Interview: Haze

The UK hip hop doyen discusses his new LP Thinking Out Loud and formative influences

Posted on Jun 22nd, 2016 in Features and Interviews, Haze, Ruff Child / By Sam Bennett
Interview: Haze Haze is an established name in the UK rap game; he's worked extensively with S.A.S and the Eurogang movement in the past, and has recently been setting the scene alight again with the release of his latest LP Thinking Out Loud. Bearded caught up with to talk about the new release.

'I'm good man' says Haze. 'I've been in New York for ten days taking care of some business. I'm a bit jet lagged, but otherwise I'm all good'.

Haze's connection to the mecca of hip-hop has been well-documented, and its influence has been clear in his music. I ask how he first got into writing lyrics, and how he first became infatuated by rap culture. 'My first rap album was Run DMC's Down With The King(1993)' says the London MC. 'My older cousin gave me it when I was mad young. I used to watch MTV Raps, and I just fell in love with it. When I got older I moved to America; I got a scholarship in LA to play basketball, and that's when I started rapping in the playground. I came back to London; S.A.S are my friends, we each went out to America on scholarships, they went to New York, and we came back at the same time, and we started rapping together. They were on it fully back then; they were in New York rap battling for real'.

I wondered if it was seeing Mayhem and Mega do their thing that inspired him, rather than the household names providing Haze with the drive to make his own music. He disagrees. 'From when I was young I've always had a mad passion for music. I used to write poetry; my dad got locked up when I was fourteen, I saw my best friend die in front of me around the same time, so poetry was really therapeutic for me. In England at the time the culture was more jungle and garage music. When I went to LA, I was drawn into the real culture of hip-hop. When I came back from LA to England, S.A.S were the only people around me who'd had that same experience. They were rapping, they were taking it serious. I was rapping, but I couldn't see the vision, and they helped me see the vision. At the same time I helped them, because I was the one next to them saying 'You can do it'.

When the Eurogang movement was at its peak around the turn of the decade, Haze's first two mixtapes Once Upon A Time In London and A Breath Of Fresh Air were in regular rotation. Until last year he'd been pretty silent on the music front, and I ask him to fill in the gap. 'In 2012 I dropped a project called Loyalty, Honour, Respect. With that project I featured a lot of UK artists. At the time everyone was on their separate thing. I thought if I reached out to everyone, put egos aside and did a tape, it would be dope. That project did kind of well man. It gave me an independent look in the UK. Before that people didn't really know about me, they were like 'Oh, that's the guy that fucks with S.A.S'. It felt like I was my own entity'.

Haze's latest release is entitled Thinking Out Loud, and it was accompanied by the release of a short film. 'It's basically narrating through my life, through music and through the film. A lot of artists are going through struggles, in regards to having to pay for what they've got to do, and the consumers don't really understand the struggles that they have to face. A lot of artists out there might work a nine to five and they portray themselves as something that they're not, but I'm an authentic artist, I put out what I'm actually going through. It got to a point where after I had my children, I had one of my kids a year after Loyalty Honour Respect, and I just wanted people who listened to my music to understand what I was going through and the shit artists are facing. I had the concept of doing a short film, and basing it on a day in my life, and then having the music compliment it. I had the idea for it in like 2012, and at the end of 2014 I opened up for Tyga, and I met Sheridan De Myers, who did one of my first videos from Once Upon A Time In London. I told him the concept, we sat down and he was like 'Yeah man, you should do it, I'll help you do it'. I got the artwork done in 2013, I had the name, it just took a long time to get it done. I had a child at the time, I had to get my foundation right before I could hit the mic again. This album is probably the closest one to my heart; it's dealing with stuff that's real close to me'.

The album is very diverse, with Haze exhibiting his trademark, street-smart style as well as delivering mellower, uplifting tracks. 'It's reflecting all the aspects to my life. Some of the tracks I recorded in 2014, some of the tracks I recorded in the last six, seven months, but they're all emotions that I face and stuff that I'm thinking about. On My Own 2, that's about dealing with people around me, and after a while you realise that they're not real and that you're better off by yourself. The Maverick Sabre joint is for my kids so that they can listen back to that at a later date and they can hear what their dad was thinking at that moment. Confessions Of A Clean Heart is like, you're out in the streets but you're not the same as everyone else. There's so many different stories on there, but they're all real and true, even though they're all very diverse, I know what you mean, but they're all authentic. That's how it came out'.

