What were you most proud of at the age of 16? A driver’s license? Straight As on your report card? A varsity uniform? How about a critically lauded EP? That last one is exactly what Barbadian rapper-producer Haleek Maul has to his name with Oxyconteen. The Brooklyn-born artist isn’t just a case of a teenager-blowing-up because he’s, you know, a teenager. Maul’s outright lyrical talent emerges immediately each time he starts rhyming, an act that sounds organic and appropriate draped across the woozy, bass and synth-heavy production he prefers.
It’s not that Maul is spitting fiery 16s filled with internal rhymes, gut-busting punch lines, and/or slick wordplay; though, that’s not to say he isn’t capable of doing so. At various points across Oxyconteen, he’ll drop his more meditative flow to showcase his more pure technical skills. For a majority of the EP and his other loose material, the kid sticks to what he knows: baring his soul with self-reflective lyricism and raw emotions. He is, after all, a disciple of guys like Mr. Cheeks and Andre 3000, both of whom are no stranger to injecting their feelings into their bars.
But as Maul told me when we spoke recently, he’s most concerned with people realizing his approach as his approach. He brushes off the comparisons he’s received—Spaceghostpurrp, ScHoolboy Q, and members of the A$AP—not as a means of stating that he’s a superior artist. Rather, Maul instead asks listeners to allow him to offer his own piece and recognize that he’s not a photocopy. Or, in his words, let him do him.
How did you get linked with Chicago’s Supreme Cuts for your next release?
I e-mailed them last summer. We just had a conversation over the phone and they asked me to freestyle because I didn’t have any rap shit out there. They liked it. And here I am. Well, sorta. There was a lot of stuff, but they asked me to be on their tape for Mishka, which eventually became our tape. We’re gonna hook up this summer if I live to see it.
If you live to see it? What do you mean?
If I live to see the summer. You never know what’ll happen between now and then. My grandmother always says that: “I’ll do __ if I live to see tomorrow or whatever.” “God willing.” That stuff. Haha, come to think about it, I wake up every morning to radio obituaries. I mean, my house isn’t a negative energy place at all. I’m just saying. My grandmother turns on the radio at like 5:30 usually to wake everyone up that has to go to school/work and that’s usually when the obituaries come on and then the news comes after.
You tend to have more contemplative, darker themes in your lyrics. Why is that?
I think about stuff a lot, I guess. I think a lot about my future. It only really started happening when I got into secondary school. When I was younger it was much more blissful.
What brought that on?
I think the thought of having to attend college and find a job once I’ve done such. I think it’s the island, though, and my family. I mean, I’m not from a wealthy family or anything. I live in the hood. But, even the hoods here are economically stable. I can’t say I had to struggle for food or anything. My grandmother would kill me if she heard me say something like that [laughs]. But like, she always used to push me and my older sister to work at school and anything we did. And try to better ourselves. I think the island has humbled me a lot and those teachings really help me to push myself but not in a fucked up way, you know?
Absolutely. It encouraged you in a positive way, particularly with your work ethic, right?
Definitely. Although I think I work harder at music than school. Also, I think it’s the schooling system in general. I’ve finished secondary school. Now it’s time for college. I’m pretty reluctant to move to New York for college. Fuck student loans. Education is free here.
What inspired you to start rapping and producing back?
The kids around me. I went to a pretty cultured school. So, there’s cliques of hip-hoppers and stuff, which is weird because not many people in the island were heavy into that stuff aside from a couple OGs like Strat Carter. He has some production credits on the EP. But I was kind of bad.
Have you been working with anyone other MCs or are you sticking to solo stuff?
Well, I’m working on my solo career right now. I’ve realized the only way I’m going to truly have my way is if I stop trying to make people get me
And just do you?
Do you fear the inevitable comparisons?
Naw, it’s already begun. I just take it because people hardly know me or my personality. I’ve heard A$AP, [SpaceGhostPurrp] references. Oh, and Schoolboy Q. But I think as the months progress and more light is shed on myself, it will be easier, because there are clear differences. And I’m not stating here that anyone is better than anyone. Everyone has their place in the sphere. I just like to think I offer my own piece and that I’m not a photocopy.
Speaking of influences, who do you think has helped shape your approach?
My collaborators, definitely. But aside from the people I work with, Andre 3000, Mr. Cheeks, Kanye West, though Kanye not as much as before.
What is it about Mr. Cheeks?
He’s Mr. Cheeks [laughs]. Like, I really love Lost Boys’ Legal Drug Money. “1,2,3” is such an amazing joint. So much emotion. I like emotions, bad or good. I hate to listen to a song and not be able to feel it out. And it’s weird ’cause some of those songs have the most simple language. Sometimes I feel like I connect more with Bjork or Tricky. I write pretty abstractly sometimes. And sometimes, I think it’d be hard for someone to grip the meanings behind everything if it wasn’t for the way I expressed it. I think Tricky and Bjork do that as well. They’re also very big influences. I’ve been influenced by pretty much every genre to be honest. I always make sure to listen to Nearly God and Aquemini, though. I just want to put out my own album that’s to that level. I want to be remembered.
Do you see yourself doing this full-time?
Yes, yes, yes, no question about it, yes. Even if I stop rapping, I’ll be singing, or producing. Something. I’m gonna do everything. Just wait for it. I’m still learning is all. By 20 I think I’ll have it.