Angel Haze’s ‘Dirty Gold’ is a Masterclass in Going Mainstream Without Losing Your Edge

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One of the most endearing things about Angel Haze is that she gives precisely no fucks — if nothing else, the fact that her album Dirty Gold is out today is a testament to this, because of the way she strongarmed her record company into putting it out this year. Its release means that she’s officially a major label artist, completing a rise that started barely four years ago with her New Moon mixtape. Transitioning from independent artist to bona fide star can be difficult, but Dirty Gold finds Angel Haze negotiating this latest step in her career with the self-assurance that’s characterized her entire career to date. Huzzah.

On the whole, Dirty Gold is far more polished than her mixtapes — this is to be expected, but crucially, the buffing process hasn’t affected anything of what’s made Angel Haze special. It’s generally a pretty terrible cliché to speak of artists “remaining true to themselves” and all such things, but you get the feeling that Angel couldn’t do anything else — no matter how or where her music is released, no matter who produces it or what people say about it, she does her and nothing else.

Apart from its generally polished nature, the other notable thing about the production here is that it is, in its own way, very much of its time. The beats aren’t hypermodern in the same way as, say, the tracks on Yeezus or Flying Lotus’s visionary productions, but they’re rooted in sounds that are quintessentially 2014 — EDM influences abound, especially on the more upbeat tracks that are loaded toward the start of the album, where there are big trance-y synth sounds that’d have Skrillex pricking up his ears.

In one way, you get the feeling that the tracks are the kind of thing that won’t date well, but in another, that’s kind of beside the point. It’d be fascinating to hear Angel work with a producer who’s genuinely pushing the sonic envelope, but in the meantime, these beats are utilitarian enough — her career to date has been characterized by rhyming over whatever was available, and really, all that matters is that she has something to work with, because her flow is so good that it’d work over pretty much anything (as her “30 Gold” series demonstrated amply). There are few sounds in music more thrilling at the moment than when she takes a deep breath, switches up a gear and starts unleashing hyperspeed rhymes about her chosen subject, and there are enough moments here to provide plenty of shivers.

Having said that, there’s perhaps more balladry here than one might expect, and her delivery is often more reflective than the dynamic spitfire of her earlier mixtapes. As a whole, this comes across as a record that finds its creator taking stock, looking at where she is and how she got here. Hip hop’s mythology is one that’s built on the idea of authenticity, and honestly, she comes across as far realer than pretty much any of her contemporaries — the lyrics are a mixture of unshakeable self-assurance and vulnerability, a fascinating mix that makes her both relatable and admirable. Like any MC, Angel does her share of boasting, but her self-aggrandizement comes across more as statements of fact than anything else — as she points out on “A Tribe Called Red,” “Said I would do this back when I was nine/ Said I would do this before I got signed.” And sure enough, here she is.

There are several samples of Angel’s own interviews that appear as intros to tracks, but the most telling is the snippet that serves as an intro to “A Tribe Called Red.” She speaks about how interviewers have asked why she doesn’t talk about racial identity and other overarching subjects in her songs, and she makes it clear that her songs are about her, and nothing else: “My identity is the music. Everything you need to know about me is in the music.” It’s this, I think, that’ll stand her in good stead as she moves into the perilous world of major label stardom — she’s shown no inclination to change or compromise so far, and you really can’t imagine her ever being any different. More power to her.