Eminem is responsible for importing the world of the “misery memoir” to hip-hop. Diatribes about his mother and ex-wife, accounts of drug addiction and suicidal thoughts, paeans to his daughter – all these have reoriented rap’s focus from street life to emotional life.
The causes of the “misery” aren’t always very convincing. Drake managed to spend an entire album, in which he used the first-person pronoun more than 400 times, moaning about being famous and having lots of girlfriends. But there are those whose rage sounds every bit as authentic as Eminem’s – such as fellow Detroiter Angel Haze.
The 21-year-old, real name Raykeea Wilson, emerged last year with a version of Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” in which she rapped about suffering sexual abuse as a child. Further autobiographical details, such as her upbringing in a religious group that she likens to a cult, cemented her misery-rap credentials. Installation as one of 2013’s most hotly tipped newcomers was the reward.
She opened this show at the Scala with “Werkin’ Girls”, a tense, bass-heavy number in which Haze belied her slight frame by rapping aggressively at great pace. Statements of realness – “I did what I say, I did not fabricate one bit” – emerged from the onrush of words. A band played live music behind her. Two female backing singers cooed the choruses, a honeyed contrast to Haze’s furious style.
An ambitious choice of covers (Haze adapting her own lyrics to the beats) showed the sort of company she wants to keep. Missy Elliott’s “Gossip Girls” was followed by a violinist-aided version of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild”. She played her version of “Cleaning Out My Closet” live for the first time ever, relating in excruciatingly powerful detail her experiences of being raped by a paedophile. The audience ceased dancing and stood still, cheering as the song reached its survivor’s coda with a burst of drums.
Haze’s non-cover songs were mixed. A track from her forthcoming debut album was overloaded with synth bluster and over-speedy raps; Haze does angry well but struggles with other moods. The booming, catchy intensity of “New York” suited her style better. With constant reiterations of struggle and self-exposure (“Everyday my life is a test”, “I opened up my wounds”), the show ended with fellow rising “femcee” Iggy Azalea bounding on stage to perform an all-woman takedown of Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Otis”. It was an electrifying finale – the uplifting conclusion that all misery memoirs hope to achieve.