Why Angel Haze’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” Is Necessary For Female Rap
You never really forget your first time having sex. It’s a moment maturing girls dream about: Think a rated-R, Homo sapien version of that love scene in Lion King (which, in reality, is more likely an awkward, bumbling 85 seconds of boinking). Yet Angel Haze’s experience is far from Disney fantasy; on Tuesday (Oct. 23), the 21-year-old rapper revealed that she was a victim of rape at the age of 7 via a revamp of Eminem’s 2002 hit, “Cleanin’ Out My Closet.” In some of hip-hop’s most soul-bearing four minutes on wax spat by a lady lyricist, she makes the booth her personal confessional as she recounts the moment she first meets her doers:
“When I was 7, envision me at the bottom of stairs
And I solemenly swear this is the truth, no fallacy here
See I was young, man. I was just a toddler, a kid
And he wasn’t the first to successfully try what he did,
He took me to the basement and after the lights had been cut
He whipped it out and sodomized and forced his cock through my gut…”
The remainder of the track—including vivid descriptions of abrasions and violent plots for revenge—becomes incredibly uncomfortable to digest. Yet by song’s end, poignant emotions creep in: fear of a man’s touch, vulnerability, attraction to the same sex and self-hatred.
This is the same rail-thin lyricist, with looks that mirror a young Aaliyah Haughton, who outrhymed A$AP Rocky, Joey Bada$$ and Childish Gambino in the RZA-hosted 2012 BET Awards cypher two weeks ago. Yet here, she spits true-to-life events on a record that recalls the sobering storytelling of Eve’s 2000 musical PSA, “Love is Blind.” Though an outsider to her best friend’s domestic abuse episodes, Eve vicariously transfers the sting from frequent smackdowns that ultimately led to the victim’s demise. It matches the suicidal thoughts Angel pens on “Closet” though cloaked in a different shroud of physical pain. Still, both empathetic odes are filed among a small category of real talk that fails to permeate enough pieces from rap’s minority gender.
By song’s end, we realize we are the abusers. We’ve let female rap predecessors dictate that success is based on sex. According to a December 2011 government study titled the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 1 out of every 5 American women said they had been raped. The results also found that 2 percent of female rape victims were assaulted when they were 10 or younger, but almost half of female victims said they had been raped before they turned 18. In an industry that widely distributes club bangers and strip club anthems to members within that age group, Angel rocks her scarlet letter with the swag of a lone victim-turned-victor. The song doesn’t read publicity stunt—80 to 90 percent of rapes are not reported to authorities—nor is it a joint meant to one-up Nicki Minaj or Azealia Banks. “My ultimate goal was to let go of all of it, the things that kind of haunt me in a way,” she told the New York Times. “Too many people are afraid to say, “This happened to me and look what I did with it.”
And “it” is no microphoned pity cry or a direct page to Ice T’s SVU character. A troubled past is often the common denominator for some of the most brilliant artists. And it’s the emancipation of those private emotions that can make or break a great one. There is a dearth of lady lyricists who venture outside familiar success formulas, but an even rarer few who escape their own safe rooms. Angel’s just a reminder that what’s lost can be found.
Listen to her new mixtape “Classick” here.