During an early August afternoon at Best Pizza in Brooklyn, 16-year-old rapper Haleek Maul acts like an average teenager. He’s slightly timid, easily distracted and doses his iced tea with a ton of simple syrup. The only indication of a dark disposition is the way his face lights up when he slays a witch in the vampire hunting game Castlevania that he’s currently engrossed in on his laptop. To explain his penchant for the morose, Maul likens himself to the ocean surrounding the island of Barbados, where he grew up. “You think it’s exciting and exuberant because of all the children and the things around it,” he explains. “But if you’ve ever been to the beach at night, you realize how rough the seas are. When it hits the cliffs and the shoreline, it just seems so angry and powerful.”
He relies on that power to write, often crafting lyrics in the middle of the night after having one of his recurring, lucid dreams, including, he says, a nightmare where he’s attacked by hooded creatures in a strange temple in the woods. The violent fantasies explored on his tracks have led some people in the tiny, hyper-Christian community back home to call him a Satanist. “No one [in Barbados] really fucks with my music,” he says. “They’re sheep.” On “Fraulein,” Maul raps, Baby, I’m a demon/ Think you better hide your soul over a crawling King Britt beat. It’s a far cry from the jubilant soca music he was raised on.
For a teenager who raps about pill-popping, suicide and sexual exploits, Maul has surprisingly solid judgment, thanks to his grandmother’s firm hand in raising him. He’s determined to go to college, and says he would never let a woman walk home by herself. Every summer, Maul escapes her grip when he travels to New York to visit his father. This year’s trip includes a debut performance alongside Chicago duo Supreme Cuts, with whom he released the collaborative album Chrome Lips this summer. In July, before his set at Glasslands in Brooklyn, he trails around the room behind Supreme Cuts’ Mike Perry and Austin Keultjes like an obedient puppy; but with a microphone in his hand, he’s got the snarling delivery of an attack dog. After his set, he paces the stage, soaking up the audience’s applause, but back in the crowd he’s a wallflower again, nervously debating whether or not he should introduce himself to internet sensation Kitty Pryde, who’d been standing outside the venue with a group of friends.
“Females have always been my vice,” Maul says. He worries the demands of his burgeoning career are making it tough to find a girl he can relate to. “Sometimes, I’d love it if I could just turn down the pace so I could date normal chicks.” The conversation turns surprisingly tender when he describes another video game, Prince of Persia. “I got this dagger that was able to basically reverse time, make it fast forward and freeze it,” he says. “I just thought that was beautiful.”
Haleek Maul plays a number of shows in New York this week, in conjunction with CMJ:
10/17: NoiseyVice showcase at Santos Party House with Flatbush Zombies, Children of the Night, The Underachievers & Bodega Bamz
10/18: Irving Plaza with GZA and Killer Mike
10/18: Mishka party, 350 Broadway, with Main Attrakionz, Cities Aviv and A$ton Matthew
10/19: 2DopeBoyz party, Itving Plaza, with Mystikal
10/20: XL party, Glasslands Gallery, with Ratking