Holding Court With Maxo Kream, Rap’s Reigning Storyteller
The Houston MC on 'Brandon Banks,' being a Crip, and rapping honestly about family
I have to constantly remind myself that Maxo Kream is a little less than two years older than me. Besides the black-and-green Supreme jersey, everything about the 29-year-old rapper emanates an OG persona. When he comes downstairs to a Flatiron District hotel lobby, he gives the type of hard handshake that makes you aware you’re made of bones, and he greets me with a few words in his gruff Houston accent. Like many other around-the-way OGs, once Maxo gets rolling with the conversation’s momentum, the stories come easily.
Less than half an hour passes as he recalls scenes from his life — the preteen Maxo watching his father get arrested for fraud, his cousin taking a 20-minute drive with his boat to help Maxo’s mother in Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath, the hard living of gangbanging in Houston’s streets — with a physical attention to detail. Maxo slips in his lyrics during his anecdotes not to simply prove that he lives what he raps; they pop up too seamlessly for that. This is simply his ethos. Realness is in Maxo Kream’s DNA just as autobiography is hardwired into his music.
While his peers’ material either addresses their pasts, tries on pop structures, or blends multi-regional influences, Maxo’s songs combine all three with startlingly frequent success. After being one of the underground’s most consistently thrilling acts since 2015’s #Maxo187, Kream dropped his jarring and sincere opus, Punken, last year. The Houstonian’s next stop is Brandon Banks, which takes its title from one of his father’s aliases.
The new project is his first on a major label, but the dense influences and storytelling focus that put him in Scarface and UGK’s lineage remains unvarnished. Brandon Banks’ opening track, “Meet Again,” starts off with a Roddy Ricch reference before rolling into a letter to his loved ones in prison, like a more melodic version of Nas’ “One Love.” There are a few stories on the album that could be sources of trauma, just like the ones he tells as white families with travel suitcases stroll by. But he recounts them as if they were proof of an honorable pedigree: His platinum-colored grills never hide behind his wild beard.
STEREOGUM: Your dad pops up a lot through your catalog. Why’d you decide to make him a significant figure?
MAXO KREAM: On my first tape, Retro Card, I had a song called “Abortions”: “It started in 2001, cops ran in the house and they all had guns.” That story right there stuck to a lot of people. It was basically about the first time I’ve been in a raid. From that time, I’ve been in house raids the rest of my life. The story was just so crazy; I didn’t know what my dad was doing or what he had going on. I thought he had the ambulance coming, then the police ran in the house. Imagine being a kid, 11 years old. I was bad, but for the most part, straight-edged because my father’s Nigerian, you feel me? You see something like that and it just fucks up your whole head. Not only that: [Going from] having money to not having shit as a kid fucks you up.
STEREOGUM: Was it difficult to reconcile with the fact that this authoritative figure got arrested?
MAXO KREAM: It was, but at the same time I was just a kid. By the time I got grown, I done had my own run-ins and been through shit. I get it: He was trying to provide for his family.
STEREOGUM: Does being on RCA now give you more access for artist collabs?
MAXO KREAM: Yeah, but it was like that before the deal. All the rappers I’m fucking with right now, I knew before I got the deal. They respected me. It really be off the music. I don’t do shit for clout. I don’t be on Akademiks everyday or on shit like Shade Room.
STEREOGUM: I ask because I remember you did an interview where you pointed out that rappers pretend. Would you work with that sort of rapper?
MAXO KREAM: Yeah, because if I fuck with your music, I fuck with your music. If they black, I’mma fuck with them. I don’t give a fuck about that shit. I’m not gonna stop any young black man on the road to get their money. He might be a bitch nigga, but he might be taking care of his momma and family. That’s his income; I’m not gonna fuck that up. This is not the streets, it’s the industry. You gotta separate them two quick. If not, you gon’ crash.
STEREOGUM: Did Bushwick Bill’s death affect you?
MAXO KREAM: R.I.P., man. Hell yeah, I’m cool with his son YK [Yung Knxw] — that’s one of the legends. He’s from New York though, huh?
STEREOGUM: Yeah. [He moved from Kingston, Jamaica to Brooklyn in his youth before settling in Houston.]
MAXO KREAM: I feel like you don’t have to be from Houston to be part of our legacy, because we’re a real city — a trill city. I know New York be big on, “You ain’t from here. Ah ah ah.” We be on that shit too, but real recognize real. We’re not gonna slander you on that shit; we’re gonna embrace you just like Bun B and Pimp C. He means something to New York because that’s where hip-hop started, but he means a lot to Houston. Regardless of where he’s from, [Bushwick Bill] had an impact on the city.
STEREOGUM: ScHoolboy Q is on the album. With him also being a Crip, do y’all trade stories?
MAXO KREAM: Hell yeah, I fuck with ScHoolboy. We’re from the same set, 52 Hoover Gangster Crip. But at the same time, I fuck with him as a man and he fucks with me as a man, because me and ScHoolboy don’t be out on the block gangbanging. There might be homies and cuz coming out with finger signs or something, but we be chilling. I ain’t gonna say I’m escaping the gang life, but I’m escaping the streets for sure. The streets don’t love nobody.
