For some artists, putting on for their city is about following a rubric, and pleasing as many people as possible. For Maxo Kream, it’s about being himself and letting that speak for what Houston represents. He gives a glimpse of where he’s at right now on his new single “Local Joker,” a characteristically introspective song where the cult hero explores the difficult balancing act of leveraging his notoriety while also being protective of it.
Maxo is putting on for Houston to the fullest, but he reminds us, “Crib in Cali, I’m bicoastal.” He rhymes about going back to the block to reminisce, but also seems nonplussed with running into “them same old niggas on the same old shit.” That can be even more frustrating when it’s people who are unwilling to grow, and he reflects, “I could lead you to the water but can’t pedal your canoe.”
He says he learned to be more selfish about his career after the tragic death of his brother Money Madu, who was fatally shot in Woodland Hills, California last March. At the time, he noted that “no words or caption can explain what I’m goin through,” and now he tells me over the phone that reflecting on the loss helped him grow “mentally.”
That growth will also be evident on his next album, which he says is “coming soon.” He’s relatively mum on details, but hints that the project will be a glimpse at where he’s at in life now. “Over time, I grew more as a person,” he explains. “Each album, I grow.”
Catching up with Maxo shortly after the release of “Local Joker,” we also spoke about what putting on for Houston means to him, how COVID affected his creative process, and how his father dealt with the newfound fame of being a heavy presence on Maxo’s last album, 2019’s Brandon Banks.
You released your new song “Local Joker” on Friday. How do you feel about the reception to the track?
It was cool, it was picking up. People are gravitating to it. I feel like we’re just adding fuel to the fire to what I’m about to let loose.
Parts of the song feel like a celebration of Houston. When people talk about representing a city, what does that idea look like for you with Houston?
What it’s really like representing and putting on for the city is me going out, going harder, and keep being Maxo. I’m a representation of the city. I feel like when I’m doing me—that’s my best foot forward. I got the city on my back. We’re rocking.
Houston has such a great rap history. How does your place in that lineage factor into the moves you make?
To be honest, I look at it, like, “Shit, it’s my turn.” Everybody else carried the torch, and pretty soon I’m going to have to pass it. I’m just trying to take it as far as I can go, because at the end of the day, it’s a collective. It’s not just “What Maxo did,” it’s what we’re all going to do. It’s bigger than me.
When you say passing the torch, what does that look like for you?
It’s a collection of everything. With the label, working with artists, and just representing. There are so many different artists in Houston that carry the torch in their own way. There’s more than one torch. Eventually, it’s going to keep changing—we’re diverse. I be hating when I do interviews, and they always bring up Chopped & Screwed. They always bring that shit up. That’s from 30 years ago. Come on.
It’s important for everybody to be an individual and carry the torch in their own individual way. Diversify Houston; don’t put us in a box. Everybody steals from us and takes our shit. Don’t put us in a box. It’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than just purple syrup. Now, don’t get us wrong, we praise that and hold that at the most high. But at the same time, it’s bigger than that. You gotta put respect on Houston.
“I grew stronger mentally. It’s a mental thing. Having a death in the quarantine, it takes a strong person to come out of this shit with an album ready to go. Boots laced up.”
You reference Houston in the song, but you’ve still grown and expanded. Did you ever feel anxiety about expanding outside the city? Whether that was losing sight of the Houston influence in your music or how you’d be perceived?
I ain’t gonna lie to you, boss. I’m a street nigga. I never gave a fuck about what a nigga thought or perceived. I never really cared about that. I just always thought about getting this money for my family and putting on for my niggas. Like, when I signed my deal, I was fighting a RICO case. You could look this shit up, like, for real. I wasn’t even signing no deal. I’ve been having my way. A lot of niggas, they start rapping, get cool, get popular, go find a bitch because they ain’t never had bitches—they’ve never been live. I’ve always been that nigga. Like, not even on some cocky shit, I’m talking about my local respect before I was global and poppin’. I’ve always been that nigga, so I never cared. Anything that I did was cool. I always tended to part my own way. I never gave a fuck about how nobody did it or how people were doing it. I was moving on my time. It was more like waiting on the opportunity, so I could put it in these folks’ faces, because I knew that when I’d put it in their faces, they’d fuck with it. It was a new breath of fresh air.
Last August, you were one of the artists who came out supporting Megan Thee Stallion. Did she reach out to you after that?
Nah, I didn’t hear from Megan after that. She had liked the picture, but I ain’t hear from Megan after that. Even with that, that was just like something happening with my partners. I fuck with Megan like that, so that is what that is. I wasn’t even speaking on her situation, I was speaking on my situation. I was just riding with her. I don’t know that situation, I don’t know the status of their case. I don’t know what’s going on with that. That is none of Maxo’s business. I was just speaking on the shit with the interactions I had with ’ole buddy boy.
