To say that no other rapper was, is or will be like Notorious BIG is obvious. But it’s like saying no tree is as beautiful as an oak, or that film is better than digital. Biggie is a legend because he was so versatile, and what made him great was a combination of his many talents, god-given or otherwise. While it’s impossible to claim anyone as the next Big, we can look at the facets of his greatness and see them reflected in a handful of new rappers. Fred the Godson, a large New York street rapper, shares a similar backstory to Big, toiling in a craft that today may no longer be relevant. Danny Brown, Detroit’s son, is a product of his hometown, just as Big forever wore Brooklyn like a badge. Brick Squad Monopoly is Waka Flocka Flame’s Junior MAFIA, an amalgam of differently talented hooligans whose groupthink is more crucial than their individual capabilities. And Angel Haze, a young internet brat, has Biggie’s preternatural skill, but it’s questionable if she’ll harness it. Clearly there will never be another Biggie, but to thrive, hip-hop needs artists like these to keep rapping like there could be.
In the videos she posts to YouTube, Angel Haze looks like something between a grown woman and a conceited young boy. She’s thin, powerfully built and moves so manically when she freestyles, recites poetry or lectures on behavioral ethics that her webcam blurs. A 19-year-old Native American living in Springfield, VA, a woods-and-asphalt suburb of Washington, DC, Haze is a self-cultivated aberration with extraordinary skill. She was born in Michigan to a military family that was involved with the Greater Apostolic Faith, a church Haze likens to a cult. To escape from her family’s absolute values and express how “weird” she felt, Haze turned to writing. “I wrote a freaking suicide letter, and it was kind of amazing to me,” she says. “I had to mature much earlier than everyone else.”
Before she turned 16, a pastor threatened Haze’s mother and, as a result, the family severed ties with the church. She went from having “deaf ears” and no musical influences to a “world of media,” where strangers laid bare their struggles on Facebook. She continued writing, and at public school, a friend encouraged her to start rapping. She had trouble getting along with other students and dropped out, opting instead to home school, though it’s unclear who was responsible for her education. Stationed at her computer with a lot of free time, Haze cast herself as an online siren, posting photos to modeling sites, tweeting and recording her own versions of pop songs. Lyrically, she credits her charm to a blend of beauty, brains and nihilism: Bitches on my dick cause I’m severely intellectual/ Bitches on my dick because I’m also way bisexual/ Bitches on my dick cause I found out I don’t give a fuck.
“I couldn’t listen to a hip-hop song without someone telling me I was going to burn in hell until I was 16 years old,” says Haze. Despite that threat, she’s continued rapping and, in doing so, has found a platform. She can control what people think of her, broadcast her ideas about gender and manipulate her lovers. Though she’s been at it for just three years, Haze sounds as audacious and cocksure as a preacher. She says she doesn’t practice and records in hour-long fits, compelled by a desire to compete on songs other strong rappers have tackled. Over the weightless, unrelenting beat Bangladesh crafted for Lil Wayne’s “Six Foot Seven Foot,” she runs through a deluge of verse like a televangelist: I am like magic, I am a classic, putting heat to them bitches like I’m ironing fabric/ Can’t satisfy the appetite of a savage, so I’m eating till I’m at the top, opening passage/ Kill that shit and have them bitches holding they casket/ I am on point, I am verbally tactless and it’s my turn now like a rotating axis. Spewing heaps of PSAT words, her timing is immaculate—each staccato claim fired decisively. Sometimes it sounds as if she’s interrupting herself. Some of her lyrics have surfaced online, but few of her rabid fans have taken on the task of transcribing entire songs, her rapid release too hard to chase down.
It’s likely her chutzpah and nimble wordplay developed by necessity. After her family left the church, Haze found herself cast in the role of family therapist. “If you want to encourage someone you have to know the right things to say,” she says. Haze’s preternatural will-to-talk is inspiring and stands as an example of how proud and unburdened a young woman can be. When she talks openly about a mysterious pregnancy, attachment to failed friendships and good gay sex, the bottom line is always that she is the director in these situations, able to weather and explain all.
“If you are yourself and you say what you feel, if you don’t give a fuck, people will gravitate toward you.” Should fans continue to acknowledge Haze and rally around her, it’s not certain that she’ll reciprocate their attention and investment. Her current work has been viewed almost 250,000 times on YouTube, but before that, Haze says she had different accounts and three different names. “Like a million people saw those,” she says, before she decided she couldn’t be associated with the personas and wiped them from the internet. “When I feel like any type of attention is too much, I crawl in my shell.” In conversation she’s carefully vague, and though she tweets all day, it’s not clear if she has a job or with whom she interacts regularly. Along with being interviewed for this piece, Haze agreed to be photographed but canceled multiple appointments. Her tendency to withhold will be a difficult habit to negotiate if she wants to become respected and worshiped the way she claims. “A couple weeks ago I was really, really afraid, like what if I’m not everything I want to be,” she says. “Then I was like fuck it, if I go down I’m going to go down swinging.” Regardless of audience, she’ll always be a powerful manipulator.