Ask Haleek Maul if he’s a perfectionist and he doesn’t hesitate with an answer: “Hell yeah.”
In 2012, the rapper-producer (born Malik Hall) debuted with the Oxyconteen EP and collaborated with Supreme Cuts on Chrome Lips, but his perfectionism is one reason why — after dropping those projects at just 16 years old — the Barbados-bred, New York-based talent has been quiet for a few years, apart from one-offs with Supreme Cuts, The-Drum or Forest Swords.
“I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of my music before,” Hall admits. “I always knew what I wanted to do from the very beginning. I want to make challenging music, music that challenges the current status of rap.” He didn’t feel like he was doing that justice, especially as he tried to pursue a music career while trying to complete secondary school.
With school finished, Hall moved to New York last August and began laying down the foundations of what would become Prince Midas, his first full-length project in three years. Hall’s stated goal is bringing together contemporary electronic music and contemporary rap, along with “old school shit” and dancehall. Prince Midas succeeds at that, combining post-Yeezus rap with underground club music and a dancehall lilt, while maintaining the moody, lyrical menace of early Haleek Maul material.
“I want to make challenging music.”Haleek Maul
Some of that is due to his collaborators: rising New York producer Shy Guy is credited on all 12 tracks, with a diverse crew (Dubbel Dutch, WIFE, Last Japan, Boody and Black Noi$e, among others) receiving additional credits. And unlike previous projects, Hall is a co-producer on half of the project’s songs.
While he’s been producing for longer than he’s been rapping, it wasn’t until now that he was confident enough to flex his skills on his own record (he did produce a track for The Underachievers in 2014). Hall credits the mentorship of people like Dutch E Germ and Barbadian producer Strat Carter with pushing him to embrace production. “The reason I’m doing it is because Strat Carter gave me studio time,” he says. “He doesn’t care about being recognized, he just wants me to go the furthest I can.”
Prince Midas is not just inspired by the sounds of contemporary music, but by the effect it has on people — especially young people. Rather than music, our conversation is mostly about geopolitics and metaphysics, mostly in abstract terms. Hall is very concerned with the current moment, one defined by political unrest, economic instability and cultural upheaval, and the internal struggles and cognitive dissonance that uneasiness causes, especially in the West.
Hall may be out of school, but he’s continued his education in the manner of digital natives, devouring everything from political documentaries to YouTube tutorials. And no matter how earnest and intelligent, he’s still just 19 years old, with plenty of learning, living and dot-connecting yet to do. But he at least wants to challenge expectations and start a conversation.
“We can do more, and it doesn’t have to be some corny shit.”Haleek Maul
“I’m doing what I do best: I’m making music that will make people think about themselves in a different perspective, empower some people, tear down some layers of ego,” he explains. “We can do more, and it doesn’t have to be some corny shit — we can talk about how we really feel.” Hall has embraced that attitude on Prince Midas: on ‘Maintain’, he strikes an Auto-Tuned inspirational pose (“Maintain who you are / you don’t need no validation… ’cause you’re great / just wait”).
Speaking truth to power is also a lesson from his newest mentor, rap-poet-activist Saul Williams, with whom Hall has collaborated and toured. “He’s a fucking god,” Hall gushes. Having the support of someone who has been influential to both him and his peers strengthened his resolve. “Being in the world of music that’s run by the internet, you can have self doubt about how your career is going to go,” Hall admits, “but [Williams] made it clear that I don’t have to bow down to anyone’s ideals.”
With its iconoclastic mix of sonic styles and unrelenting lyrics, Prince Midas is Haleek Maul at his most confident, and while it has been mostly done since the summer, the self-described perfectionist will finally release it on November 9 — and he’s just getting started. “I’m not stopping after this. After this, it’s just going to get more intense and insane as it progresses,” he maintains, adding — with a laugh and all the boastful impudence that a 19-year-old can muster — that he has “music that people will probably kill themselves over.”