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KNOTORYUS in conversation with Miss Angel

KNOTORYUS in conversation with Miss Angel

“Go off sis!”, a crowd member cheers at the Miss Angel festival try-out at Trix Antwerp. It’s early summer, and I’m at the exact same place where I first met the fired-up MC on stage - whom the government knows as Angela Agyei. A dancer since girlhood. As part of dance crews and academies like ‘Let’s Go Urban’, ‘Umoja’ and ‘Navitas’, Angel moved with abandon and success throughout her early years as a performer. Switching gears to open mics and slam poetry, teenage Angel originated the ‘Female Takeover’ collective and started song-writing. In early 2018, the Antwerp native came out of the gate musically as hip-hop artist ‘Miss Angel’ (optionally pronounced with a long, drawn-out ‘angel’ - not unlike a certain backwards-strutting Drag Race star). An opening slot for sold-out Brussels juggernaut Zwangere Guy followed. The ‘Ghetto Mami Vol. 1’ EP dropped in May 2019, so scheduling a sit-down was of the essence because Miss Angel is booked and busy all summer ‘19. Rock Werchter, Couleur Café, Dour, Lokerse Feesten, Pukkelpop – a grocery list of all the Belgian festival classics. Now if this were a celebrity profile from the early aughts, I’d comment on how Angel raps her canary yellow nails on the table when she talks and how she fixes her high pony of cascading braids every few minutes. I’d inform you that even her speaking voice crackles with joyous expressivity. I’d also provide you with her drink order (apple juice). But I would rather introduce you (if you weren’t familiar yet) to a young artist from the left bank of a large city with lights in her eyes bright enough to illuminate the crowd in front of her. And when a random bigot tries to comment on her hair mid-interview (because Flanders continues to disappoint-but-not-surprise), aptly dosed Angel hellfire rains down, shutting a hater down with the quickness. There’s no trying the artist today, or any day for that matter. Delving into the past, present and future of Miss Angel’s music - we talked working with women, self-care energy and being living proof of life’s limitless possibilities.

KNOTORYUS: It’s been a hectic few weeks for you, Miss Angel.

MISS ANGEL: I’ve finally been able to catch up on sleep, I was exhausted! Last week I did Urban Ardent Liège first, then the try-out show at Trix and Rock Werchter - which was amazing. I had Black Mamba there as my DJ and Nouha, my hype lady. Three women on stage, that gave me an extra boost for sure. I was nervous, but I was able to perform well. Two days later we did ‘Niveau 4’ at Couleur Café. That’s the number one experience up until now; the vibe was incredible, and the performance went well down to the last detail. The outfit. I was feeling it. I’ve never experienced such a lively crowd, even during my dancing days. JAY MNG did his track ‘Désolé’, the entire crowd started jumping. We played with a live band. So good.

KNOTORYUS: You were hyped on Instagram Stories for Lauryn Hill performing at the same festival, did you get to meet her?

MISS ANGEL: I performed on Saturday and Lauryn Hill was playing the next day. I was just too tired. (laughs) I was practically dead, so I stayed home.

KNOTORYUS: I feel that. Let’s talk about the try-out show at Trix.

MISS ANGEL: I saw you! Boom, in the middle! (laughs) 

KNOTORYUS: I was there all by my lonesome so that usually means I get a lot shyer. I have to say, though, about thirty seconds in, I was met with the sense that it was a safe space. It felt like it was good to be us.

MISS ANGEL: Okay! Nice! 

KNOTORYUS: The positivity and self-confidence washed throughout the room. What kind of show mood do you aim for and how do you prepare for gigs?

MISS ANGEL: How I get ready? I haven’t really found a professional way to prepare. I do it at home in my room with my girls, my G’s. We play the music on the speakers and start performing for ourselves. We get loud and just vibe. I want to exude good vibrations and positivity at my shows, the way you felt it. Everything’s okay. Don’t be ashamed, because it doesn’t matter here. Just be you. I don’t try to reach or try to be extra. I don’t want to force anything. I’m just fully me.

KNOTORYUS: You performed new tracks from the ‘Ghetto Mami’ EP: can you tell me what was running through your mind while you were working on your first release? What’s the story?

