Angel Haze, Kanye West, And Sexual Assault In Hip-Hop

Up and coming rapper Angel Haze took the instrumentals from Eminem’s efforts to exorcise his relationship with his mother, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” and laid down an account of sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The track’s been getting passed around a lot recently, and for good reason:

The physical details of the assaults and the way they were discussed in her community are horrific, and the song is powerfully emotionally precise, describing how Haze starved herself to avoid appearing attractive to everyone, and suggesting that she pursued relationships with women rather than men because her terror of male sexual attention was so deep-seated. “It happened so often he was getting particular,” she says of her abuser’s escalation. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a more concise explanation of what it means to come to terms with yourself in the wake of trauma than Haze’s line: “I’m sane, I’m not insane, but not the same as before.”

It’s rare songs like this that use hip-hop as a powerful confessional vehicle for women that make it disconcerting to listen to “White Dress,” Kanye West’s track for The Man With The Iron Fists, that began circulating around the same time as “Cleaning Out My Closet.” It’s ostensibly a song about a couple’s wedding, flashing back to their meeting—which includes Kanye letting her know that even though he met her in the club he still thought about wifing her, because obviously girls who wear form-fitting clothing aren’t normally marriage material, or something:

But in the first verse, there’s an unnerving line that’s meant to be sweet but that actually makes me, uneasily, think more of sex by surprise than a romantic seduction: “Just a satin gown, you asleep with no make-up / I’m just tryna be inside you ‘fore you wake up.” It says a lot that Angel Haze has to say the details of her own sexual assault are disgusting, an apology for recounting them even in a confessional song, but something like this Kanye verse is presented like it’s utterly innocuous.