Loss informs art. Sometimes the best way to surge through pain is to create through it. Such is the story of Haleek Maul and his debut album, Errol, recorded primarily in London following the loss of his grandfather in 2016. Errol is as erratic as a dirge of this magnitude deserves to be. Errol is a belting sob in the face of great pain and personal transformation. Across 12 tracks, Haleek, 23, brings in the sounds of New York, London, and his Barbados upbringing to portray both a state of panic and a plume of overcoming. “What can you do?” he shouts on the opening track, “We Wid It.” You feel his howls in your gut.
“Well, 2015 was a weird year for me,” Haleek explains of the darkness of the album. “I wrote arguably my life’s work at that point, and I had released it, and it did not do what I expected. I put everything on that album, Prince Midas, I put all my chips on it. Like, ‘Alright, cool, there’s no way people are gonna hear this and [not think it’s dope].’ I dropped it. I was all in. Not that much money, in New York, just trying to make it work—I had to go back to Barbados. It just didn’t happen. That began the dark period.”
Haleek Maul’s ballistic energy is no cover. He does not hide behind his bellows and snarling raps. Instead, Haleek uses them as a vehicle to communicate all his pent-up hurt and search for reprieve as on album centerpiece “Pretty Colour.” Errol is not a pretty rap album. It is a blunt edge thwacking away at us until we succumb to an unnamed emotion. Too, Errol is a technical masterwork. Haleek’s delivery at times lilts, at times pinpricks, at times thumps, and always lands on the mark. The breathless Haleek sounds possessed across this record, with the roiling “Ceiling Fan,” “Halo,” and “Lucid,” showcasing his range of flows and ear for production.
With Errol, Haleek Maul claims darkness as a space of his own. He does not flounder. “Don’t you know this world is insanity?” Haleek questions on “Lucid.” We do. But even with our knowing, Haleek Maul redefines the sound of seeking sanity and growth. “No more sorrow,” Haleek exhales on the final song, “Feelings,” concluding Errol on a note of hope.
“One thing after the other kept happening,” Haleek says. “That took me to a weird place. But! Darkness eventually leads to light, and that’s what [“Pretty Colour”] is about, too. Even though there’s a bit of anxiety in it, it’s a little bit more hopeful than I think people will interpret it as. I had to admit that’s where I was, but I know I actively can put myself in a better place.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life?
Haleek Maul: I can’t put a finger on the first, but I’ll say the most impactful music experiences I’ve had was going through my uncle’s record collection. That was something I felt changed my perspective of music. I could feel the power of music: being able to relate to music, wanting to be like the people in the music. I think about how much effort it took for someone to express themselves in that way. [My uncle] listened to a lot of ‘90s rap, like OutKast and Biggie, and all that stuff. Also, alternative things like The Cranberries. [On] the album, Bury The Hatchet, there’s a bunch of songs that have crazy stories and the songwriting was dope. Being from Barbados, interacting with music that was alternative changed how I would approach my music later on.
Who’s been the biggest supporter of your career so far?
My girlfriend. She goes hard and posts everything. She’s excited to hear new music. And there’s publications, writers, who like my music. When people are close to you, [you feel like] of course, they have to support you. But, to a certain degree, they don’t have to. My mom does not have to post my videos; she’s still my mom. Especially if they’re outside the industry and they support you, that matters a lot, because there’s nothing for them to gain. It’s out of love. I appreciate anyone that does that for me.
Talk to me about the recording of your debut album, Errol. I hear you were in London for most of the album—how did that influence your sound?
Being in London gave me space to work. [It] genuinely just gave me the opportunity to buckle down, work on, and learn about music. I was going to a lot of big studios, but there weren’t [any] engineers in the studios. So I’m learning how to operate all this equipment to get the results I want. That’s what changed the sound for me—relying less on other people’s approximation of what I want and getting down into it—recording myself more, building my confidence as an artist and as a person.
Sometimes you get that imposter syndrome, like, “Am I really good? Do I actually, know what I’m doing?” It’s like, “Yes! You do! And you’re good at it.” But to be able to get to that point, you’ve got to break down a lot of doubt. That’s what London did for me. I got to go to a place where I didn’t know many people, so I was forced to work and not hang out as much. [I had to] find myself more, and learn to speak the languages that let me express my music better.
Errol deals with the darkness of loss and trying to get past it. What inspired you to take this path with the record?
I feel all the dark parts of the album [are] a choice I made because of the subject matter. It’s my grandfather’s namesake, the album name. I put his name on there, and I wanted to make sure people can feel that pain and those tears. I want people to understand how much [his death] affected me. But then also, know there’s another side to it. You can let [pain] pass and move through you, without letting it consume you.
All over “Glitching,” you’re talking about losing your mind, coping, and living for your family. Outside of liquor and music, how do you cope?
Sometimes, it’s just finding things to do. I’ve dabbled a lot in learning new things, not as a distraction, but to give me new tools to understand things. The way I might look at a situation, and the way you look at a situation are different, and I’m intrigued by that. So, being able to continually change my perspective by learning new things and adapting to new environments is my best way of coping. It’s not running away, it’s expanding my vocabulary so I could understand my own life a little bit more, and what I’m going through. And how I can relate to other people and what they’re going through.
At one point, on “Pretty Colour,” you talk about your life ending in 2015. What happened in 2015?
Oh, man. Well, 2015 was a weird year for me. I wrote arguably my life’s work at that point, and I had released it, and it did not do what I expected. I put everything on that album, Prince Midas, I put all my chips on it. Like, “Alright, cool, there’s no way people are gonna hear this and [not think it’s dope].” I dropped it. I was all in. Not that much money, in New York, just trying to make it work—I had to go back to Barbados. It just didn’t happen. That began the dark period.
It was a dark period, and it further escalated with my grandfather passing months after the project dropped. I was really in that [dark] space. Like, “Ah, well, everything sucks.” One thing after the other kept happening. That took me to a weird place. But! Darkness eventually leads to light, and that’s what [“Pretty Colour”] is about, too. Even though there’s a bit of anxiety in it, it’s a little bit more hopeful than I think people will interpret it as. I had to admit that’s where I was, but I know I actively can put myself in a better place.