MISS ANGEL: How can I explain? I write about the things me or my friends go through. I play the beat and sometimes that prompts me to write down a few words. For my track ‘Squendo’, I was feeling good and the weather was nice. I was about to head out to Greece and just started putting pen to paper. I’m a very moody person, I really sense energies. For example, on ‘Bassdrum’, I was pissed off because a producer had just given me this shady-ass comment about me being ‘good for a female’. Ugh. So I wrote: “Tell ‘em I ain’t playin’ with these niggas. Talk shit, get popped…” (laughs) You know? After making ‘Squendo’ and ‘Oh My Dayz’, I figured I might have to do an EP. It wasn’t planned. After releasing ‘All of the Shmoke’, I didn’t know what the next steps would be. I just kept creating. I never pressure the process because that doesn’t work, I freeze. I just let it happen, got sent some beats by producer Clugger. As our collaboration continued, I cherry-picked the beats I thought would work best. I just knew I wanted five tracks on the EP.

KNOTORYUS: Your sound has evolved quite a bit since your 2018 debut single ‘Ghetto Supahstar’. How do explain this shift to more of a grime inflection?

MISS ANGEL: I think it’s definitely because I’m new at making music. Every beat I get, I’m like: “Oh my god, I could rap to this too”. Never in a million years had I thought I’d be able to rap to a ‘Squendo’ type of beat. Grime is something I listen to myself, but I never figured I’d be able to do it myself. I don’t really know yet what my sound will be, I want to leave it open. I was adamant before about only making old school hip-hop and I’ll definitely retain those influences, but I’m just experimenting. Whatever works. I have my preferences, of course. You won’t hear me hop on a reggaetón beat. But I like to keep an open mind.

KNOTORYUS: How’s the response been so far?  

MISS ANGEL: I got a lot of feedback to ‘Oh My Dayz’, but I knew that would happen. Perhaps because I noticed that people are more familiar with grime and more up-tempo beats in Brussels. I knew it would be appreciated over there. I’m surprised at how in Antwerp it’s being played too, just like ‘Lavish Life’. 

KNOTORYUS: That’s my fave. I am always partial to a good song about money. What about friends and family, how are they dealing with all of this? 

MISS ANGEL: I don’t have a lot of friends, we’re a very close-knit crew but they’re there. They support me. They love my music.

KNOTORYUS: I heard them screaming at your gig!

MISS ANGEL: They’re always very present, that’s dope. One of my friends is now my hype lady. I figured the way we vibe and the way she reacts to my music and adds her own ad libs works well on stage. My homies are right there. My family is present too, surprisingly. (laughs) My mother knows what I do and she’s really proud. I think she’s kind of shocked that I’m really doing this and how fast it’s all going. That’s the hard part usually, convincing your parents that it will all pay off. My sisters are always in the crowd. Yeah, everyone’s happy.

KNOTORYUS: If we rewind to baby Angel, was music, art or expressivity big in your house growing up?

MISS ANGEL: I think it stems mostly from my father’s side. He used to be a dancer – at least that’s what he told us! He also owned a bar, that’s where I came in contact with ‘90s music. I started dancing there. At home, there were loads of birthday parties, a lot of atmosphere and music and we’d dance. Guests would throw a bit of cash at us performing. (laughs) Then I moved to Linkeroever (the left bank of Antwerp, ed.) and the passion was reinforced by the kids doing music and dance over there. So the two elements were always around me, yes. 

(c) Yaqine Hamzaoui

KNOTORYUS: We met each other for the first time about five years ago at this point, when you were mainly a dancer. I was assisting a shoot KNOTORYUS produced and styled for legendary sportsman Vincent Kompany’s special edition De Morgen Magazine. I can recall how full-on your energy was, even back then. What are your thoughts on the roads you’ve travelled since then?

MISS ANGEL: Dance was different, I was a lot younger and quite sure of what I wanted to do, but still searching as well. Dancing was highly competitive and all about proving yourself over and over. I liked being in the spotlight, so I did it. But after a while I got tired of always having to prove myself, constantly being put on the back bench and not being good enough, staying in shape. I got tired of that. I tried to push through because I love being on stage and then a bunch of us created ‘Female Takeover’. We got the idea to rally a whole set of women together and just create art. That’s what triggered my writing. I don’t know, those were just very different days.

KNOTORYUS: What was it like to return to your old stomping ground as a solo artist and not be behind the scenes?

MISS ANGEL: Crazy. Incredible almost. A touch scary too. Somehow, I knew I could go places with Miss Angel – but that quickly? It doesn’t really register all the way.

KNOTORYUS: Do you trust in the fact that this is how it should be?

MISS ANGEL: I do. But it makes me kind of nervous. What are the next steps? I’ve been going with the flow and I still am, but I can sense through the seriousness that surrounds my name now that I can’t be too laid-back about it all. The pressure was similar with dance, but I do feel like I’ve got less to prove. I can just be myself. That’s what I did for ‘Ghetto Supahstar’. It’s not the best song ever, I knew that. (laughs) I was just trying something out and I was confident. I knew I had a certain kind of tenacity from dance, I can keep going. Even if it kills me, sort of speak, because I used to just go hard till I was fully depleted mentally. I’ve calmed down. I keep on searching and experimenting, but it’s less: “Hey look, I’m here too!”

