Angel Haze - Reservation
Upon your first listen of Reservation, the recently dropped project from young New York-based rapper Angel Haze, the first thing that’s likely to jump out at you is the uncompromising honesty and intimacy of her lyricism. This quality is one that is not lost on the artist herself, and the immediate focus on this rawness is clearly intentional: the album opens with “This Is Me”, an unflinching description of Haze’s difficult childhood and subsequent troubled relationships with her close family. The title of the record must surely be a reference to her Native American heritage, for when it comes to the divulging of the deeply personal, Angel Haze is anything but reserved.
The album’s opener may deal with pretty dark subject matter, but it isn’t all doom and gloom. Ultimately, the song’s lasting message and impression are positive, Haze’s acceptance of her past problems and redemptive attitude towards them reflecting a maturity that belies her young age, and signal two major themes of the record. It’s clear that Angel Haze has been through a lot, but when she isn’t describing the hard times, she’s rhapsodizing on how they’ve only served to make her stronger, whether they pertain to issues with family, objects of desire, or her own self doubt. In some ways these are well worn tropes within the realm of hip-hop, but they are spat here with a refreshing honesty, and Haze’s persona in itself is compelling enough to make the tales of tribulations overcome feel fresh and unique.
There’s nothing at all wrong with these thought out, personal themes being present on a hip-hop record: in fact, as ever, it is pleasant to encounter a rapper that isn’t entirely preoccupied with money, sex, or both. They do, however, make listening to the record as a whole a relatively difficult experience: uncompromising at best, dry at worst. The best songs here, the buzzed about singles “New York” and “Werkin’ Girls”, are also the least serious on the project. It’s here that Haze cuts loose, content to spit playful metaphors and indulge in battle rap braggadocio. It’s also on these occasions that she seems to feel most comfortable toying with her flow, elongating syllables and dipping into bars of rapid fire, double time couplets. This isn’t to say that her weightier meditations elsewhere don’t come ensconced in an impressively technical, assured flow, but the difference on these more laid back tracks is palpable, particularly once Haze’s relentless emotional heaviness leads momentum to drag slightly.
This dichotomy is also reflected in the beats that Haze chooses to rap over: the singles are, not coincidentally, the best on a musical level too, “New York” light and funky, “Werkin Girls” a heavy set, bassy stomper. Some of the more serious songs do fine: the lilting, Nicole Wray crooned chorus of “Wicked Moon” is captivating, the acoustic guitar-laden “Gypsy Letters” spices the musical concoction up nicely, while “Hot Like Fire” and the piano-led “Realest” mine traditional if melancholy hip-hop loops effectively. Too often, however, the music reflects the difficult seriousness of the lyricism, as in the plodding “Supreme”, or aims too clumsily for something resembling a crossover hit, for instance on the album’s greatest misstep “Drop It”. This all makes for a somewhat uneven listen, but for an artist so early on in her career this is nothing to be judged too harshly. The overwhelming impression is one of a remarkably self-assured and unique new voice in rap, and a record worth listening to for even a cursory fan of the genre, if only to prove that it can still carry intellectual weight.