Angel Haze Forges Her Own Path On Reservation

2012 is already one of the best years for female rappers in a long while. Nicki Minaj's "Starships" has given her another massive hit at a time when those are vanishingly rare in rap, and Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded balances her fearsome skill as a rapper with her newly-minted pop star status. Na'Tee's "No Love" is the best track by more than a few women (Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz) who have merged from Trina's old lane to the street where brittle bangers bounce off asphalt. Trina herself is back with the weirdly awesome "Beam"; Missy Elliott is, too, appearing on the remix for M.I.A.'s fantastic "Bad Girls" and in the hook to J. Cole's slow-burning "Nobody's Perfect." Despite a middle finger overshadowing the affair, Nicki and M.I.A. joined Madonna on a single the trio performed at halftime of the Super Bowl. Hell, Kreayshawn and Iggy Azalea are still things, and Kitty Pryde's maybe the breakout Internet figure in music this year.

No woman in rap is quite as exciting as Angel Haze, though. And Reservation, her new EP, gives listeners good reason to be excited both for what she is and what she will be.

Haze's talent was evident from early on in her career: I mentioned her as a counterpoint to Kreayshawn in a May 2011 piece in this space, when she was just 19 and skittering all over the instrumentals for Jamie Foxx's "Fall For Your Type" and Lil Wayne's "Single." Even then, she stood out for her honesty, uncommon for any rapper, and proficiency with flows, prodigious for a young rapper, much less a young female rapper.

Reservation, released Tuesday, shows Haze has grown significantly since Altered Ego and King (her two 2011 mixtapes) and Voice (released in April), and does it from the jump. "This Is Me" opens it, with Angel directing verses as letters to her mother, sibling, and the "little girl inside" her, saying "You're a lot smarter than you're ever given credit for" to the latter, and she's building on the framework laid out by Kanye West on "Everything I Am" by trying to puzzle out her own influences and biases; rappers as technically adept as Haze rarely throttle down for tracks like "This Is Me," and even rappers as prone to naked displays of emotion rarely lead off projects with songs so honest and devoid of swaggering.

The many plants in rap's garden of cross-pollinating artists and styles make it hard to definitively say any rapper derives from any other, but West is a good touchstone for Haze, and Drake an especially good one. Much as Drake was a post-Kanye rapper, Angel's one of the first rappers to truly begin her career post-Drake—she was only in her mid-teens when his music started kudzuing blogs, and she used six instrumentals Drake had previously touched on Altered Ego—and she wears his influence well, with confessionals that come off as credible and compelling. Drake is capable of boiling the circumstances of his life down to bars and hooks that connect universally and endure tweets and status updates; Haze possesses some of the same skills, though she's considerably greener.

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