Angel Haze’s intimate and brutally honest track “Cleaning out my Closet” has been making waves as she comes out about the horrific sexual abuse she suffered as a child (I don’t usually do trigger warnings, but this track is extremely graphic and pretty hard to listen to). The track is on her recently released mixtape, Classick, which is awesome in every way.
On Classick, she takes on Lupe Fiasco’s attempt at addressing gender politics and misogyny in hip hop. Fiasco’s track, “Bitch Bad” was criticized by feminists and hip hop fans alike because, while he did attempt to critique that which few male rappers do — that is, the gratuitous use of the word ‘bitch’, the woman-as-prop/video ho trend, and the impact of sexualization and objectification on men’s perceptions of women — he succeeded mostly in reinforcing dichotomies about ‘good’ women vs. ‘bad’ women (‘ladies’ vs. ‘bitches’) and then blamed women rather than men for perpetuating a misogynistic culture, failing to hold men accountable for how they treat women.*
Not directly implicated or admonished are the men calling women bitches in the first place. The blame is placed on the mother repeating lyrics in front of her son or the little girls sneaking around to listen to the offending songs. Men escape the responsibility for establishing the disrespectful terms of the debate, and any nuance about why a woman may choose to call herself a bitch (Lupe seems to feel it’s a sexual thing and doesn’t note that women are constantly called bitches for adopting traits that are typically celebrated when practiced by men) is left to the listener’s imagination.
According to critics, the track really just ended up being an awkwardly obvious attempt at ‘conscious hip-hop’ resulting in a mansplainy kind of feel. Brandon Soderberg wrote for Spin: “it is the umpteenth example of so-called “conscious” hip hop replacing one type of misogyny with another.”
MEANWHILE, Angel Haze wins at everything.
In her version of “Bitch Bad”, she manages to get at the complexities of how women end up getting into and staying in abusive relationships with lyrics like these:
Now imagine that there’s a shorty
Maybe fatherless or optionless
Grinding from checks depositing
Trying to get on public housing list
Mother meets a man with ample ammount of funds
But in order to get that she’s gotta give ‘em some
So he treats her like a beats her so he cleans her up to keeps her
Instead of blaming women for trying to adjust and fit into a misogynist culture, Haze places the onus on structural inequity and *gasp* on men. She addresses the cycle of abuse by telling the story of a child who witnesses a man beating up his mother, only to grow up and replicate that same behaviour.
“Bitch Bad” really stands out but I am loving the whole EP.
Classick is *just* Haze rapping over other (rad) hip hop instrumentals like Missy Elliot’s “Gossip Folks”, Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” and Erykah Badu’s “Love of my Life” but she really goes above and beyond. Her lyrics are provocative and push way beyond typical subject matter. She doesn’t take the easy way out and is super open and honest about some pretty personal stuff. Haze is also just, straight-up, a great MC.
Long story short, check the mixtape and watch Haze. I’m definitely looking forward to an album from her.
*Full disclosure — I was, admittedly, pretty stoked to see this kind of stuff being addressed in a mainstream hip-hop video, regardless of the fact that I’ve never been super into Lupe Fiasco’s style. I’ve been a huge hip hop fan for almost two decades now and it’s kind of sad how badly I want to give those cookies out, y’all.