If you're being honest that's how it will sound; everyone has their ups and downs I say. 'Yeah, that's what it is. To me music is very sacred, but the industry is the opposite. If you get caught between the two worlds it's hard to find the right balance. Now I'm like fuck the balance, fuck the money, I'm just making the music I want to make, if it's going to do well it's going to do well anyway, and I'm going to be successful in other ways. If I can be successful in other ways, away from my music, then I can jump back in like 'Boom, I'm set for now, listen to this, and I've got this behind me as well so you're going to have to listen now'. It's just all about music and keeping it real. I believe that some of those songs could help someone, and them helping one person is worth more than making a bullshit song that gets playlisted. You make music how you were meant to make music, and the great artists do it that way. If you look at what Skepta's doing now, Skepta's been going hard for years but he's always kept it true. I feel like that's why he's so successful and in the place that he's in, because he's being true to him, and it's happening how it's meant to happen. People gravitate to realness, not in a street way, they just gravitate to real music. Even when people want to get away from real life they still want that authenticity'.

Thinking Out Loud finds Haze at a maturer stage in his career; the overall presentation of the project is more polished and professional than his previous work. 'In the early part of my career I was around people who weren't necessarily like me, and they influenced me to a certain extent. Since I had my children I found myself, and I'm a lot more comfortable. I'm just not thinking about other things as much, and it came out like that. Sound wise; my mind, what I'd want to rap on is way beyond Thinking Out Loud, it's in another place, another dimension. I want to make music that is genre-less. Again, it's the lack of resources. Without being egotistical, if I had the right resources and I could be in a studio for six months I think I could create the best album that's ever come out of the UK. It's hard to say it, but I'm a part time rapper. I rap because I'm good at it, and I work hard at it when I can, but I'm not full time, I've got other stuff going on'.

I mention Kendrick's masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly, and the endless creative talent that worked on it to bring it to the level it reached. If you're a creative individual with unlimited resources, surely the possibilities are endless? 'Exactly, man' agrees Haze. 'I'm a really creative person, and I like to be original. Even some of the songs on Thinking Out Loud, I'm like 'Ahh shit' because it's not out there enough for me. It's cool, and at the time it's fine, but afterwards, and that's the case with all of my music, afterwards I'm like 'Ahh, I could have been a bit more out there with that'.

Akala and Black The Ripper appear on Problems, and I ask Haze why he wanted to have a politically infused track on the LP, and how he linked up with the two featured lyricists. 'My mind is there as well. I'm not overly political because I think that politics is bullshit, so I think in this day and age getting into rap in a political way isn't really helping anyone. I believe in self-awareness and consciousness of people. Akala, I just respect him, because he's very self-knowledgeable, he's an all round inspiring person. Black The Ripper, I had a problem with him back in the day because I felt he was a bit egotistical and not really true to what he was. After I got to know him and sat down and spoke to him, he's got the right mind-state as well. He's got something in him that's very powerful'.

Maverick Sabre also features on Made In Love, and he's possibly the most high-profile appearance on the LP. 'He's my brother' says Haze. 'I've always seen him in different places. There's a mutual love and respect there, even though we haven't known each other like that. I was in LA last summer, and I saw on his Instagram that he was in LA. I was staying in the same hotel, he came down with a bottle of brandy, we got drunk, went to a rave, and we were chilling with each other for the whole time I was in LA. Every other day we'd hang out, and I just felt his vibe. Now I regard him as a friend, I don't have too many, but I feel like he's closer to me than some people I've known for fifteen years. He always said to me 'When you want do a song, let's do a song'. I didn't want it to just be any song, so that's why we made a song for my children'.

Pak-Man also appears on the project. Like Haze he made his name as a part of the Eurogang movement along with S.A.S, and the two have been frequent collaborators throughout their careers. I wonder if it was important to have somebody from that era on Thinking Out Loud. 'Pak has always been around me. To this day he'll call me and ask me for advice on all kinds of things. Even if I stopped doing music I'd always give him a hook or give him a verse because the relationship is just like that. I think it is important, and the song that I put him on was very important, because he's been through a lot of adversity. Down the line when you listen back to it you'll get that song; there's a lot of layers to it'.

