Born Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr., rapper Maxo Kream is a natural-born storyteller, weaving compelling tales of his troubled upbringing in Houston, Texas. Having now signed to Roc Nation for stellar second album ‘Brandon Banks’, though, the 29-year-old never let hardship hold him back. On that album, which was released in July, he explores his relationships with many influential figures in his life – his father, friends, black women he grew up around. There’s rawness and grit to the record, but, as we found when we called him up, he’s all smiles and upbeat charisma. Well, he’s clearly excited about embarking on a European tour next month…
When did you believe you could be a rapper?
“The first day I picked up a mic. In 2011, my cousin Lyndon – he was rapping, I wasn’t rapping; I was in the streets. So he was like, “Come to the studio!”, and I was like, “Hell nah.” But ever since he got me in the studio, I couldn’t leave.”
Is your cousin one of your musical influences? If not, who else has been?
“I wouldn’t say he’s an influence, but he definitely got me in the studio. Nas. Future, I’m not gon’ lie – I wasn’t really influenced by music. I was influenced by the streets; the legends; trapping. But I don’t trap no more – I’m straight rapping. I never looked up to no rappers, though. I got some favourite rappers, but I looked up to them n****s in the streets.”
How is ‘Brandon Banks’ different from your previous projects?
“I don’t feel like it’s different. I feel like ‘Punken’ [his 2018 debut studio album] was me talking about my family. This one is focused more on me and my father’s relationship. Its like Rush Hour 1, Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3. They’re just sequels. The process was a little different because it was all me. On [debut studio album] ‘Punken’, I sat down with my producers, but on this one it was 110% Maxo. You should do more because that’s how you get better. At first, I was depending on my producers; now I’m making it happen. The more dependent you are, your cheque cut in half.”
On the ‘Brandon Banks’ track ‘Brenda’, you talk about the difficulties that some black women face…
“The message for the song is the same as the one I got for my album. People always tryna glorify, ‘Oh, I don’t know my daddy’. I wanted to show them it’s cool to have a relationship with your father and break the cycle of African-American men not being fathers to their kids.
“That’s why [on ‘Brenda’] I bring up that it’s not only the dad at fault, but show you what the mother goes through too. It’s about a single mother and the dad ran off. We need to embrace that [struggle single black mothers go through] more. I’m basically telling a family story. If you look at my music as me talking about the streets, you can look at it that way – but that’s profiling and stereotyping. You might call a gangster a robber, [but] that’s my brother. It depends on how you look at it.”
Your life has changed drastically. How come you still rap mostly about the gang life you’ve left behind?
“That was half my life. I’ve got PTSD from that. Coming from where I’m from, that’s all we know. Everybody’s life not like that. I’m telling you my life. It’s not like I’m telling you some shit. I’m gonna tell you what I’ve been through and what I’ve seen. I’m pretty sure your life’s not like that. If you got on the mic and told your life story, it’d be something new to me.”
Have you attempted to change people’s views of the streets and your past?
“I’m not gon’ flip how anybody sees me. I don’t give a fuck. I can shed some light on what I’m doing, but you gon’ look at me how you look at me. I’m big black man with a beard. My whole life, I’ve been seen as, ‘That n****, that gangbanger, woo, woo, woo.’ I’ll go into a building and they think I’m a gangster. Really, I’m a rapper. That just comes with the territory. I got that my whole life, so I don’t give a fuck on how people feel about me.”
How do you feel about the Texan scene right now?
“Shit, it looks good! I ain’t disappointed. It’s a really good spot. Splurge [who toured with Lil Pump late last year] is one of my favourites. Megan [Thee Stallion] I fuck with. Lil Jairmy I fuck with hard. I don’t know – it’s a lot. I don’t want to miss anything out!”
What do you think sets Texas apart from everyone else?
“What separates us is our originality. You gotta grind to get where you at. It’s not like Atlanta where you just pop overnight. You gotta put in that work. Even someone like Splurge may look like he blew overnight, but he really put in that work. You just don’t see the work they put in.”
Are you excited for your overseas tour?
“Hell yeah. It’s my first time coming over there [in London]. I’ve heard y’all be turning up. I haven’t experienced it yet, so I just wanna turn up in every city. I wanna decide which one I really fuck with. I ain’t really a sightseeing n****. As long as I can turn up and have fun, I’m good. I might sightsee, though, you put that in my head now.”
How did the reality TV-inspired video for your Megan Thee Stallion collaboration ‘She Live’ come about?
“We had a couple of treatments but that one really stuck out to me. It really brought back my childhood, watching [VH1 noughties shows] Flavor of Love and I Love New York. So I just thought it was a great thing. I didn’t used to tune into every episode of Flavor of Love, but if I caught it, I caught it. I used to watched everything. I don’t even watch TV no more. I watch YouTube. But I watched a lot of shit growing up.”
What type of stuff do you watch on YouTube, then?
“Videos. I watch animals killing each other, like Lions killing hyenas, hyenas killing wild dogs – stuff like that. A lot of African Geographic, lot of stuff like [BBC nature show] Serengeti. Wild animals are just like humans. They hate on each other; they fight over women; they take each other kids.”
When you’re not watching YouTube, what else do you get up to?
“I’m smoking. I’m shopping. I’m probably partying. I’m living life. I’m not really in rapper mode. I do normal shit. I’ll go home and help my mamma with the groceries. I play basketball. People think that because I’m fat, I don’t hoop. I ball. I do my thang!”
– Maxo London plays London’s XOYO on December 6