Scala, London, Tuesday May 7
On paper Angel Haze’s misery memoirs don’t read like a big night out. More grisly than a battery-farm chicken carcass, her stark chronicles of a deeply disturbed adolescence – reared in a religious sect where music was banned, sexually abused from the age of seven – have made the Detroit-born 21-year-old one of the most compelling new names in rap, but not quite top of the queue on your house-party playlist. But tonight, she’s drawing a line in the sand. Not literally of course, though the Scala is reaching beach-weather humidity as the crowds file in from a muggy spring evening in London. “Are you bitches ready to have some fun?” she asks. They are. But the even better news is that finally, after four acclaimed mixtapes of soul purging, she is too.
From the thunderclaps of opener ‘Werkin’ Girls’, a highlight of last year’s breakthrough ‘Reservation’ mixtape, the rapper – real name Raykeea Wilson – bounds through a set that hints at a breezier future, with a debut album due in October.
Prowling the stage like a caged tiger, old favourites ‘Supreme’ and swagger-dripping Big Apple anthem ‘New York’ are made massive by soul-choir backing singers. On Rudimental collaboration ‘Hell Could Freeze’, rhymes like “Cupid’s guns to our souls, he just can’t trigger chemistry/I need a lot of things you really can’t give to me” are snapped with the sort of technique that made icons of Eminem and Missy Elliott. Both of them have songs reworked by Haze this evening. She nimbly climbs a speaker stack to bark the words to Elliott’s ‘Gossip Girls’, while her harrowing spin on Marshall Mathers’ ‘Cleaning Out My Closet’, taken from 2012’s ‘Classick’ covers EP and performed for “the first and last time ever tonight”, commands a hush that swallows the room. It’s one of Haze’s many curious quirks – she’s one of the most individual artists in rap at the moment but she’s frequently drawn to taking on other people’s songs (a habit, she tells me the next morning after a raucous evening in a strip club, that “she’s leaving behind”).
Forthcoming single ‘No Bueno’ is, in fact, muy bueno – a booming club banger as stadium-sized as a Rihanna hit but with 10 times the snarl. The night climaxes with a surprise appearance from fellow “femcee” Iggy Azalea, who leaps on board to help with a cover of Jay-Z & Kanye West’s ‘Otis’. “She’s a fucking star,” shouts Azalea, wrapping her arms around Haze afterwards. “She’s the future!” If that’s the case – if her wall-shaking pop-trap sound and pro-feminist, anti-homophobe agenda really is where hip-hop is headed – then bring it on.