Maxo Kream is busy. He has a new album, a deal with the major label, a hit single with Megan Thee Stallion, and a press junket in NYC. And when Maxo hops on a call to share his thoughts on all the change, he’s a little preoccupied.
He’s at a store, presumably spending some of that newly minted cash on, in his own words, some “clothes and crystals.” It’s a shop that he calls, “Patron something,” which, after a cursory Google search, is probably the swanky Patron of the New, on Franklin, just south of Canal. But because Maxo is both extremely charming and electrically engaging, the moments between wardrobe changes expand into long digressions on the nature of family and the traits he inherited from his father.
Maxo Kream (government name Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah, Jr) was born in Houston in 1990 to a Nigerian father and an African American mother. You could learn this from a quick Wikipedia search, or you could accumulate these details over the course of the rapper’s four mixtapes and two LPs. Maxo is a teller of tales, focusing on family drama and the triumph of a street hustler turned gifted emcee.
Since 2012, Maxo has been sketching the story of his life, first gaining notable attention with Maxo 187 in 2015. His stock rose a bit the following year with The Persona Tape, but it wasn’t until the top of last year that his profile really grew on a national level, thanks to Punken, an album of catchy melodies and strikingly assured raps about growing up with roaches in his ashtrays and learning lessons from grannie.
Maxo Kream has channeled this energy into Brandon Banks, his first LP with RCA. The album takes Maxo’s father’s assumed name for its title, spitting this energy into a lifetime of trauma, triumph, and the in-betweens that serve as the narrative thrust. While Kream has made his name as a domestic stylist, his best work comes in the details. It’s the little moments that stand out, the stories that dissolve into fragments of family fights and reconciliations, bonds broken and mended. But because this is a major label debut, Maxo comes attached with some heavy hitters. He more than holds his own.
ScHoolboy Q has a verse, as does the aforementioned queen of Hot Girl Summer. Travis Scott also rolls through for some bars, bringing Maxo back to his early days as an H-Town up-and-comer.
At 29, Maxo Kream doesn’t feel like a newcomer, but Brandon Banks establishes an origin story that is both a part of and completely isolated from his previous discography. It’s simply another story in Maxo’s life, an easily dismissed observation becoming fertile ground for ruminations on everything from father-son relationships to hustling on the corner as a teenager. Maxo Kream has been doing this for almost a decade, but with Brandon Banks, it’s clear he’s also just beginning to tell his story.
I imagine the run-up to Brandon Banks is different than anything you’ve experienced before. How has the process of releasing an album changed for you?
It’s pretty much the same for me. I’m just waiting to see what they do. They already got me working with J. Cole, you feel me?
When did you begin working on the new album?
I’ve been recording for around a year. But I didn’t get into the album for real until the last four or five months.
I wanted to make something for the radio. I feel like I did something with Megan that’s making some noise.
Did you have the themes of the record in your head before you hit the studio? Or did they emerge as you began recording?
Nah, I just start making songs. Once I get three or four good songs, I start piecing together a tape. I really start to piece it together once those first few good ones come.
Was there anything you wanted to do differently on this record that you’ve never done before?
Hell yeah. I wanted to make something for the radio. I feel like I did something with Megan that’s making some noise.
You focus most of your themes on family, populating your records with tales from your childhood. What made you decide to focus this one on your father and your relationship with him?
When people try to understand me, they try to figure out why I’m a certain way, why I say certain things. I do a lot of storytelling and a lot of those stories are about my dad. I wanted to just give a big story about my dad. Punken is the same chapter, but I’m just opening it up. It’s a bigger story.
Do you ever play Grand Theft Auto 5? Punken was story mode. I beat that, now I’m moving to online. Brandon Banks is online. It’s the same storyboard, the same universe, just a different angle.
Do you think you learned anything about your father and your relationship to him while working on this album?
Most definitely. I learned where I get my wittiness from. I get all my smarts, my business sense, and my hustle from my dad. I realized that while making this. Plus, it’s where I get my game with the ladies. [Laughs]. When I was with my dad just chillin’, he was so influential growing up. He was more of a homie to me.
