Haleek Maul Talks "Errol"
New York-born and Barbados-raised, rapper Haleek Maul has no shortage of inspiration—finding it in everything from his collaborators to the movies he watches. The 24-year-old artist blends the soul of the places that made him in his debut album Errol.
Milk talked to Maul about the benefits of collaboration, subsistence farming, and why the young genius trope is played out.
When did you start rapping and what drew you to that style of expressing yourself?
I started working on music around 12 and then started working professionally around 14 or 15. I put out my first EP at 16. I was really inspired by a lot of electronic music early on—a lot of Ed Banger stuff like Mr. Oizo, the stuff that was coming out like Justice and all that. Then obviously dancehall, reggae music, 90s hip hop from my uncle’s music collection. So, a lot of stuff like that just different influences. The alternative music, you know. I listened to a lot of Radiohead and The Cranberries and shit and then I would turn around and listen to Outkast trying to mix it all up. Those were the influences early on. Oh and Damon Albarn too and the Gorillaz. My favorite rappers are Lil Wayne and Kanye, you know, obviously. They’re great rappers. They make great conceptual projects. It’s insane.
Outside of Lil Wayne and Kanye, who are some of your artistic inspirations? It doesn’t have to be musical, it could be directors, producers, visual artists. What is some art that just inspires you to keep creating?
I really like the director Wong Kar-Wai. I really like Fallen Angels by him. There’s a bunch of other directors like even Matthew Barney, who is Björk’s ex-boyfriend. He used to write these really crazy films called the Cremaster series. Those are really dope. Harmony Korine is also a really impressive director. I really like paintings but it’s not really that I have a specific painter that I like. I just know when I see it. Even local artists from Barbados like Shane Eastmond are very inspirational. I take in a lot of different stuff.
So you were born in New York but you went to school in Barbados. How do you feel both of those places helped influence you both as a person and as an artist?
The time spent in Barbados definitely is the main reason for the way that I write music. A lot of the media and stuff I consumed while I was there really changed my perspective. A lot of my raps are more like, based on like imagery than it is like similes and stuff like that. I tried to paint pictures—really real and vivid pictures. I feel like the style would be a little bit different if I grew up somewhere where it more classically rap. I feel like it’s a little more unorthodox in that way.
From 3 to 18 or 19 I was living in Barbados, and then I moved to New York like properly. I would be back and forth for summer because I have citizenship, but I spent most of my time there so I feel like Barbados has really shaped the overall way I approach music.
I feel like New York showed me how the industry works on a grander scale. All the other aspects that come along with the music and how that affects the actual music itself. Even though I try to keep it to a minimum, there are different things going on that you have aware of when you’re sending music. Like thinking “Oh, maybe I should do some clean versions.” And just trying to do it like to a certain level. So I definitely think that being in America and actually being around music people definitely showed me the other side.
You suggested Chinatown as the location for the photoshoot. What draws you to that area?
My first big project Prince Midas, which came out in 2015— I recorded that in Chinatown. So I know a lot of the spots. I spent a lot of time around Two Bridges and stuff. Even an arcade-like I killed that arcade. I’ve definitely been there way more than most places in New York. I spent a lot of long days and nights there.
You seem very collaborative with being a founding member of a rap collective, On the Tanz, and featuring other artists on Errol. How does that help you?
I like to work with people. I’m just naturally good at seeing what people are good at. That’s like my thing. I have a managerial spirit. It’s not like I’m forcing things on people, I just see how certain things can work. I can see someone’s strengths. I feel like that puts me a lot of time in the leader position of organizing things. So the group thing was kind of natural. Every day, when I go to meetings and when I collaborate with people, it just allows me to step back and see what other people can contribute to my world to make it better.
You basically have your whole life to write your first album. Is that how this one feels for you? Did you feel some pressure to get this out quickly or did you take your time?
