Rapping over a classic (or buzzing) beat is often just a cheap, if savvy, way to grab some attention. When jackin’-for-beats is done right, however, it brings with it a very specific type of energy. Lil Wayne’s “Georgia Bush” is more affecting because it contains from-the-frontlines-of-Katrina frustration, as well as the warped memory of Field Mob and Ludacris’ Georgia pride anthem. You can hear the original and the usurped version fighting it out, and that’s fascinating. Rap thrives on that kind of tension.
Classick, the new rapping-overs-others’-instrumentals mixtape from Angel Haze, enters that “Georgia Bush” zone of inspiration. Haze’s take on Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad” shifts the focus of the song to a male who witnesses his mother being beat up and, as a result, continues a cycle of abuse. Adjusting Lupe’s sloppy gender politics is inspired. In Lupe’s version, the male seemed impervious to the damaging effects of hip-hop misogyny, which misunderstands how toxic elements of our culture harm both its victims and perpetrators. A rewrite of Jay-Z’s “Song Cry” finds Haze reeling from a break-up, while finding hope in learning from the experience. It’s a song about emotional growth and it exposes the fact that Jay-Z’s mini-melodrama soul-rap is really about cheating on someone and then getting upset that she up and left. Most maudlin Jay-Z songs are about Jay being an asshole, really.
Raps over Missy Elliott’s “Gossip Folks,” Erykah Badu’s “Love of My Life,” and Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing),” reveal a curatorial impulse that’s almost as strong as the tape’s corrective spirit. On “Gossip Folks,” Haze does her version of Missy’s sass-rap shit talk and it’s a welcome turn because, for all of Haze’s immense writing talents, she can wander into a tedious spoken-word style from time to time. Riffs on Badu and Hill reveal Haze’s singing voice and hints towards a developed songwriting style, not usually heard on mixtapes like this. Clearly, Haze views the music of Missy, Erykah, and Lauryn, as a series of touchstones for her style. She is tracing her influences and implicitly reminding listeners of just how brave mainstream female rap and R&B was a decade or so ago. As strange as it may sound, perhaps the best comparison for Classick is Gunplay’s 106 & Snort, which similarly nodded to hip-hop heroes and investigated influence, while also boldly trying to show up the unimpeachable originals.
The most stunning beat-jack on Classick is “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” a brave inversion of Eminem’s confessional rap. “Closet” unflinchingly details Haze’s childhood of sexual abuse (“He whipped it out and sodomized and forced his cock through my gut”), and also speaks of overcoming the tragedy, finding hope in the narrative beyond simple venting. She doesn’t just adjust Eminem’s message, she marks up his narrative and gives it a failing grade for a lack of emotional sophistication. Finally, she shows him how to do it better, penning a rap about sexual abuse using the beat of a rapper who often exploits rape and domestic violence as cathartic punch lines. At one point, the voice of her rapist wanders into the song and demands oral sex: “I see you like them popsicle sticks / So put your mouth on my dick and fucking swallow the spit.” That couplet could easily have come from an actual rap song. Angel Haze implicates hip-hop culture, but her rapping testifies on behalf of the genre’s transformative power.