Music review: Angel Haze, Birthday’s, London

  • @oscarquine

Angel Haze has the back story: having grown up in a religious community that she has compared to “a cult”, in which she wasn’t allowed to listen to music, she moved to Brooklyn at age 16 and, in this musical melting pot, lapped up what she heard. Across a handful of mixtapes and an EP, she has shown off her no-nonsense rapping, displaying a flow that’s reminiscent of Jay-z at points in its clever, clunky syntax.

With hip-hop’s magpie eye for samples, and the boundary-less pool of the internet to draw on, she channels the dirtiness of Nicki Minaj, the big-sample pop of Lupe Fiasco and the anger of Rage Against the Machine. Two songs in, she wins the crowd over with a Missy Elliot cover. Her own track “I Run New York” stands out. Over a stripped-down track of a bass drum and a looped hand-clap, sampled from Gil Scott Heron, she serves up two of rap’s key ingredients: unflinching brags and cusses to her competitors, including the novel insult ‘chicken noodle soup face’.

Haze’s party trick seems to be performing from within the crowd, stepping down from the stage and sidling to the back of the venue, turning round and spitting her lyrics at the room. She has a dynamic energy and this ease with the audience makes her instantly likable. She’s at home on stage, declaring on “Gossip Folks” that “All she ever wanted was to sing a song / And have a crowd full of people that sing along”.

But this gets lost in the music. At a small venue - she’s playing in a basement club to around 200 people - early on in an artist’s career, you’d hope to get a sense of them as raw and untouched. With Haze, it’s too slick. While her rapping style is impressively developed for a 22-year-old, the production is formulaic - perhaps it’s the fault of her label letting their in-house producers loose on her. While she has rapport with the crowd, she has little with her band who, with English accents, are presumably session musicians drafted in for the tour. Perhaps nitpicking like this is unfair with a fledgling artist, but they’re also points to be made early on, before her edge is washed away in the mish-mash of different styles, cover versions and generic backing tracks.