[Maxo takes a break to try on some crystals. ‘I’m getting ready for my night at the 40-40 Club.’]
Do you think your storytelling is applicable to other young black kids growing up in America? Or are these stories specific to you and your family?
It’s important for kids who are in the situation I used to be in, who can relate to what I’ve been through, to hear the stories. Hopefully, they can find inspiration from it if they’re going down the wrong path. Hopefully they can get right. Like, if I’m able to do this, why can’t you? It’s a breath of fresh air. Get kids hoping.
Do you see yourself as a role model? Is that something you aspire to?
At first, I didn’t really see myself as one, but that’s kind of what happened with my career. Kids started looking up to me, they started coming to my concerts, and they started fucking with me. The responsibility came upon me, you know what I’m saying? I didn’t want to be a role model. Like, I was smoking weed, popping pills, sippin’ drank, trapping, and shit like that. Now that I’ve got a voice? Now that I have a platform? I have no choice, you feel me? It’s more of a responsibility than anything I choose.
Do you ever play Grand Theft Auto 5? Punken was story mode. I beat that, now I’m moving to online. Brandon Banks is online.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a 14-year-old version of yourself?
Shit, don’t be a follower. Don’t listen to these older n****s because they try to cash you out. They tell you to do a lot of shit they wouldn’t do themselves. That’s how it always works.
Have you had to tighten up your crew as you reach a new level of fame?
Oh, hell yeah. I was feelin’ that even before this. Even as my crew was growing before I was a rapper, a lot of these n****s were just carrying baggage. I don’t need nobody’s baggage. The real ones that stick through and ride with me? The loyal ones? They’ll be here fo’ sho’. They gonna show their loyalty and they’re gonna stick around regardless.
How do you see yourself fitting into the rap landscape? You came up before the SoundCloud era really popped off, but you’re also younger than rappers like Schoolboy, who appears on the new record.
I see myself in my own lane. I’m in the Maxo lane. I’m not doing now clout shit, and I’m not here for no hype. I feel like I’m gonna be around for years to come. A lot of people I started rhyming with aren’t around no more and a lot of the dudes rhyming now won’t be doing it or won’t be around. Like, RIP Nip, you know what I’m saying? It’s a marathon not a race. I wanna be doing this ten years from now.
Are you trying to build an empire outside of rap like Nipsey?
Most definitely. Damn right. I want to show folks that I’m a black mogul. I wanna own stores. I wanna do movies. Rapping is dope, but once you get in the biz, the sky is the limit. You gotta work your moves.
Are you still living in Houston?
Nah, I’m in LA these days. I still got my swag from Houston, though.
How does being from Houston shape your rap identity?
Man, it’s where I’m from. Everything that happens with this music is Maxo. It’s all me. It’s how I was raised and where I lived. It’s all Houston.
What’s one thing you hope someone listening to Brandon Banks takes away from it?
Shit, just knowing Maxo better. I just want people to know my life better: more details, more stories about my family, more about me. I want n****s to know I’m not no style clown. I’m not one of these lame ass rappers out here lying. I’m an old school fool. Don’t make me show my age. Period.
You recently talked about rappers you fucked with and how the streets are different from the industry. How does that influence your relationships in the rap game?
I’m a loyal person. It’s in my blood. I can’t fake fuck with you. If you fuck with me, you fuck with me. I might fuck with your music, but might not fuck with you. Or, I might fuck with you and not your music.
Are you able to be honest with people about that?
I ain’t tryna hurt nobody’s feelings. I’ll be like, “That’s cool, that’s cool.” I’ll try to drift away from the music. I don’t really fuck with too many of these n****s anyways. I really fuck with gangs. I fuck with squads.
Do you view this album as a new beginning or a continuation of what started with Maxo 187 through Punken?
I look at it as both. Everybody’s that been rocking with me, this is just a continuation. But it’s also a new beginning. It’s an opportunity to go grab new fans. There are people that don’t know about Maxo, the mainstream crowd.
Do you want this record to attract a ton of new fans? Is that the goal?
If it do, it do. If it don’t, it don’t. I don’t think about none of that. As long as the people that fuck with me keep fucking with me, I’m happy.