The A.V. Club reviews a lot of records every week, but some things still slip through the cracks. Stuff We Missed looks back at notable releases from this year that we didn’t review at their time of release.
The title of the second of Angel Haze’s three 2012 mixtape releases, Reservation, is nominally a nod to the Michigan-born rapper’s Native American heritage; but it’s also, more significantly, a statement of intent, calling ahead and putting major labels on notice that she’s coming. And sure enough, in August—less than a month after Reservation was released free to the web—Universal Republic came knocking. Her rapid, Internet-fueled ascent has put the 21-year-old rapper in competition with Azealia Banks for the title of 2012’s Next Big Thing, but where Banks is dance-oriented and fashion-minded, Haze specializes in introspective, expressive rhymes informed by her biopic-ready background. It’s telling that Reservation’s opening track—an open-hearted account of a destructive past that utilizes a haunting music-box sample of “Over The Rainbow”—is titled “This Is Me,” and concludes that “life is like a simile, lessons are a metaphor.” There’s no artifice to Haze’s material, but there is certainly artistry.
There’s also a lot of variety; in spite of its opening track, Reservation is no wallow. Haze shows off her considerable range on the mixtape’s 14 tracks, as comfortable laying herself bare on songs like “This Is Me” and the gut-wrenching “Castle On A Cloud” as she is beating her chest and spitting fire on standout tracks “Werkin’ Girls” and “New York,” which employs a handclap-laden Gil Scott Heron sample to tremendous effect. As she shows on those tracks, Haze is capable of an aggressive, agile flow that’s in league with the most focused, least poppy work of Nicki Minaj, another common, though inexact, comparison point. But she can, and does, mellow out when it’s called for. Possessing a somewhat reedy singing voice that is nonetheless capable of packing an emotional wallop, Haze softens her edges out considerably on love songs like the sweetly melodic “CHI (Need To Know)” and the slinky, yearning “Gypsy Letters,” and proves she can turn in effective party tracks on “Jungle Fever” (an inspired pairing with Das Racist’s Kool A.D.) and “Drop It.” Employing a grab-bag of producers and sounds both trendy and timeless, Reservation is a cohesive mish-mash, a multifaceted exhibition of a young artist with an arresting sense of self-possession. 2012 was a big year for Angel Haze—her October follow-up to Reservation, Classick, was also well-received—and assuming she maintains the momentum and quality displayed thus far, 2013 could, and should, be even bigger.