Friday, November 2, 2012

Feminist Rapper Friday: Angel Haze

Angel Haze first came onto my radar sometime last year for her fantastic 6’7” Freestyle. Angel Haze has a flow like nobody’s business, and so it’s exciting that the 21 year old’s mixtape has just been released with rave reviews

But what will probably be her most-talked about song is the gut-wrenching “Cleaning Out My Closet.”
(**Trigger Warning: sexual abuse**)

“Cleaning Out My Closet” is set to the beat from Eminem’s 2002 classic, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet,” and the similar subject matter makes this connection. Eminem rapped about his difficult childhood and his contentious relationship with his mother, Angel Haze raps about her 10 years of childhood sexual abuse. 
Haze cites Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, and Queen Lafitah as some of the rappers she looks up to, and listening to her flow, the influence is clear. Haze has a gift in storytelling, something that has been almost lost in mainstream rap these days. Elliot, Hill, and Latifah’s MC careers harken back to the days when hip-hop was more about lyricism than selling records, and the results are clear. “Cleaning Out My Closet” is masterfully written and performed, but is incredibly hard to listen to. 
Talking to the New York Times, Haze said: 
My ultimate goal was to let go of all of it, the things that kind of haunt me in a way. I know it’s important in music to be honest with who you are, because this world is so full of lost kids who go through the same thing I went through, whose end result is ultimately suicide or drugs. And they don’t know they are strong enough to get through it. They don’t have an example. Too many people are afraid to say, “This happened to me and look what I did with it.”
It’s a brave song, and incredibly graphic. She raps about the eating disorder she developed in response to the abuse, her sexuality, and bleeding through her butt. One line in particular (which in Eminem’s song is “I’m sorry mama/I never meant to hurt you/I never meant to make you cry/ But tonight I’m cleanin’ out my closet”) is particularly haunting, “I’m sorry mom/But I really used to blame it on you/But even you, by then, wouldn’t know what to do.”
Sally Nnamani reviewed the song on PolicyMic and has one paragraph in particular that really rings true: 
In the song, Angel Haze also talks about how her strong disdain for her life growing up made her fabricate characters and fantasy worlds to escape her harsh reality. This is a prominent theme in mainstream rap where artists would rather glorify the violence they experienced growing up and value it as a credibility badge as opposed to highlighting the real impact of violence in urban communities… Nicki Minaj [grew] up in a household of domestic violence. However, her music rarely ever reflects that experience, preferring a style glossed in theatrics and a battle of freakish alter egos.  
The issue here is not that all rap glorifies violence or prefers female MCs to put on wigs and rap for mainstream channels. But the fact that Haze told her story, and told it so well, in the face of all of this shows how she’s a really important voice. 
Childhood sexual abuse is not an easy topic, and it’s not something that people typically talk about so openly and graphically. It’s a problem that is a taboo across the world, something that can be so earth-shattering that it’s easier to stay quiet than talk to someone about it.
These fragments of conversations are important. Until we lift this fucked up veil of silence over the subject, people are just going to suffer alone. Haze is talented, brave and on the brink of breaking into the big time, so I’m glad that she’s using her power of storytelling to reach out. 

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