Angel Haze isn’t the first rap act to self-leak an album. That distinction goes to Death Grips, who notoriously kamikazed their contract with Epic Records by slapping a penis on the cover of 2012’s
No Love Deep Web and tossing it to the Internet, ensuring the label would never make a dime from it. Haze’s leak of
Dirty Gold, by comparison, wasn’t meant to burn bridges. It wasn’t even much of a leak, really: Fed up with label delays, Haze merely hosted a Soundcloud stream of the album for a few hours—not long enough for bootleggers to even pirate the thing, but long enough to stir headlines. That Island Records acquiesced to Haze’s demands so readily, moving the album release up three months with a statement saying she’d forced their hands, made the leak feel more like a publicity stunt than an act of true rebellion, but it succeeded in lending the album a narrative—one that this otherwise undistinguished pop-rap release badly needed.
Haze’s 2012 mixtapes Reservation and Classick introduced an undeniable presence, a fierce young rapper with a fearless tongue and an ear for beats that balanced radio immediacy with the weirder sensibilities of the Internet. And she had important things to say: On her most remarkable track, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” she detailed the aftershocks of sexual assault with unflinching candor: “I started starving myself, fucked up my bodily health,” she rapped, “I didn’t wanna be attractive to nobody else.” That was the type of performance that rappers hinge entire legacies around, but there’s nothing so revelatory on Dirty Gold, which trades autobiographical depth for vague platitudes about staying true to yourself and overcoming unspecified adversity. The production has taken a sharp turn toward the generic, too, swapping the graceful R&B accents of her mixtapes for EDM-inspired, Top 40 belly flops that make a whole lot of splash without doing much of anything.
Only “White Lilies / White Lies,” a mesmerizingly druggy study of a stripper told from both sides of the pole, lands with real surprise—mostly, Haze is content to pass herself as a one-woman Eminem/Rihanna duet on brooding pap like “Angels & Airwaves” and “Battle Cry.” And when Haze isn’t rapping banalities, she’s stating them outright, on heavy-handed spoken intros and outros that make the album that feel much longer than its 55 minutes. A labored crossover grab that mistakes conviction for substance, Dirty Gold marks Haze as just the latest in a long line of promising mixtape rappers to whiff a major-label debut.