STEREOGUM: How does the definition of being a Crip change as you leave the streets?
MAXO KREAM: Shit, it’s just the way you do it. You can never stop crippin’. Look at Snoop Dogg. He’s not in the streets; that’s an ideal career. Nigga on TV shows, Martha Stewart, cooking … beat a murder. He’s still a Crip, but he’s not in the streets. Crippin’ is a lifestyle: It’s not on you, it’s in you.
It’s one thing to get influenced by the homies in the streets; it’s another thing to get influenced by the homies in the industry. I’m influenced by ScHoolboy Q in the industry. I’m influenced by Snoop Dogg in the industry. Nipsey Hussle is a Rollin 60’s Crip — that’s our archenemies. I’m influenced by Nipsey Hussle, because I know where he’s come from. I know how it is when they’re banging on us and we’re banging on them. To see him where he at and what he’s pushing, for positivity… It’s sad because Nipsey Hussle died doing exactly what Crip means: Community Revolution In Progress. How many real Crips really doing that?
STEREOGUM: Would you say that’s the main misconception about being a Crip?
MAXO KREAM: Hell yeah. Plus [people] just know about the Crips vs. Bloods. Shoutouts to Bloods, but we got it harder. Anybody could come with a red flag and claim Blood. It’s not like that with crippin’. I don’t care what set you’re in. It’s like a brotherhood. It’s like being a Boy Scout, I guess.
STEREOGUM: You said you were afraid of your father at one point.
MAXO KREAM: Fuckin’ right.
STEREOGUM: At what point did you start seeing him as a human being? I assume you have to do that to make this album.
MAXO KREAM: I was afraid of my dad until the day they kicked in the door and seen pistols on my mama and baby sister on the floor. In that little time, from 12 to 13, I went from a boy to a man. I went from little league Chuck-E-Cheese, to kicking doors, robbing niggas, serving fiends. By the time he came back, I’m like 14 — I’m full-fledged in the streets. He came in with that same [authoritative attitude], trying to scream-talk. I’m the man of the house, so I’ve been providing. I’ve been fighting, in shootouts, all that. Back in the day, he would scream like, “Shut up.” I’d get scared and cry. Now if he tried that shit, I’d buss him in his fucking face.
I love him, though — I don’t want nobody to think I’m disrespectful to my dad or nothing like that. I’m him. He gotta respect it. He really see it like, “Damn, this is my son.” That’s my nigga now. Since I still got him in my life, I’mma show him off. A lot of people don’t have their fathers. I ain’t gonna say what rapper, but I heard him say his dad wasn’t in his life. His dad was in his life. The way it’s projected is not having a dad is cool — like being from the hood is cool and shit. I’m trying to show people y’all trippin’. I moved out the hood to the suburbs. Best part of my life: That’s why I’m rocking Supreme right now, you feel me? And I’m still a solid nigga. It’s not where you from, it’s where you at.
STEREOGUM: How does your family react to seeing their stories on your records?
MAXO KREAM: At first when I started putting my dad inside my music, he was like [puts on Nigerian accent], “Why the fuck are you doing this to me? Telling my business.” I’m like, look bro, I’m being real. A lot of niggas lying about their shit, lying about their dads, and it ain’t real. I do authentic. I could rap any line to my parents and they could tell you what day, this and that. Bringing him aboard just shows how authentic it is. I feel like right now, shit is not authentic no more. Kids go in the studio, make a song in 15 minutes. You give them a 12-hour session and they got a tape. A 12-hour session won’t get half a song done sometimes, because I really sit down and marinate on it. Cook it up like gumbo.
STEREOGUM: Did Nas’ “One Love” inspire “Meet Again”?
MAXO KREAM: Definitely. Nas is one of my favorite rappers. Nas, Hov, Cassidy, Papoose, Kendrick. Hell yeah it was inspired by “One Love.”
STEREOGUM: A lot of people don’t mention Papoose.
MAXO KREAM: Yeah, Papoose crazy. That man rhymed from A to Z. I like “Take It To The Guns.” I like Papoose — he’s a lyrical legend. Who else…Reed Dollaz is cool. Early Meek Mill. I fuck with street corner, dirty braids Meek Mill.
STEREOGUM: What should we get from Brandon Banks?
MAXO KREAM: Shit, just another chapter into my life. I want people to walk with me, grow with me. I went from being Trigger Maxo to what I’m talking about now. Not preaching but reflecting on my life, as I should. I’m not 21 no more. I was 21 years old when I was robbing, kicking doors, and with a million guns in the video. That chapter closed. That book over with. It’s a new Maxo.
I’m 29 but sometimes my brain be like an 18-year-old. And I’m comfortable and can accept that because I know what I need to work on. I’m comfortable with growing as a man. I got responsibilities to my family, but I ain’t got kids or nothing like that. I’m a rapper. I don’t want to fuck that up either. I could snap into Trigger Maxo quick and fuck all that shit up, which is ignorant, so I’m not doing that. I’m trying to learn, you feel me?
Brandon Banks is out 7/19 via via Big Persona/88 Classic/RCA Records. Pre-order it here.