In a week where the BBC have announced the Sound of 2014 winners, let’s not forget last year’s nominees as Angel Haze has finally released her debut - officially at last, considering she leaked the album a couple of weeks early following a dispute with her label. It’s not quite Beyoncé levels of surprise, but Haze hasn’t exactly shied away from controversy – until now she’s probably best known for her Twitter spats with fellow SO2013 nominee and female rapper Azealia Banks.
Yet where has that fiery personality gone? For the most part, ‘Dirty Gold’ has softened the rapper’s edges for an album aimed predominantly at the mainstream – even if the leak may have hampered her chances of reaching mainstream audiences. The low sales so far speak for themselves.
With a handful of exceptions that see her spitting out high-speed rhymes – the opening three tracks especially, as well as closer New York – the tracks of ‘Dirty Gold’ comprise a personal and soulful record. As she explains at the start of A Tribe Called Red, she doesn’t include elements of race and ethnicity in her lyrics; instead ”my identity is the music, everything you need to know about me is in the music”.
Too often, this manifests as self-help pop-rap. The spoken word intros, the constant self-referencing of “angels” and the attempts at empowering lyrics simply come across as preachy and patronising, complemented by glossy production. “If you’re contemplating suicide this is for you”, Haze claims at the start of Angels & Airwaves, whilst on Black Synagogue she imitates (startlingly) a gospel preacher. The title track, meanwhile, stands out as an attempt to replicate an Eminem/Rihanna pop-rap hit and sounds staid. Not even a collaboration with songwriter-of-the-moment Sia (Battle Cry) can save the album – if anything its polished piano riffs and soaring sung chorus reflect everything that’s wrong with ‘Dirty Gold’.
There are those few exceptions, though, that keep the Angel Haze we know from her mixtapes alive. Echelon (It’s My Way) includes the album’s best hooks, with braggadocio lyrics parodying the fashion industry, whilst White Lilies/White Lies turns the typical rap trope of the stripper on its head. And on A Tribe Called Red, Haze’s unflinching rap delivery proves why she’s the best female rapper around. Indeed, ‘Dirty Gold’ is an antidote to most male-dominated rap, but her insistence to court mainstream audiences has resulted in a flawed debut.
* Echelon (It’s My Way)
* A Tribe Called Red
* White Lilies/White Lies
Listen: ‘Dirty Gold’ is available now.