What are the biggest life lessons you’ve learned over the past two years since releasing your project?
Just making sure it’s the right project, but then don’t take too long. You don’t know when something like COVID is going to break out or what. Over time, I grew more as a person. Each album, I grow. Y’all watched me from “Trigga [Maxo]”-Maxo to “Meet Again”-Maxo. That’s a big difference. I’m always going to keep progressing and growing with my fans. Fans want to see you progress. I also got a more emotional bond with my fans. I tell stories about my life, so I bring my fans into my life and they feel like they know me. And even if they don’t feel like they know me, they can definitely relate.
What ways specifically do you feel like you’ve grown the most?
You referenced how personal a lot of your music is, and I saw you dedicated a song to your brother who passed last year. What has the grieving process been like for you as a person, and how has that affected your creativity?
It didn’t affect my creativity. You got to take everything day-to-day, bro. We’re all human, ain’t nobody invincible. We all got feelings. It’s just day-to-day. Even with that, I feel like with something that close, you never fully grieve. It’s just stages and levels. Certain outbursts, but at the same time, you just have to take it day-to-day. That’s why I said I grew stronger mentally. It’s a mental thing. Having a death in the quarantine, it takes a strong person to come out of this shit with an album ready to go. Boots laced up.
Last year, you went on Instagram and said, “I know for certain we never lose the people who we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought, and decision we make, and their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories.” How do you feel like your brother’s memory and legacy carries on through you and your life and career?
Shit, personified. Everything that I do is like me and him. That was my little bro, but everything that I would do, he would do. So that shit ain’t die. This rap shit, this Kream shit, he here. He here in spirit.
In “Local Joker,” you reference the idea of wanting to put people on and help them, but realizing that they may not be ready to receive the opportunity. How do you deal with that balance?
I cut that shit off. I got very selfish. I focus on myself because I know what I’m going to do. You can give niggas opportunities, and suddenly they can’t wait to shake your hand. Niggas can’t wait to work. It’s all about what they do with the opportunity, but I already cut that shit off. I ain’t going to lie to you, fuck this shit. You want to succeed, you have to be selfish. Everybody that’s with you day-to-day, in-and-out, that’s different. But man, fuck all that shit. People have different expectations. People got different motives for other shit. You just got to say fuck ‘em.
At what point did you realize that you just needed to be selfish about prioritizing your career?
When my brother died.
In the song, you have a refrain where you say, “Before I heard the word ‘romance,’ I heard the word hoe.” How does that affect the way you view women and relationships in your life?
It’s just like everything, man. You take it day-by-day. As you grow older, you learn that not every woman is a hoe, every hoe is not a woman, but we’re all men and women. Everybody has their flaws. I got to look at myself, too. To some women, they might not look at me as a man. They look at me as a nigga, and not nigga as in a racist term, but a “nigga.” Just like, you might be out with your homies and be like, “That bitch.” It’s all about the bond and relationship with somebody. Who’s to say that a pimp and hoes’ relationship isn’t love. That’s not for us to judge, that’s them. I was just giving a perspective of how I looked at it growing up. Those were my realities as a kid. That was my first introduction to relationships. As you grow older, you realize everything ain’t what it seems and everything ain’t the same. You have to travel.
How did you feel about the reception to Brandon Banks?
I fucked with it. It let me know people were fuckin’ with me. It was my most-streamed album ever. It’s all about progression.
How did your father feel about the album? What was his feedback?
He fucked with it. He wants me to do another one with him. [Laughs]. I’m like, “Aye, look man. Now you’re taking it too damn far. You’re going to have to drop your own tape.” He wants to be the damn superstar. I think he’s ready for a little reality TV show, Growing Up Papa Maxo.
All of your albums have been pretty personal. How deeply do you plan to explore your relationship with your brother and family and other loved ones in your next work?
It’s about the mood and the vibe. If the right beat comes on at the right time and I’m in the right feelings, we’re going to get the right song. I don’t really be premeditating none of that shit. It just comes out, but me being such a deep person, I feel like I always pick up where I left off. And not where I left off—it’s like the next chapter in the Maxo saga. It don’t be premeditated, but for some reason when I go into the studio, it happens. I feel like Brandon Banks coming after Punken allowed my fans to understand Punken more. So now, with this one, you’ll understand what’s going on from Brandon Banks, like where I left off. It’s kinda like Power [Starz series].
What was the recording process like with your latest work, especially with COVID? Did that hinder anything?
Nah, it made it smoother.
Just being locked in and focused on creating?
Hell yeah. There was nothing else to do.
At this point, what can you tell fans about your next project?
Sit back and wait, it’s coming soon.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
Album’s coming soon.