KNOTORYUS: You mention your first single, ‘Ghetto Supahstar’, not being a perfect song but what have you learned since then?

MISS ANGEL: Patience. Because boy, you need it in the music industry. I had gravely underestimated that. You must have a little faith in humanity. You have to work with people. I don’t know how to make beats or mix or master. And not everyone is as honest or serious with you, they can start wasting your time, but you still hope they’re going to send you that one song because you love it. Having that kind of faith or hope is hard because I don’t trust anybody. Or very few people, at least. I’ve not fully mastered those skills yet, but it’s gotten better. I let so much more go and I don’t react to everything anymore. Five years ago, I’d go in on everything. Everything! If someone said something slightly off, if they rolled their eyes or sighed while I was talking, I was on that ass! (laughs) But people will keep doing that kind of stuff and they’ll think you’re irritating, so I won’t get mad anymore. I let shit go easier. Not all the way yet. Don’t try me. But more than before.

KNOTORYUS: You mention that type of patience in one of your lyrics as well, “baby steps no rush”.

MISS ANGEL: Right? I tell myself: baby steps no rush, I’m in this. Don’t come too close, but I got it. I got it.

KNOTORYUS: You’ve assembled almost an entirely female crew around you as a performer, did you set out to do just that and what do you appreciate most about working with women? 

MISS ANGEL: Was it a conscious decision? Yes and no. I knew that I for sure wanted to get together a fully female crew on stage one day. But I didn’t know that it was going to happen so quickly. I’m so happy. I feel like the baddest bitch. (laughs) People see three women on stage, everyone being themselves. It provides such a boost, I can tell it’s what the women in the crowd want to see. There are men everywhere, you know? A flood of men! What’s fun about working with women is that they’re my sisters. They can relate to everything, they know not to try me when I’m on my period. It’s just different. It’s about doing your thing with your sisters who understand you. There will be strife sometimes, but we’ll just talk it out because they’re my girls. It’s easy.

KNOTORYUS: You also mention ‘we need some more girls on mic’ in your songs. Are there any up-and-coming female artists that you’re excited about?

MISS ANGEL: One of them’s a Belgian MC named Jaffa. I don’t speak French, but she sounds really cool and even though I don’t understand her, her flow is really well-constructed. Industry insiders say she’s gonna blow up. There are so many others. I don’t want to be fake or anything though, that’s the confusing thing about women having to support women. What if it’s not good? Then you just need to be honest. In the UK and America, more female MC’s are standing up. It’s happening, but I really want to see more of it in Belgium, man. We’ve got Coely, IKRAAAN, Martha Da’ro, Blu Samu and we’ve got MAHINA. Lyna is here too, she’s doing her thing. We’ve got singers and MC’s but way too little. Isn’t that a shame?

KNOTORYUS: Fully on board with that sentiment. So have you, Martha and Blu worked out plans to collaborate more in the future? They seem to really be your sisters in artistry.

MISS ANGEL: Yes! Sisters in life too, I knew Martha before the music but it’s great that we can collab now as well. I think that’s why we’re taking our time because otherwise we would’ve made a track together from the jump. When we do link up, that’s going to result in a whole entire hit, so we’re going to take our time for that. Shows, songs, collabs, we’ll definitely be doing more together. I hope that will propel more women to put their art out there. You need to go for it, being fully confident. You don’t have to hawk your body on IG if you don’t want to, I think that realization is often missing. You see Nicki Minaj, Meg Thee Stallion, Cardi B do it and of course, it’s dope and we all sing along. But it’s not for everybody, you know? I’m out here dressed like a guy and that’s how I go on stage. I just spit like hell. But I’ve got boobs and a vagina, still. Be honest with yourself and just come out as who you are. If being sexy is really who you are, then that’s it. I just want to see more female MC’s and singers.

KNOTORYUS: So, what would you tell a young artist who sees you out there doing your thing, but they don’t dare to step out on their own? 

MISS ANGEL: The keyword is ‘dare’. Your music will stay right there on your phone if you don’t dare. All of your friends will keep telling you how good you are, they’ll know your lyrics and your songs by heart. But that’s it. Do you know how many people out there have fire on their phone and no one knows about them? If I was able to do it with ‘Ghetto Supahstar’ and a shoddy video shot on Linkeroever, down by the church, everyone can. (laughs) No one took me seriously as a musician at first, it was like: “What the fuck is she doing? She wants to rap now?” Just keep going and believing in yourself because if you don’t, nobody will. And don’t be afraid to take in people’s critiques. I’m the worst at that, but people have straight-up confirmed to me: “You made a good first song but that’s not your sound or anything.” I knew it to be true and I kept searching. You’ve got to dare to start from somewhere. And people will hate. Oh, they will hate. Even if it’s good. So, if you worry too much about that, don’t even think about starting. Go for it, or don’t.  

