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Arizona emcee and saxophonist Haze presents his debut EP Smooth Ascension. Playing saxophone by age six and performing live at Phoenix venues by age eight, Haze resolved to take his music seriously after his mother committed suicide when he was 17, honing his combination of rhymes and saxophone. A video for Smooth Ascension single “Nothing In Return” has already been released (watch). “Smooth Ascension is my initiation into Hip Hop music and culture,”he says. Every song is a little piece of my soul. This is my creation, my baby, my offering to the world. With “Smooth Ascension” I am literally ascending to a higher position, and taking my first real step as an artist. I like to think that listeners are also able to achieve a certain level of ascension just by listening. I have a lot to say. But some things I just can’t put into words… so that’s when I let my saxophone do the talking.”

hard ass headshot

What do you think is the perception of rappers in the musician world?

Man, that’s a tough question just because everyone has their own unique perception. And perception is what creates our reality, so everyone experiences things differently – ESPECIALLY MUSIC. I feel like most of the people I’ve talked to in the Hip Hop community, specifically rappers, are very intrigued when they find out that I’m not only rapping but also incorporating my saxophone into the mix. But like I said, everyone perceives things differently so there may be some rappers out there who don’t like the fact that I’m trying something new. To them, I would say, broaden your horizons. Last time I checked, there ain’t no rules. What if I feel like coloring outside the lines? As much as I think that the 90’s were the best time to be a Hip Hop artist, things change, and as an artist you have to learn how to grow and roll with the punches. Change is a good thing, even though most people tend to be afraid of it. Some of the rap music coming out nowadays is total garbage. I will agree with that. But perhaps this was the very thing that needed to happen in order for the younger generations of artists to go back to making real, raw, Hip Hop music like it was originally intended. Music with creative integrity. Music that’s not ego driven. Music with an actual informative, positive message for society! I feel as though I have a great message that even veterans in the game would appreciate if they ever got to hear it. But no one is even going to come across my music if I don’t have a way of standing out from the millions of other rappers out there. So that’s where my sax comes into play. I’m hoping that my sax playing is one of the things that will allow me to break out of the “white rapper” box that I’m sure they will try to put me in. I think musicians who aren’t fans of Hip Hop tend to think that rappers aren’t as talented as them, or aren’t real musicians, rather, just wordsmiths. To them, I would say, the voice is an instrument in itself. Sure, anyone can rap, but not just anyone can deliver it in a way that truly impacts the listener. Rappers like Nas and Tupac were not just rappers, they were voices for the people. They helped younger generations understand their situation and gave them the confidence to literally re-create themselves. They proved that you can re-invent yourself and better the people around you along the way. So, you see, great rappers aren’t just rappers; they’re philosophers, poets, and, most importantly, leaders. I’ve had a lot of musicians tell me that they don’t usually listen to rap but that they respect my craft because I can also play an instrument. That is cool to hear, because I think it would be awesome to be able to expand my audience as far as it can go regardless of genre. And with this, I could be living proof that rappers are, indeed, musicians too.

How do you think you bridge that gap?

It’s cool to see that most of the big name rappers out there nowadays are touring with a full band to back their tracks. The DJ/MC dynamic will always be an integral aspect of Hip Hop, so musicians will never take over the role of DJs, but you do see more and more rappers having a sort of “Roots” style approach to their live performances. Many rappers are even starting to record entire mixtapes or albums with live musicians and backing bands. But the way that I bridge that gap even more so, is simply by playing an instrument myself. I know many rappers play instruments as well, but barely any that I’m aware of integrate it into any of the music that they release. I have made the saxophone part of my genre of Hip Hop music. I call it Saxy-Rap. It’s in the name. I’m not afraid to be experimental at times. Before I was listening to Hip Hop music, I was studying Jazz music. And since then I’ve gotten into and learned to appreciate many many other types of music. I even had a house DJ produce one of the instrumentals for my debut EP “Smooth Ascension” So with this, I now have techno and house music fans who usually wouldn’t listen to Hip Hop, out of nowhere starting to show interest in my music. So you can say that I’m bridging the gap and starting a totally new, funky bridge right next to it. And who knows, maybe this bridge will lead us to somewhere beautiful that we never knew existed before.

How long did Smooth Ascension take? What was your recording process?

I started writing all of the songs (many of which didn’t make the cut) for Smooth Ascension over a year ago. If it were solely up to me, it wouldn’t have taken much longer than a couple of months at the most to finish up. It’s a short, 4 song EP so if I knew how to produce and didn’t have to rely on other people this would have been done in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately I haven’t learned how to produce yet, so it took much longer than expected. I started the recording process when I was still living in Tucson, back in late 2014, with a beat maker I was working with down there at the time. Long story short, I was ready to make moves and we weren’t on the same page. That’s when I decided to move back home and get in contact with people in the Phoenix Hip Hop community whom I knew were actually ready to work. When I moved back in January, my first task was to replace all of the beats that I had back in Tucson with new beats that would fit my lyrics and everything. Once I figured all of that out, the recording process didn’t take long at all because I was more ready than I had ever been before. My verses, hooks and bridges had all been rehearsed countless times before going into the booth. It only took me about two days for each song, and the second day was usually just editing my lyrics and sax parts to make them sound perfect. I probably spent the most amount of time recording my sax parts. Shout out to the man who recorded me, Blaine Coffee, for sitting through hours of the same melodies until it felt right to me. What took the longest was actually finding ways to promote the EP before releasing it. Also, getting merchandise made (CDs, stickers, t-shirts) was a task in itself. I had a lot of people tell me they could do things for me but never actually go through with it. It was definitely a learning process. Luckily, I was able to release it on October 4th and have a successful release party the night before. For my next project I will know to plan for all of these hiccups in advance.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Man, in ten years I hope to have released at least five more projects, toured around the world, and been able to provide for my family. I don’t know how much money I’ll make, how many records I’ll sell, or how many fans I’ll have. All I know is that I’ll still be making music. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what really matters: making music and being happy.

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