Thanks to a string of jarring, confessional mixtapes last year culminating in October's blunt-force Classick, Angel Haze is considered one of rap's most promising new talents – though it doesn't always seem possible to her.
"It's still so surreal," Haze tells Rolling Stone, reflecting on her rise to hip-hop notoriety. "I haven't really been able to grasp it. I want to stop one day and be like, 'Holy shit! Look at what I did and where I am.'"
The 22-year-old Detroit native, born Rayeeka Angel Wilson, is too focused on her burgeoning career to worry about the particulars of how she got here. In June she put the finishing touches on her forthcoming debut album, Dirty Gold, due early in 2014, and she plans to roll out a trio of singles – the first titled "Echelon" – over the coming months. "Everything's done," she says backstage after her rowdy Sunday afternoon performance at Lollapalooza. "Literally everything." Her voice rises in excitement: "I just sit there and listen to it: I'm like, 'Holy shit, dude. This is amazing!'"
Haze burst onto the hip-hop scene with boastful and blunt ambitions ("I want to be big. I want to be awesome") and an open-book approach to her lyrics. The most vivid example of such transparency came on the Classick track "Cleaning Out My Closet," a heartbreaking account of a series of rapes she endured beginning at age seven. "It was weird because I felt like I was losing my mind, and then it happened like it happened like millions of times / And I would swear that I would tell but they would think I was lying," she rapped.
Though Haze showed a knack for bringing listeners face to face with her harsh realities, she contends that her mixtapes were just "a stepping stone" for her forthcoming full-length album. "They weren't the epitome of what I can do," she says. "So for me it was like, "It's great that you like it, but I'm going to go fucking 10 times harder on the next album and 10 times harder after that.'"
She recorded Dirty Gold in Los Angeles over three months this past spring, working with an A-list team of producers, including Mike Dean (Kanye West, Jay Z), Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson) and Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Arcade Fire). Haze also collaborated with artists including Bassnectar and Sia. "She's one of my favorite artists in the world," Haze says of the latter. "To work with her was just like . . . Let's just say I'll die a happy person."
Haze hasn't always come across so cheerful: back in January, she and fellow rising female MC Azealia Banks engaged in a bitter Twitter feud – one that saw each rapper releasing brutal diss tracks aimed at the other. (Haze eventually took the high road and issued an apology on YouTube). Haze now says she's mellowed out considerably. "I don't mind anything anymore," she says. "I'm just trying to be Zen, you know?"
Born in Detroit on 7 Mile Road, the rapper, of African-American and Native-American descent, was raised in the Greater Apostolic Faith. In past interviews she has likened her upbringing to being in a cult that forbid her from listening to any mainstream music. At 15, after a local pastor threatened her mother, Haze's family left the church and moved to Brooklyn.
It was around this time Haze adopted her rap persona, combining her middle name with that of adult-film star Jenna Haze. Artistically, she drew inspiration from take-no-prisoners rappers like Eminem and West. "The artists that I identify [with] mostly are the ones who are so uncompromisingly themselves," she says. "Like 'Fuck you. I don't care what you think about it. This is who I am. And I can either force-feed you this shit or you can take it as you will.'" Eminem, in particular, demonstrated that a Detroit native could be successful in hip-hop. "I downloaded every single Eminem album ever," she recalls of the period of time after her mother relented and let her listen to secular music. "I spent most of my childhood wanting to be married to him," she says. "Dude, I'm from 7 Mile. He's from 8 Mile. I'm like 'Yo, we're meant to be.'"
Despite growing up in the Motor City and living in New York, Haze, who now lives in L.A., doesn't call anywhere home. "I don't really identify much with being from anywhere," she says. "I spent my whole life moving around. So I don't really have a base. You kind of have to make every place your own."
She titled last October's EP New York because she was living there while recording it, and gritty tone of the four-track recordings reminds her of the city. "New York forced me to be so many different things: I had to be more blunt, more brutal, more confident," she says. "It pulls these things out of you. You kind of have to pay homage to something like that."
Recently, Haze has been pausing to catch her breath. "I try to sit around and play video games all day," she says. "I just try and keep my head in the things I like and not worry about so much of the shit that's going on around me. I wake up everyday happy as shit. Like, 'Let's do shit!' It's pretty wicked."