Editor's note: Earlier this year Angel Haze identified as agender, so gender-neutral language is used below.
It's a Monday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, and Angel Haze is running on no sleep. You'd never suspect this if the rapper hadn't said so: the 23-year-old doesn't so much as yawn during our hour together. This self-imposed insomnia might seem a bit extreme, but it's a lifestyle that Haze has embraced over the past several months leading up to their latest project, Back to the Woods. "I locked myself in my house and didn't go outside, and that is probably why I'm this way now," the artist says about their intense creative process, with a laugh. For Haze, these long days (and nights) have been worth it. "I call Back to the Woods a project, rather than a mixtape or an album, because it was an entire experience," they explain. "It was a tumultuous and fucking crazy one, but I'm so happy it's out."
Written and recorded in the span of just two months, Woods represents a departure from Haze's past releases—both sonically and in its purpose. The Detroit native first found success online in 2012 (with the mixtape Reservation) for a brash, in-your-face rapping style, but Haze's impressive singing voice takes the spotlight in Woods. They seamlessly move from spitfire rap verses to soulful ballads on tracks like "The Eulogy" and on the aptly titled "Dark Places," which includes the lyric: "Go to dark places in my head to seek light in em/Tryna live my ways without too much spite in them." It's one of many songs on Back to the Woods that references the demons of their past, but then Haze has never sugarcoated their difficult past experiences and abusive upbringing. The musician says that Back to the Woods offers the most authentic glimpse into the gritty, uncomfortable, and downright awful parts of life.
"I went through a lot of dark shit, I thought that I needed the chance to have my artistic ability on display. If you're the type of person who doesn't mind divulging all the bullshit inside you, you can do so much for the world."
Haze says they wanted to release the project independently, as a palate-cleanser of sorts following the drama surrounding the release of their last album. A quick refresher: In 2013, Haze defied their label and leaked Dirty Gold, claiming that it had been shelved and postponed for months.
"I think there's a lot of shit that I've been patiently waiting to stand behind, and this record was it for me,"
Along with cutting their major-label ties, Haze also opted to work with only one producer this time around. The rapper handpicked T.K. Kayembe, who produced the 2012 single "Werkin' Girls," for this 24/7 gig. "He basically had to work as my life coach and my producer the whole time," Haze said of their arrangement. "He moved into my apartment and stayed up all day and all night. Remember, I don't sleep!"
Unlike Dirty Gold, which dipped liberally into other genres, like rock and pop, Back to the Woods has a consistent musical identity—despite the fact that Haze talks about adopting different personalities throughout the tracks. There's Angel Haze (their spoken words), Babe Ruthless (which Haze calls their aggressive side), and RÖES (their singing voice).
"I've got a lot of people living in my head, and I've got a lot of different personalities, so everything I do sounds completely different," the rapper says. "But at the same time, there's a core—and if you dip your hand into it, you pull out all this stuff that you didn't know was there before."
Haze says that Woods gave them a chance to explain who they are, and fans all over the world can hear this explanation in person on a massive world tour this year. From November through February, Haze and Kayembe will be hitting venues from Glasgow to Tokyo, and Haze hints at an expansive stage setup, without elaborating. "Touring is fun because you get to see the artist come to life," they said. "I want to build a stage presence so huge that I can play around with anything."
Crisscrossing the globe is a dream for Haze, who admits that their home base is constantly in flux (although the artist has a home in L.A.).
"I don't live here. I don't live anywhere. I have this weird inconsistency thing going on," they said.
In many ways, getting back to your roots—whether it's your hometown, or nature—is exactly the message that Haze hopes to spread to fans everywhere on tour. "Back to the Woods is about understanding that you can be this person, whether you're broken or crazy or on a million different trips—it's about coming back to who you are, naturally."
Tickets for Angel Haze's tour are available at songkick.com. Haze's Project/Mixtape is available on Spotify, iTunes, and Soundcloud.