“I just want to be respected as a writer,” says Malik Hall, the artist formerly known as KIDGNS (Kid Genius) and currently known as Haleek Maul, brooding emcee from Barbados. Throughout the interview Haleek has chosen his words very deliberately so when he says “writer” instead of “lyricist,” there is clearly much weight to his word choice. “I’m not trying to jam a simile into every line,” he explains. For Haleek, intricate lyricism has become a craft for its own sake rather than because it enhances songs. Actively avoiding that lane, Haleek seeks to be noted for his imagery, his sonic presence. For inspiration, Haleek doesn’t listen to punchline-laced mixtapes: he listens to Andre 3000, Tricky and Bjork.
While he ritually listens to Outkast’s Aquemini at least once per week, the Andre 3000 influence isn’t immediately discernible; one has to really engage the music. The Tricky and Bjork influences are also difficult to discern, but their relationships with British super-producer duo Massive Attack conveniently mirror Haleek’s relationship with Supreme Cuts, a producer twosome who treat Haleek like a younger brother.
Their collaborative effort Chrome Lips, was released a few days ago, but Haleek says that it was a year in the making. None of the tracks were recorded with both parties present and Haleek didn’t meet the Chicagoan producers in person until this past summer, but the music says otherwise. Over perfectly murky beats, Haleek spits tales of decadence, despondence and swag. When asked how the collaborations were able to come out so seamlessly despite their different origins and nascent artistic relationship (they only met a year ago), Haleek gave a long answer and a short answer.
The long answer was: “We have different cultural influences, but we have similar mindsets. They have the same work ethic and drive that I do, but it’s just like we grew up on different things and we’re at different points in our lives as well. That’s why you find that we’re different but we still have the ability to collaborate. It’s like I’m a painter from someplace and the other guy is an architect. I decide to do graff all over his building. It’s still a pretty ass building, but it just has really pretty graffiti on it. That’s a collaboration if you think about it: it’s just taking on person’s strong points and another person’s strong points and kind of just like raveling them up in each other until you can’t differentiate which is which.” (The short answer was: “I’m Missy and they’re Timbo!”)
Haleek likens their collaboration to different cloths being woven together until the result is something completely foreign and new, but Chrome Lips is tagged as the product of “Supreme Cuts & Haleek Maul.” When asked why they decided to not go the Madvillain or Emanon route and coin a new name, Haleek says, “I think we just wanted people to know that this is Supreme Cuts and this is Haleek Maul and this is how we come together on a record. I don’t think we should have to rebrand it or make it a whole new thing. I think this is just Supreme Cuts showing their stuff in terms of the versatility of their production skills. On my part, it was a showcase of the different beats that I could flow on.” The finished product is great, but those cloths aren’t indistinguishable just yet.
Nevertheless, that may change. Alluding to upcoming projects, Haleek ambitiously assures that “game-changers” are in the works. The genre-blending and experimentation seen on Chrome Lips is just “practice,”Haleek assures. Typically, such sentiments are harbingers of an imminent sophomore slump, but Haleek has already released two projects in one year, so perhaps he’s already over that hurdle. As his run continues, we’ll see whether he’s gassed up because of strong lungs or because of hot Barbados air. I’m betting it’s the former.
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