When all’s said and done, Maxo Kream will go down as one of Houston’s best rappers. The man born Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah, Jr. has spent his brief career telling gripping street tales over bombastic production that makes his life as a Crip feel cinematic and pulpy to the touch.
On 2018’s Punken, one of the best records of that year, Maxo delivered a cutting trap autobiography, carrying with it the sting of reality tempered by his jeering charisma. His menace makes him more than a Houston darling; it makes him a cataclysmic force, as he spares nary a detail in his writing. With Maxo Kream, you come for the hustle and hilarity, and you stay for his enduring hunger. Maxo’s conviction is undefeated; we’re hanging on his every syllable.
As with all rising artists hitting their stride, thankfully, Maxo Kream is no longer hungry in the literal sense. With the release of his major label debut, Brandon Banks, Maxo turns his attention from surviving in the streets to understanding that his star is on an impressive upward trajectory. The album is as indebted to family as it is to the environment he has worked away from, to the point of showcasing how Maxo Kream is ready to bust down the doors of the rap game.
“I wouldn’t be nothing without my family,” Maxo tells me over the phone. “You feel me? Family means everything to me. All my stories, they involve my family, ‘cause they true stories. I like to tie them into it. That’s how we came up with the tape, you know? This is a new chapter; the story of my dad. If you can understand him, you can understand me.”
On Brandon Banks, there is success and there is guilt. There is acclaim, and there is the harsh reality of poverty, with Maxo caught in the middle of two worlds he so effortlessly bridges with his music. As a man—nevermind as a rapper—Maxo Kream is measured and thoughtful, delivering every word with his chest. Throughout our interview, Maxo’s loyalty and ferocity shine through in the same turn.
“I don’t do affidavit rap,” he says with his gruff vocal tone. Every story Maxo spits might be true and might be from the heart, but you won’t catch him snitching. “I ain’t no cop… everything I say you can look up on public records.”
The gravity of this statement is not lost on me, with an artist like Drakeo the Ruler currently facing jail time with his lyrics being used against him. Maxo’s meticulous attention to detail—the precise details—is just as much of an indictment of a broken justice system as it is a look at his code of ethics.
With the gravitas of his writing and the weight of Houston on his broad shoulders, Maxo manages to keep things light. At the start of our interview, the man is ordering ribs. His mood is sunny, and his aura is relaxed. He’s chilling, and when you dive into tracks like “Murda Blocc” and “Drizzy Draco” off Brandon Banks, you realize Maxo’s cooling is a well-earned reprieve. His career is a well-earned reprieve from street life.
“I worked for that,” Maxo explains of making it out. He does what he can for his people still hustling, but across the board, his homies applaud him for getting away from street life. Aside from giving him success and security, it’s also given Maxo’s music a clear creative arc.
“Even before the last album [Punken] it was more like trigger Maxo, bang bang, shoot ‘em up. I ain’t really all that. I’m growing; the more I rap, the more I’m out the streets. Now, I’m giving you a reflection. At first, it was like, ‘This is what I used to do,’ and now it’s like, ‘Because I did that back in the day…,’ showing the cause and effect. I don’t glamorize it; I give you the reality.”
Maxo thrives in reality. Regardless of if he’s rapping about his next target on “3 AM” or talking about the perils of street life and drug addiction from a woman’s perspective on “Brenda,” you never get the sense that Maxo deals in persona. He delivers every word with blunt force. Maxo stands Herculean above his circumstances, but he does not preach from an ivory tower. His “cause and effect” is that of a good ethnographer’s collection of first-hand accounts. There is no glamour, but more importantly, there is no gruesome detail for the sake of shock value.
Perhaps this is why—along with Megan Thee Stallion and, of course, Travis Scott—Houston is having a major moment in the mainstream hip-hop conversation. Megan and Travis deal in the same dedication to reality as Maxo; their stories are just different. While Megan preaches the realities of being a real Hot Girl and Travis makes larger than life art-trap, Maxo loads us with some of the purest Houston raps.
“Shit, it’s kind of like a breath of fresh air,” Maxo beams in response to his city’s rising notoriety. “It’s kind of like, ‘bout time they starting to see us. ‘Cause we always been on the map, we don’t fall off, but the wave that Houston has now is crazy.”
Even with his rising fame, as on Brandon Banks closer, “Still,” Maxo Kream remains wholly himself. As I said before, he’s chilling. He’s ordering ribs. It’s a good day. Celebrity does not cloud his judgment, and it takes minimal effort for him to maintain a good head about himself.
“That’s easy; that’s the easiest part,” Maxo concludes. “All that I do is be me.”
Listen to Maxo Kream on Audiomack.