Last night, at the pretty fancy Manhattan club S.O.B.s, the star-making NYC hip-hop station Hot 97 showcased new talent on a bill headlined by 20-year-old local rapper Angel Haze. Haze has gained lots of steam this year due to the high quality of her debut EP, Reservation, and yeah, probably a little because of ears now opened by the splash Azealia Banks made just a bit earlier. Haze's music is notably darker though, a little mean and sinister in comparison to Banks' giddy, giggling electro. At least that's what I thought going in. She's having a hell of good time, as it turns out.
She performed alone, against a screen projecting color bars, ballerinas, fuzz, some occasional scenes from A Nightmare on Elm Street (a sequel, I think, no Johnny Depp). With all eyes, and a bazillion camera lenses on her, she absolutely commanded all the attention she's been given. Haze has been discussed a lot in context of the recent trend of female rap stars moving fluidly from fast, athletic flows to confidently sung R&B. But her set's emphasis definitely wasn't on singing sweetly, so much as rapping hard. She's kind of tiny, but her forceful performance made her seem bigger than her stature. In leather pants slung low over men's boxer briefs, and enough gold chains to ground a hot-air balloon, she stalked the stage like a tiger, alternately flirting with the first row of photographers and looking like she wanted to punch them in the face (and could drop them and their super zooms with one shot).
Before a fiery rendition of the extra-ferocious single "Werkin' Girls", Haze browbeat the ladies up front to form a DIY dance troupe behind her on stage. She got maybe two eager recruits and a couple of reluctant conscripts. The nervous dance line couldn't help but move, though. The song's a banger. Once her bystander-shaking prowess was proven, she told them: "Alright, get the fuck off my stage." She employed cocky touches like that a couple of times, suggesting that she's well aware of which tracks are her grade-A hits, and amping those up even further with a little well-timed panache.
She called back to that awkward dance moment at the end of her short set, which pretty much had to close with "New York", one of the sickest (in terms of quality and queasiness) rap tracks of the year. Where "Werkin' Girls" suggested she was winging it a bit, using some natural presence to have a little fun, it turned out to be a clever, convinsing rope-a-dope. A troupe of seriously trained, metal bikini-d or shirtless with Chippendale's bow-tied dancers took stage as soon as that rad click track started. It revealed a higher level of showmanship, forethought, and an acknowledgment of the big opportunity she'd been given. She left the stage and rapped the first verses from the crowd, leaving the stage focus to the dancers shaking in stuttered sync. When she came back for a victory lap, the crowd was already loudly singing the "Cooooooovert" part of the hook for her. A small sample size, sure, but Haze seems ascendant.
The buzz around Haze and Banks (and Kitty Pryde to a lesser, sillier degree), as well as the chart success of Nicki Minaj and others begs the question: Are we, right now, in the best ever moment for female rappers? In terms of number of, and attention given to, talented new voices in both the mainstream and the underground? The current takeover certainly seems to be backed by a lot more than just hype.