Angel Haze, 'Classick' (self-released)

7
Classick
Critical Mass
Release Date: October 25, 2012
Label: Self-released

by Jessica Hopper

Thank god Angel Haze is so into Jason Mraz and Train. Perhaps if she'd grown up listening to more hip-hop, she might've mistakenly bothered to respect its margins. Though the 21-year-old New York transplant claims adult-contemporary emo as her primary influence, it is hard to celebrate the young MC's sophomore mixtape as anything other than an exciting new mutation of post-Nicki Minaj feminist rap. Along with fellow spitfire gal Azealia Banks, Haze seemingly hatched from some feisty matriarchal netherworld where "pop femme" and "boss bitch" aren't contradictory moves, where you can have it all, so that's what you aim for: a radical-girl entitlement society endowed by a neon-wigged super-heroine.

On Classick's much-discussed closing track, "Cleaning Out My Closet" (set to the Eminem track of the same name), Haze angles for reprieve and revenge — the kind you get by simply living. It's undoubtedly the mixtape's biggest moment, but chances are you won't want to hear it twice. She begins by warning that things are going to get "personal" and issues a parental advisory — for the next four-and-a-half minutes, she unloads the truth of a childhood taken from her at age seven by ritualized sexual abuse. The story is so harrowing that it's unsurprising when she gets to the part about how she wanted to kill herself and other people. But she condenses her triumphant survivor's narrative into four tight lines: "I'm not deranged anymore / I'm not the same anymore / I'm mean I'm sane, but I'm insane / But not the same as before." Her candidness is as stunning as her bravery.

The rest of Classick is a little uneven, in terms of both temperament and quality. The tape's opening cut, which flips Lupe Fiasco's "Bitch Bad," is a phenomenal and complex song that chronicles the cycles of domestic abuse, with an unexpected ending, illuminated with such deft clarity that it's once again hard to imagine she isn't working from firsthand knowledge. Her stunning, rapid-fire flow manages to keep the song from sinking under the weight of its topic. The Missy Elliott nod "Gossip Folks" is an example of why Haze's flow inspires so many Eminem comparisons, as she pops off at haters ("Stepping on your face like you detect my weight") and playfully flaunts how ridiculously talented she is. But both "Love of My Life" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" are closer to homage than proper new compositions, hewing to their respective Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill originals. Better to focus on the songs that undoubtedly will be touchstones for the rest of Angel Haze's illustrious career.

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