If you asked the average person to name the best rapper out right now, you'd hear names like Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Jay Z (maybe even Lil Wayne). If you specified female rappers, the list would probably begin and end with Nicki Minaj.
But the best rapper out right now is someone you may not have heard of if you're not an avid hip hop fan. It's Angel Haze, and they're not the best male rapper or the best female rapper. Haze identifies as agender, prefers the pronouns "they/them," -- which we'll honor in this article -- and is arguably the most talented rapper of our generation.
They've been releasing music since 2009, and has been quietly proving themselves to be in a league of their own. In 2013, Haze started the "30 Gold" project, during which time they released a new freestyle song every day for 30 days in a row. That's just unprecedented, but doing things no one else has done before is par for the course for Haze.
It was Haze's remix of "Cleaning Out My Closet," off of their latest mix tape, Classick, that made a lot of people, hip hop fans and non-fans alike, sit up and take notice. In their remix of the well-known Eminem song, Haze speaks openly about their experiences with childhood sexual abuse. The end result is a song that's brutal in its honesty and ultimately, all about honesty and healing, and the connection that exists between the two. "Cleaning Out My Closet" is a prime example of the type of lyrical vulnerability that the hip hop community, and honestly, the world at large, can benefit from.
Haze is fearless not only in their music, but in being their most authentic self. "When I hear people use the word ‘her’ around me I’m like, Who are they talking about, you know? I just have felt this about myself for so long," Haze said in an interview earlier this year.
Even those who wouldn't call themselves fans of hip hop may remember the name Angel Haze, thanks to the twitter beef between Haze and Azealia Banks in 2013. The fight began over who was and was not allowed to claim New York, and it even got to a point where diss tracks were released (Haze's "On the Edge" and "Shut the F*** Up," and Banks' "No Problem"). The whole thing was entertaining, no doubt, but it didn't catapult either of them to the type of mainstream success their talents deserve.
Honestly, Haze can't be beat lyrically, and her flow is sick. So why isn't Angel Haze a household name, drawing the same kind of recognition rappers like Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj do?
And let's be clear: mainstream success isn't an indicator of talent, or even overall success. This isn't about thinking that Haze should be making more money (although with their level of talent, why shouldn't they be?). This is about reach, and honestly, more people deserve to hear the music Haze is making, and to learn something about what it means to be yourself by following Haze's example.
Because Haze defies any of the tropes within which hip hop likes to place its artists. Haze is not the video vixen. They're not the gimmick of the "white girl rapping" that launched Iggy Azalea into the mainstream. Haze defies all simple categorization, so it's no wonder that it's been an uphill battle. But it's that battle to be one's true self, without fear or hesitation or apology, that so many of us can relate to.
So if there's one artist whose mainstream success could benefit us all, it's Angel Haze. They're not only the rapper to beat, they're the rapper the world needs right now.