The thrill of Maxo Kream’s artistry lies in how the Houston, Texas native represents the candid reality of trap music. He makes music inspired by a tumultuous lifestyle without twisting realism or glorifying danger. Maxo is a modern artist but carries the same enduring qualities of early Southern trap legends like UGK, 8Ball & MJG, T.I., and more.
With Punken, Maxo's acclaimed 2018 debut album, the 29-year-old rapper crystallized an identity as an unfaltering truthteller. By mixing autobiographical recollection with sharp lyricism, the 14-song offering increased the glow of his spotlight. Now, after signing a one-and-a-half million dollar record deal with RCA, Maxo Kream returns with his sophomore album, Brandon Banks.
How will Maxo's major label home affect one of hip-hop’s most raw rappers? Is it possible to become a rap superstar and still keep it real? I’m looking forward to hearing how Brandon Banks reintroduces Maxo Kream. Time to press play.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “Meet Again”
Surprisingly bright. Kream is shouting out friends he wants to be freed from prison. Wholesome beginning. “I rather be carried by six before I’m judged by 12.” I love the way his voice came in. Tone-wise, Maxo reminds me of Killer Mike; both artists are gifted lyricists with harsh reality raps and heavy voices. Great storytelling. I don’t know the people he’s talking about, but I’m engaged. This record is world-building. The production has some great textures. Maxo sounds great. “I miss those days when we were mobbing.” Man, his life. Whoa. Whoa. The source material is getting heavy; this is real-life rap. “I think my bro addicted.” Sheesh. This introduction is my-life-is-changing-but-my-life-hasn’t-changed rap. Maxo could’ve made the entire album out of all the things he's saying in this five-minute opener. What a hell of a way to kick things off. Soulful close.
A man’s voice. I don’t know who it is. It sounds like an older gentleman. Maxo is talking about his father. The production is slow. Oh man, these drums! A nice uppercut. My glass jaw just shattered. Yes! I love the vividness to his lyricism; you can see every word. “The city of double cuppers.” Maxo is the rap game Ernest Hemingway. “Serving grannies at my granny’s.” I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard a hook yet. I love the free-flowing narrative. So many stories tucked into these bars.
This guitar-driven production is something I would expect on a Gunna album. Maxo’s flow is smoother than Aang's waterbending. Everything works. Maxo doesn’t sound like anyone else despite the contemporary setting. A third verse? Always a nice surprise when a song continues after the second. Maxo has to have one of the best rap voices from this generation. It keeps every word engaging. Side note: Saying “I might die in my sleep” on the hook of a song shows how unflinchingly morbid rap has gotten.
4. “The Relays” ft. Travis Scott
Aye! This beat! It’s a fun-house. I can see kids doing backflips with reckless abandon to this production. Travis doing ad-libs is a playful touch. Did Travis make this beat? Nah, those aren’t his drums. I like this a lot, though. Not in love with the hook, but everything else is good. That sound Travis is making on the hook is hilariously strange. Man! Travis just arrived sounding like he hasn’t slept in 10 days. Zombie Scott. There’s a cool sway to his vocals. He’s in a nice pocket. Houston got a nice one. “Real girls get down on the flo’.” The chopped-and-screwed outro is the cherry on top.
5. “8 Figures”
Reverse vocals. Slow build-up. Interesting. The drums didn’t drop when Maxo popped up. “You ain’t getting money until you made eight figures,” yep! This is it. “Everybody wants a bag, nobody wanna work for it.” He sounds very matter-of-fact. A lot of references to his dad. I wonder if his recent financial gains influenced this record? So, so good. Oh, that beat switch!? CRAZY. The build-up was perfect. Easily my current favorite. Maxo sounds like money. That millionaire vocal flex. “Fuck up a check, what else you expect?” hahaha. Can’t miss what you never had. Great song.
6. “She Live” ft. Megan Thee Stallion
This beat is dirty. So much swing. I love it. Megan is incredible. The personality, the charisma, the swagger. She has so much presence. She takes over whatever song she’s on. Great collaboration. Maxo and Megan naturally complement one another. Neither one is forcing harmony. The song fits both of their styles, and it’s infectious. If they don’t have a back-n-forth, Jadakiss and Styles P moment it’s a missed opportunity. Megan is back. The bounce to her voice is just incredible. The flow switch. That Pimp C energy surrounds her; the kind of energy that could conquer the world. Keeper. Sadly, no back-n-forth.
7. “Drizzy Draco”
“Drizzy Draco” is a great song title. Soulja Boy is somewhere fuming he didn’t come up with it first. Yep, this beat is rocking. These drums are alive. Man, Maxo can rap over any beat, and his voice will sound at home. No matter the production style, he finds his pocket. Was that a Lizzie McGuire reference? Hahaha. “I ain’t a fucking rapper, I’m a fucking grave digger.” I believe him. Ha, the Drake bar. Line after line. He’s in full rapper flex here. “I’m Frank Lucas in a Chinchilla.” Let’s go! Keeper. Big keeper. “I’ll get you killed for less than three stacks” is a great OutKast reference.
