Because it makes for some nice PR copy, the relative youth of an MC has become something of a big deal. But all the excitement over teenaged rappers that act like teenagers like Tyler, the Creator (19 years old when Bastard began to buzz), Chief Keef (16), Joey Bada$$ (17), or Kitty Pryde (19) seems pretty ridiculous when you consider the fact that Rakim was 19 when Paid in Full dropped, and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy famously rapped, “I’m only 19, but my mind is older,” on “Shook Ones Pt. 2.” The whole point of praising some precocious prick teen who made a rap album is not that they did it, but that they did it very well, and seemed wise beyond their years. If a teenager makes a teenaged-sounding rap album, well, what’s impressive about that?
Haleek Maul is a 16-year-old rapper and Oxyconteen, his EP (or maybe it’s a mixtape) consists of six oozing rap songs and a rumbling, instrumental intro track. It feels like the music of someone much older and wiser. See, Maul tends to frame his desires around well, the fact that he’s a dumb kid still figuring the world out. On “Inebriated,” he describes a breakup that’s left him upset and angry but a little wiser, and so, a few songs later, when he’s demanding blowjobs, it feels self-aware and self-loathing. He doesn’t actually think the world owes him anything. Plenty of rappers three times Maul’s age haven’t yet figured out that hey, maybe all that tough guy bullshit directed towards the women in their lives is hiding up a whole lot of hurt and pain!
Maul’s rapping is very much in-the-pocket of what’s fashionable right now — a rambling, post-post-Drake style in which you curl your words just right so it sounds like you’re killing it, even though you totally aren’t — but there aren’t any hashtags here or anything. And though Maul is grandiose like every young rapper, these are not rhymes about fame and haters. Rather, Maul ambitiously and ridiculously connects his teenaged angst to apocalyptic visions, demonic possession, and ghosts hovering around, clogging up his thoughts. On “88,” confessional lyrics rub up against a closed-circuit mythology that details the apparent Lovecraftian origins of pain: “Can’t stand to be alone, my life is a mistake, that’s why demons want my soul.” “Inebriated” ends with Maul repeating “burn, burn fire burn,” and “Fraulein,” simmers down as the word “suicide” is chanted over and over.
There is however, something aggressively curated about Oxyconteen, making it both a rewarding and suspicious listen. The foggy production from pretty big names like Supreme Cuts, King Britt, the-Drum, and others, is A$AP Rocky-esque right-on-the-curve of cool, but it is also the ideal soundtrack for Maul’s confused, free verses. Breaking through many of the beats is a sonic moment of clarity — a synth melody, a footwork shuffle, an angelic voice — like the cheeky inclusion of an opera aria in a doomed zombie flick’s final battle, raising the stakes, and suggesting a sliver of humanity still intact. This isn’t an album from a teenaged rapper as much as it is an album about being a teenager, evoking the definitive adolescent feeling of being pissed off and powerless. If we must call this “cloud rap,” then it’s cloudy like a black funnel cloud on the cusp of turning into a tornado and destroying everything it comes in contact with.