Haleek Maul is insular. Unlike most rappers who boast and brag, he seems lost in his own thoughts. He takes long breaks in between sentences, always trying to sharpen his phrases to express precisely how he feels. Each word is deliberate—just like his music.
Right now, Haleek lives in Barbados. On Sunday night, via a glitchy international connection, I spoke with the 16-year-old New York City-born MC. I usually spend a lot of time prepping for interviews, but Haleek's impressive rap sheet is pretty short. He first appeared on our radar back in June, when he dropped the Oxyconteen EP—a brisk seven-song trip of brooding beats and off-kilter, introspective rhymes.
Like most teenagers making music at home, he didn't think many people would hear the EP. But less than six hours after the debut dropped, Haleek had already received a long email from a stranger (many years his senior) explaining how the rapper's teenage musings on relationships and loss had touched him profoundly. The message came at a time when Haleek's parents and grandmother were worried he might be getting too caught up in this rap shit. It was the kind of push he needed to know he was chasing the right dream.
Haleek followed up Oxy two months later with a 17-track collaborative mixtape with Chicago production duo Supreme Cuts called Chrome Lips. Lips sounds even more confident and considered than Oxy, as a fully realized statement on love and regret. So impressed by the new music, VICE linked up with Haleek to shoot a video for the tape's standout track, "M00N," a song with a sizzurp-slow beat, pummeling percussion, and an uncleared sample from King Crimson's "Moon Child. (The song has since been yanked off of blogs and websites all across the internet over obnoxious copyright claims from King Crimson's label.)
During my chat with Haleek, we discussed the stellar new music video, the inspiration behind the lyrics of "M00N," and what it feels like to have the rap game on lock before you can even buy cigarettes.
Noisey: We're about to drop this "M00N" video. What can you tell me about it?
Haleek Maul: It's got strong Kenneth Anger and Steven Klein vibes in terms of the direction. For the treatment, I gave [VICE Global Editor and "M00N" music video director] Andy Capper a bunch of ideas of films that I enjoy and we just came up with something. There's not much of a narrative to it. It's meant to be visually stimulating.
So there's no underlying message behind the visual aspects of the video?
The video is aggressive—there's a lot of red. I think it encapsulates the track, because the song is about my insecurities. A lot of them have to do with relationships I was in and internal struggles I was having over whether or not I should've made certain decisions… My choices hurt the person I was with at the time I made them, so the song is about being selfless and apologetic.
Can you tell me about the relationship?
I made some bad decisions that put me in a position where I just wanted a way to express myself. So I sat and wrote down all the stuff that I was insecure about—even things beyond relationship issues.