The hip-hop masses know Emakwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr. as Maxo Kream. Maxo’s father, Emakwanem Ogugua Biosah Sr., also adopted a second name to run his business: Brandon Banks. In tandem, the father and son adorn the cover of Maxo’s most recent release and RCA debut, Brandon Banks. With eyes darkened by the gravity of life on the margins and with beards stretched over time, the pair are stitched together with tape and held in repose long enough for their physical similarities to yield an interwoven narrative.
If Brandon Banks is supposed to be an album crafted in the memory of Maxo’s dad, the effects of his father’s spirit are decidedly diverse—Maxo’s wit is at its sharpest; his humor succeeds; his bouncy, melodic trap flow and barreling menace thrive; and his stories of personal tragedy mix indistinguishably with the looser moments of joy.
The memory of Maxo’s father is delivered through snippets on Brandon Banks as it was on the Houston native’s 2018 breakout album, Punken. But here, Maxo wields his world-generating specificity—which he used to conjure roaches on Punken—with more focus, attaching the snippets to Houston landmarks to create an intergenerational version of the city. The senior Biosah chastises his son for his gang attire on “Bissonnet” and tries to scare him straight at the end of “Spice Ln.” Maxo is trading the lyrical and visual self-portraiture of Punken for a collage of father and son—a collage that links his present with his father’s past. That their faces are tethered together so tenuously on the cover is an act of miraculous normalcy.
When we look at our role models with clarity, it melts their image as protector-provider. Shifting ground churns our parents from perfect to human. On “Dairy Ashford Bastard,” Maxo paints his father as an absent, abusive cheater, who retained a sense of duty never yielding. He raps, “disrespecting mama crib, I lost respect the day you beat her,” and illustrating his tension later continues, “I’m glad that you’re my dad, and I’m thankful for your ass.”
Hindsight is powerful because the combination of pain and joy is inseparable. Written into Maxo’s relationship with his father is an inherent mistrust in watching this man bounce in and out of prison, scamming and hustling, abusing his mother and fighting with him. Brandon Banks is disarming not because of the weight of these stories, but because of the loving relationship that they bore.
To open “Bissonet,” Maxo raps, “I have my pops inside my life, but right now that shit don’t matter / He’d been locked up most my life, so I feel just like a bastard.” To close his verse on “Dairy Ashford Bastard,” he reflects, “I had some questions for my pops, the streets gave me the answers / The block became my pops, and I’m a Dairy Ashford bastard.” Somehow, the armament of hindsight allows Maxo to shrug off and assimilate these moments of solitude and separation—deep-rooted feelings of abandonment—into his life. As Maxo told DJBooth earlier this month, his acceptance of his father as flawed and vital is the recognition, “I wouldn’t be nothing without my family.”
This same recognition (overcoming the primacy of family) led multi-hyphenate comedian Jerrod Carmichael home to Winston-Salem, North Carolina for his recent HBO specials, “Home Videos” and “Sermon on the Mount.” After arriving home, Carmichael recreates his neighborhood with an intimate reverence. The lighting is dialed to caress the Black women and children that frequent the screen. The audio is crisp enough to capture the nuance hiding in the Southern drawl of their voices. The conversations are navigated over drinks in the kitchen or chairs on the porch.
Like with Brandon Banks, the emotional fulcrum of the two mini-docs is Carmichael’s father and his misgivings—cheating, lying, and the realization he has another family. And yet, the two mini-docs focus much of their time on Jerrod’s mother Cynthia—a point of departure from Brandon Banks where Maxo mostly erases the perspective of his mother.
In “Home Videos,” Carmichael goads his mother into talking about her decision to ultimately forgive her husband, and her willingness to accept his dishonesty and move on from it in a continued union. In “Sermon on the Mount,” she listens as a preacher applauds her forgiveness. In another scene, she sits idly by as this same preacher goes to war with her daughter over their differing perspectives of that crucial decision.
Akin to Maxo Kream’s usage of recordings of his father in Brandon Banks, Carmichael sits down with his father in a scene of discomforting interrogation and engages in an open, honest conversation. At one point, the senior Carmichael, with a hint of regret and relinquishment, utters, “I can’t change the past because it’s already happened.” His son replies, “Despite anything that you’ve done, I’ve never stopped loving you...in fact, I think I’ve learned a lot through knowing things.”
Accepting his father’s mistakes is simply part of his life. Carmichael, in part, recognizes his only choice was to navigate the jarring incongruity of his father’s image and chose to love.
While writing this article over the past week, I’ve thought a lot about how my father has proven himself equal parts mystical and imperfect; the ways he’s shown himself a dutiful provider whose sacrifices cannot be measured and an earnest, albeit periodically distant, father. Every time I see him after an extended period away, however, there’s always love. There’s also pride, and the duty to live up to what he’s left behind for our family.
In closing “Dairy Ashford Bastard,” Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Sr. captures Maxo’s attention and says, “Let me start by saying that I’m proud of you, man,” before closing with a simple: “I love you son.” There’s strength in the father-son relationship, especially after a child navigates the natural disillusionment that comes with age. On Brandon Banks, Maxo Kream recounts the steps he had to walk to overcome this disillusionment. In completing this process, he’s able to reconcile his father’s complexity as a part of his own story.