"Just so you know, I want to be a rock star."
That was one of the first things Angel Haze said to Nicola Carson, an alum of Modest! The statement stunned Carson, as Haze was best-known for hard-hitting rap tracks like "New York," "Werkin' Girls" and her brutally honest freestyle about sexual abuse over Eminem's "Cleaning Out My Closet."
"It was very surprising-she was saying, 'I love Jason Mraz, I love John Mayer,'" Carson recalls of their meeting at the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood in February. That's how I want to translate my record.'"
Carson quickly signed Haze, who extended what was planned as a 24-hour trip to Los Angeles and dove into the creative process for what would become "Dirty Gold," the rapper/singer's debut album, set for an early-2014 release on Republic. Helmed primarily by Grammy Award-winning producer Markus Dravs (Mumford & Sons, Coldplay), the album is a strategic bid to position Haze as equal parts pop star and confessional rapper. Or, as Republic executive VP of A&R Rob Stevenson says, "She's like an edgier TLC all wrapped in one person."
In a departure from early mixtapes like "Classick" and "Reservation," Haze sings nearly as much as she rhymes on "Dirty Gold" belting out her own hooks in a limber, smoky alto on inspirational anthems like "Sing About Me" and "Angels in the Airwaves," delivering a haunting falsetto on "Black Synagogue" and first single "Echelon," or affecting a British torch singer on "Planes Fly" (co-penned by Natalia Kills). (She made stops at Lollapalooza and Osheaga this past summer.) The album's only guest is Sia, who handles chorus duties on the Greg Kurstin-produced "Battle Cry," slated to be released as "Dirty Gold's" second single in January.
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Haze knew her singing would surprise her mixtape fans, so to bridge the gap between projects she started a series of freestyle covers on her SoundCloud account called "#30Gold," through which she's releasing up to 30 tracks prior to Dirty Gold. "As much as she's a promoter for the record, Angel sees the fashion things as part of the bigger movement for herself," Carson says.
With a release date for "Dirty Gold" still being finalized (Republic is eyeing late February/early March for a simultaneous launch in the United States and the United Kingdom), Carson keeps checking Haze's SoundCloud page every morning. "If I didn't have Angel on lockdown, she'd just put [the album] up there," Carson says with a laugh. She doesn't get caught up in the politics."