Other tracks showcase her ability to be cynical, playful and funny.
She also enjoys surprising people with her varied music influences.
"It's because I'm a rapper - we're all expected to like a certain genre of music," she reasons. "I don't even really like rap music. I listen to Flyleaf, I listen to Gotye, I listen to some French composers. I don't limit myself to one kind of music because, if I did, I would just make that kind of music."
Given the choice, she would rather be a rock star than a rap star.
"It's so liberating - rock stars get to be, do, say whatever they want," she says.
"It shouldn't matter where I'm from, it shouldn't matter how many times I've been shot. No one puts that stigma on anyone in rock music."
Do not be surprised then, if all goes to plan, that in between her dazzling rhymes, you'll see Haze strapping on an electric guitar on stage before too long.
"I love rock women," she enthuses, naming Hayley Williams from Paramore, Avril Lavigne and Tegan & Sara as some of her favourites. "They rule and no-one can tell them anything."
On her forthcoming album - she was recently signed up by Island Records - Haze hopes to work with an eclectic range of collaborators including Jason Mraz, Frank Ocean and The Weeknd.
Producer Paul Epworth, best known for his work with Adele, is also involved, and she has already released a track with London dance act Rudimental.
Some of Haze's life experiences may be unsettling, but ultimately, she says her message is positive.
"I want people to know that anything is possible," she says resolutely.
"That you can come from anywhere in the world, come from the dirtiest of places and go beyond that. There's nothing that you can't accomplish. Nothing can stop you."