Nah it doesn’t. If it was up to me I would take 10 years. I’m dropping this because I know there’s no such thing as perfect. I’m only gonna get better and better as time goes on. You look back at like Salvador Dali paintings from his later years and those are the most amazing paintings. They’re so detailed. I feel like the music industry is obsessed with youthful energy. It’s kind of weird. The young genius thing is such a played out thing. It may sound salty, but the truth is I was in that position and it’s a lot of pressure because then the media will make narratives and you don’t even fully understand what’s going on. So it’s like, sometimes it’s better to let these kids like grow up and like learn how the music stuff works and not try to put labels on them. Obviously they just want to push content and do all of that stuff, but we need to find better ways to relate the stories so that they come across more genuine.
I feel like people should just take more time and take more care. But at the same time for me, we also need to give people the opportunity to make that first album and not have all these expectations on them. Because that pressure might make them not make the best first album they can make. There’s this thing where if you don’t do well enough, you don’t perform to the standards of the industry or to society then you’re washed. I don’t believe in that. If you’re talented, you’re talented, you know. I feel like you have your whole life to just be the fucking best in the world. You know me like that’s that’s what I believe. You shouldn’t put it all on one event in an artist’s life. Cause you can make a horrible first album. Does that mean I have to change my artist name and start over so I can have an amazing first album? Nah I don’t think so.
Errol is named after your grandfather, who recently passed away. What inspired you to take that experience and turn it into something positive like art?
It was natural for me. I felt like I needed to do it or else I would go crazy. So I just did it.
What was your favorite track to work on?
I feel like the collaboration on GET2HIGH with Sega Bodega was really good. He really showed out on that. Other than that, Pretty Colour is one of my favorites.
You recorded in London and here in New York and a few other places. How did you decide on those locations?
It was just my life really. The way that my life was ebbing and flowing I needed to be in certain places at certain times so I just made music wherever I was. It just kind of happened that way. It’s not really one those things where I had a big budget and thought, “Oh let’s go to London and record.” It wasn’t that. My life took me to London so I went over there and the music came with me. I think that’s the coolest thing about what was going on with this album is that it was very much my life and my growth. It was a very natural process of how everything was happening.
What is your writing and your recording process? Do you go into the studio with songs fully written or do you write while you’re recording?
Just depends. I mean, a lot of times I’ll just write on the spot. I’ll just make a beat or someone will give me a beat and I’ll take it to the studio and go from there. Then if it comes out, it comes out. It’s not one process. Sometimes I’ll have l just words and I’ll piece it together from there. Everything is different.
What is the driving force behind you making music?
I’m just trying to give people more insight into me as a person. It’s not really trying to portray anything in particular. It’s really just to give people more insight into me and just contribute more ideas to the world. Yeah every time you approach a song, just know that it’s really me trying to really freak.
It seems like you’re like your core reason to make music is just kind of like to share your point of view and yourself with the world. So how does that work when you are collaborating with other people?
It just really depends on the vibe and the energy of what’s going on at the time. I usually work with people I’m fans of. So I’ll just work with them in that space and we’ll build from there. So it’s still always around what I am doing and the energy that we’re putting out there is trying to figure out what the next step is. Where do we go from here? How can we build this up? It’s always a team effort. Most of the features on the album are people from Barbados, or like close friends or something. It’s never anything fabricated.
What are you excited about for 2020?
I’m dropping Errol and another album this year. So, I’m just excited to play more music. Keep making more, keep producing, keep the fire alive. Right now I’m in a very good place with my creative output. I’m getting better and more skilled. I’m learning more skills on top of music—things that benefit the whole creative process. Also just to gain more knowledge as a human. That’s my 2020.
Where do you hope to be in the next 10 years?
Super rich and comfortable. I’d like to have my own farm. Maybe start subsistence farming and be as off the grid if possible. Still making art and still like being in society when I feel like it, but just be able to have the closest thing I could find a quiet.
Where would your farm be?
It doesn’t have to be anywhere crazy—maybe even just in Barbados. I don’t really need a lot. I don’t even need to be super-rich. I just want to be able to do that. It would be cool to do workshops for kids and create my own institutions at some point with handpicked teachers and kids. Even if it’s just after school lessons. I just want to create an environment that’s different from their every day that doesn’t discriminate based on class or income or anything.
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