Haze shouts out Skinnyman and Rodney P on Nostalgic from the recent album. 'Rodney P, Skinnyman, Task Force and them were on a different vibe to what we were trying to do' says Haze about the division between the various urban subgenres coming out of the UK. 'We were coming with that futuristic, new rap. We'd just come back from America and it was totally fresh. Grime isn't of the hip-hop lineage, to me grime is the UK's own; it's a dance, MC environment. I can't explain it, but it's original and it's dope. It's not of that lineage of Rodney P and Skinnyman then Giggs and S.A.S. Without grime there probably wouldn't have been road rap, so I believe that now, globally, grime is going to be the gateway to UK rap, and it's at a very important stage. Skepta will be a Rodney P. Rodney P did something back then that the world took notice of, he was on MTV Raps and all that, and right now Skepta is in that same position and I think he knows what he's doing. The future is looking bright'.

Before the release of Thinking Out Loud Haze dropped the Visionary EP, which was produced by veteran beatsmith Harry Fraud. 'When I did the video with Max B before he got locked up, my friend from London who now manages Post Malone, he shared a studio with Harry. When I was out there I went to his studio and Harry played me some beats and I was like 'Oh my God, this is fire'. He was fucking with Max and French back then, and he gave me a couple of beats. We had a good vibe and got on well together. It just progressed and we carried on talking. He always stayed the same, he always stayed in contact. I said to him lets make some music together, and he was like 'Cool, come out to Miami'. I went there for a week, and I did like nine tracks in four days. I came back with it and sat on it; I wasn't going to put it out. I was like 'I can't just be recording tracks like this and throwing them out, they're not strong enough. Harry was like 'Nah, put it out, we'll do more music later'. Between 2012 and then I couldn't make any music; I'd just had my son, I was trying to sort out my foundation. That was my window into being an artist again, and he inspired me'. He's definitely not a bad producer to link up with for your gateway back into releasing music, I say. 'Definitely, I'm blessed man, I am (laughs). I'm lucky. He's a good dude man'.

I ask what Haze thinks works so well about his and Fraud's sound coming together. 'My idea was different from what actually came out. I had the idea of doing some wavy, sample based, his regular kind of music. He was just reeling off new beats, and I just felt the beats he played to me and I ended up recording on them. Even after I recorded them I was like 'Shit, why did I pick them beats' (laughs)'. I mention The Applause, which is the EPs opener and is a perfect example of Harry's beats being on a different vibe to his traditional style. 'See I haven't told you the whole story' says Haze. 'I went to New York first, I went to his studio and recorded a couple of tracks. That was one of them. He was making the beat and I was nodding, he was like 'You like it?', and I was like 'Yeah it's nice'. He finished it off and he was like 'Do your thing'. I wrote it then and there, put it down in like half an hour, an hour'.

Giggs appears on the EP on Lift Your Wallets, and Haze speaks on the process of recording that track. 'I called Giggs while I was in Miami. I was playing beats to him down the phone. He's fussy when it comes to beats, I didn't even realise he was that fussy. It's how you're meant to be, that's how I am. I was playing loads of beats, and I was like 'That one, I like that one'. I took the beat back and we went to the studio in West London, and he just peppered it. Giggs is a good bredda, he's down to earth. He's a real one. In the music thing there's always ego's and weird people with weird energy, and Giggs ain't one of them, neither is Skepta. It's inspiring because they're two of the biggest artists out here. I've got a lot of time for Giggs. I dropped Thinking Out Loud, and he was the first person to post it on social media. I don't go to people like 'Post my ting, post this, do that', he just did it. That goes to show what kind of person he is'.

I ask about the current status of Eurogang. 'I respect them all, but right now I'm just what I'm on, I'm on making my kind of music, and my energy. Later on, you never know, it might rekindle when it makes sense. Even back in the day, I've always been different, in regards to me as a person. I've always been my own person, and as you get older you find yourself, and realise that you've got to stick to your own thing instead of doing something just to do it. There's no point in doing it to doing it, but the love's still there, I think all of them are super dope'.

As our conversation draws to a close I ask Haze what his plans are for the rest of the year, and he drops somewhat of a bombshell. 'This might be my last project, at least for now. It depends how it goes. We'll see how the energy lines up. I'm working on getting into film, so I'm focussing on that. It's just got to make sense. I'm not going to keep putting the energy into the music, I'll always make music, but I'm not going to put loads of energy into music if I've got to be successful away from music. I've got to make money from something, gain something from something, so music will become easier and it'll be easier to put out'.

If this is the last we hear from Haze for a while, he's left us with an extraordinary piece of work to hold on to.

Thinking Out Loud is out now through Ruff Child Records