8. “3Am” ft. ScHoolboy Q
I’m enjoying the pacing of the album. It hasn’t slowed down a bit. I’m very engaged. This build-up sounds like sinister peer pressure. Maxo is about to rob someone, and I’m afraid it’s me. Yeah, this is nasty! This record is creating a good kid, m.A.A.d city kind of atmosphere. Sonically, “3 A.M.” is dense and unforgiving. What’s that in the background? A sample? And his delivery! Maxo is in his bag. Love the imagery. Q! Oh! Yes! Q IS ALIVE. I wanted this version of Q on CrasH Talk. Just listen to his voice; it emits so much character. And his flows! Ah, so good. One of my favorites.
9. “Spice Ln.”
Scorcher after scorcher. Zaytoven drop. The keys are dancing. Maxo is water-walking. There’s a weight to Maxo’s music that lets us know this isn’t a game. He means every word. How he describes the world is too detailed to be made up. The second verse gives me Gucci flashbacks. “Niggas know Maxo not for play play.” Man, the guns are ringing off. I feel like I'm watching a movie. These are the kind of lyrics a lawyer would bring up in court. Too real.
10. “Murda Blocc” ft. A$AP Ferg
A capella Maxo. The beat came in with a nasty knock. “What’s cracking bitch?” Hahaha. This man sounds as murderous as the lyrics suggest. “We lurking on his block while he lurking on my Twitter,” man, what? Nah, he just told homie to dig up his dead man. Maxo Kream sounds like a menace to society. Ferg came out of nowhere. Great energy. It’s good to hear Ferg on an album. He can’t match Maxo’s fierce aura, but I’m not mad at his addition. Ha, the Making the Band bar is timely now. Keeper. So many great records.
11. “Pray 2 the Dope”
"Pray to the Dope” is a wild song title. DA Got That Dope delivered some bangers! Hard-hitting drums always follow his tag. The storytelling is so honest. He is down bad. Maxo sounds like the kind of guy who wants to make it rich. No matter what happens, his reaction is to get back on the block. “Pray to the Dope” is a drug dealer’s prayer; what it sounds like when you put your faith in the work. The work will get you out the dark days. Keeper.
The album hasn’t missed a step yet. No moment has interrupted the momentum. Nice loop. He’s talking about a woman. Giving us all the details of her story. The beat is now rocking. An interesting twist to “Brenda’s Got A Baby.” I like this a lot. Everyone in Maxo’s world ends up dabbling in drugs. Either a seller or a user. Oh, she had a son. But she kept the baby. Poor Brenda. Oh no, oh no. This story took a twist.
13. “Brothers” ft. KCG Josh
Damn. That was a story. The drum swing and his flow are doing a perfect tango. This is good. Family is another big subject in Maxo’s music. He gives us a lot to follow. “How your patna go broke and you eating?” A word. “We up the score until it’s even.” Another word. Josh! This is dope. I like this contrast. I imagine it must be very cool to have a song with your brother on his major label debut. Gotta love family. Keeper. Ha, this skit at the end.
14. “Dairy Ashford Bastard”
Soulful keys. I like where this is going. He’s telling so much truth about his family. This is the real “Family Business.” A record about his father? Oh, wow. Candid. There’s a level of self-awareness to Maxo’s music that makes him a great storyteller. He doesn’t skip a beat, doesn’t miss a detail. So that’s his dad’s voice. I like him as a loose narrator. Is his name Brandon Banks? [Editor’s Note: Brandon Banks is his father’s alias].
Ha. Is that his Dad talking shit? I’m with it. ChaseTheMoney beat. Filthy. Oh yeah, Maxo is killing it. He’s a juggernaut. Fredo reference. Love it. His flow is so fluid. “Still got a chopper too big to conceal.” Drug dealer music. One of my favorites. Where is Maxo Kream’s Pusha-T verse!? Dirty trap music. He mentioned the RCA deal.
Final (first listen) thoughts on Maxo Kream’s Brandon Banks:
Maxo Kream has maximized his gift for storytelling to create a unique world based on memories and experiences. Maxo crafted Brandon Banks as a body of work that is meant to be heard in its entirety. These songs aren't for your playlist; this is an album in every sense of the word. One of the best rap projects that 2019 has offered.
Listening to a rapper actual rap the entirety of a 15-song album without a single stumble is an incredible feat. Credit to Kream for refusing to stifle Brandon Banks with viral ambitions or crossover attempts. He is an engaging and lyrical storyteller who uses each song to continue the honest-to-God synergy that begins the album.
Brandon Banks moves to the beat of a different trap drum—a drum that creates a collective rhythm. The album improves upon all the creative strengths found on his debut, Punken. It’s a full step-up in terms of quality and execution.
On “Still,” the album’s outro, Maxo says, “Maxo isn’t going anywhere.” He’s right.
By Yoh, aka Drizzy Yohco, aka @Yoh31