KNOTORYUS: Preach. You mention your first video being made on the fly - what kind of visuals have you got in mind for the future?

MISS ANGEL: I really want to create artistic videos. Martha Da’ro is my example; her visualization skills are so strong. My first three videos were very vibey, but I really want to make conceptual videos. And I’ll incorporate dance for sure. Perhaps at shows too, I’m not positive yet, it can become corny really quickly.  

KNOTORYUS: Another challenge. How else do you push yourself to fresh limits with every new project?

MISS ANGEL: By talking to myself, at home with my G’s: “We need to keep going, we’ve come this far. Ain’t no going back. It means something.” If the radio calls and asks you to stop by, it means something. Just go, don’t doubt yourself. Keep motivating yourself because you need to be your own cheerleader in order to convince others. The same goes for shows. If you’ve got your eyes fixed to the ground, people are going to look at you like: “What the fuck is she doing?” and exit. But if you come out blazing: “ARE YOU PEOPLE UP?”, they’ll be like: “Okay, yes, I think?” Then you get the crowd to go along with you. And it’s hard, because I have those days just like anyone else where I think: “What did I get myself into? What is life?” (laughs) Everyone has their off-days, you go broke sometimes and then you’re rich again – life happens. If you really want it, if you close your eyes and you see yourself doing specific things, just head straight for them. There was a time in my life where I really thought I was trash. School? (blows raspberry) “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Ain’t got no job. My mother is sick of me.” (laughs) “I’m doing nothing with my life, I don’t have any money.” I was so fed up with school. I was at a very low place at one point and I never thought that I’d be sitting here doing an interview with you about my projects. That’s crazy to me. Yet deep down, I kind of knew. I kept pushing until my mind and my subconscious both believed it as well and we were all in. I believe. No one’s going to stop me. And look, it literally happened. I think I’m living proof for my sisters and 16-year-old kids who don’t know or trust that it’s possible. It’ll work out and you can achieve your dreams.

KNOTORYUS: That kind of confidence must have grown over time, or did you wake up one morning and decide?

MISS ANGEL: It increased with time but drastically so. You have to tell yourself every day: “Get over yourself. Stop. You don’t have to keep feeling this way. Don’t stay down.” If you consistently tell yourself you can’t do it, it won’t work out. You’ll attract the failure. Energy is real, I’ve experienced it. If you legit believe that you’re worthless, my G, you’ll be worthless and nothing around you will make sense. It’ll all go wrong and you won’t know why - all the while you’re preaching it to yourself the entire day. I used to be my own worst enemy but at one point I decided I had enough. You can keep crying and asking for shoulders to lean on but it’s you at the end of the day. Your best friend of five years who loves you is going to be tired of your crying ass because only you can fix it. Look at me now! I’m doing good and I’m human, I’ll definitely have my tantrums and off-moments. But legit, things are good. I feel good. I can take care of myself because I want things to be better, for me. 

(c) Yaqine Hamzaoui

KNOTORYUS: When stuff gets too much to bear – for example right after the Belgian election results a while ago where the rightwing extremists swept the votes – I dive into the group chat with my mom and sisters or churn out looks on The Sims. Do you have self-care routines like that?

MISS ANGEL: Yes, I do nothing! After a succession of shows and hyping myself up, having lots of adrenaline, I just need two or three days to do nothing. Put on some music, text my girl: “Nouha, you there? Let’s chill?” (laughs) I zone out, roll up, talk about the shows and what can be improved but without whipping out the notepad because once I get started, I keep going. If I don’t fully rest, I won’t feel alive. You’ll be able to tell from my eyes. Like I said: energy. When I’m tired, my life is tired. When I’m happy, everyone needs to get hyped with me. Sometimes I need to take time to do sweet FA and put everything back into perspective.

KNOTORYUS: Do you ever lay back and think about what it means to you to make music?

MISS ANGEL: Safe space. Saying how I feel, what I think, what people close to me are experiencing and being able to put that in song. I think it’s so wild that you can do that. It’s harder when you’re dancing because all of sudden you’re looking for a movement to represent feeling sad. But with music, I just write. It doesn’t need to rhyme or anything. You can say what you want, put it on a beat, pick the ad libs. I needed that, because throughout the past five years, I sort of felt like a prisoner. I was always part of something: a crew over there, a collective over here, but I didn’t have anything going for myself. Zero. I didn’t feel like myself, or more like a part of many other people’s projects. I wanted to do something for me. I can worry about me again. I needed to worry about me.

KNOTORYUS: That’s big, and something I feel that’s very easy to lose track of especially in the time of life you’re in. Choosing ‘you’.

Speaking of choices, let’s talk style for a moment. You’re always coming through with the drip – tell me what fashion and beauty have signified for you throughout your life, have both always been on your radar? 

MISS ANGEL: Fashion was always a thing, I definitely got that from my folks. My parents know how to dress, I’m very blessed for that. Because some parents step out in any old thing. (laughs) Mine used to kit us out in finery when we were younger. We had a lot of photo albums at home, so I could see how cool my clothes were when I was a little child. I wanted that to continue. I was the type in elementary or secondary school to sag their pants, with the Timberlands wide open and stuff. It’s always been there. I even used to run this IG lookbook called ‘Tomboy Chique’. My sisters are fashion designers, they know how to sew, it really runs in the family. Everyone looks good. I’m very inspired by the ‘90s. Queen Latifah. Missy Elliott. They brought the baggy factor and I was baggy all the way. My trousers and sweatshirts were XXL. I thought that was lit. My ‘feminine’ side came out more when I was about 17 and I started wearing crop tops. You’ll never catch me in a skirt though, perhaps in a cute dress, and you’ll never clock me with a handbag. A clutch in my armpit? That’s not Angel.  But I’ll wear flared pants with a bandeau top. I’m comfortable being a tomboy, I love it. I also don’t wear cosmetics at all, so I think my hair and nails have become my make-up, in a way.  

KNOTORYUS: You’ve been working with Nacy Francis for a while on your stage looks.

MISS ANGEL: That’s my cousin. She’ll be doing my stage outfits for the summer. She created a beautiful white, flared look for Couleur Café and a green look for Rock Werchter. I’m curious to see the other outfits. She knows what I like so we play it by ear, a few days or a week before a show. She’s fast and the collaboration is going smoothly.

(c) Yaqine Hamzaoui

(At this point, a person sitting behind us comments on Angel’s hair – I don’t catch it, but she shuts the woman down swiftly and decidedly.)

KNOTORYUS: Do you want to stay in Antwerp, despite common bullshit like what just happened there? 

MISS ANGEL: Yes and no. There are people who just want to ruin your day. But I was born and raised here, so it would mean getting out of my comfort zone. I’m used to it, my mom and sisters live here, the few people I have live here too. Will I stay in Antwerp for the rest of my life? No. I’m 100% sure. But not tomorrow. I think Brussels is amazing, I won’t lie about that. But I’d rather do the hustle in Antwerp because I know where to be over here. When I have my ducks in a row, I’ll definitely move. But I’m in no rush.

KNOTORYUS: Lastly, what is the dream for this year and beyond? What do you see ahead? 

MISS ANGEL: I wanted to be on big festival stages, and it’s happening, so I guess I’ll say: an invasion abroad. The UK, the Netherlands, a bit of the US perhaps. I want to work with so many people but without a doubt I want to do a track with Skepta. It’s the biggest dream ever, but it’s one I’m going to speak into existence. 

KNOTORYUS: Put it out there!

MISS ANGEL: I’m telling the universe and she’s going to make it happen. Every time I do my song ‘Oh My Dayz’, I can just hear him jump in after the second hook. I need to collab with UK artists, Lady Leshurr as well for example. I want to do shows in the Netherlands, they have fun interview formats too - like ‘FunX’. I want to be able to stop by as a Black girl Belgian artist, they haven’t had that yet. I want to go on ‘101Barz’ just like Coely. I really want my own ‘Colors’. Stuff like that. Mostly, I want to keep making music, kill my shows and we’ll see. (laughs)

(c) Yaqine Hamzaoui

Listen to ‘Ghetto Mami Vol. 1’ here, here and here.

Miss AngelGhetto Mami’ Festival Summer Tour

DOUR - July 13 (BE)
BURN LEUVEN - July 19 (BE)
WE CAN DANCE - August 11 (BE)
PUKKELPOP - August 15 (BE)
FIRE IS GOLD - August 24 (BE)
CRAMMEROCK - September 7 (BE)

Header image: (c) Yaqine Hamzaoui

Brian Eno - An Ending (Ascent)

Brian Eno - An Ending (Ascent)

Raphael Saadiq - Glory To The Veins

Raphael Saadiq - Glory To The Veins