With his second album Brandon Banks, Houston rapper Maxo Kream sorts out his family affairs to give some depth to his gangster stories.
Abcdr du Son : You are opening Brandon Banks with the song « Meet Again », a letter to some of your friends who are locked up, whereas Punken was starting with « Work », where you described the very same life that could have sent you in the same cell. Did you chose on purpose to put « Meet Again » as the first track ?
Maxo Kream : « Meet Again » was supposed to be the last song on the album. But I just signed to Roc Nation. So Jay-Z is very hands on my project. It was Jay-Z that made that song the first on the album. Because it embraces the album, it just sets the tone. How impactful the song was. I was not going to go against his words. So we rocked like that, and it was a good idea. On God. ‘Cause all my intros were very powerful, impactful.
A : What was your mindset recording this album ? Was it different than the previous ones ?
M : I wanted to come at it the same way I did with Punken, but it’s like a new chapter. You ever played Grand Theft Auto ? You beat the story mode, but then you go on-line. So Brandon Banks is the on-line version, and Punken was like the story mode. I just opened up more missions. The gameplay gets even more advanced. That’s how we dealt with Brandon Banks. And plus I focused more on my dad since I talk a lot about him anyway, like in Punken, about my family. But this new chapter was more on my dad, because I’m junior. If I’m junior, I’m him. If you understand him, you understand me.
A : When did come to the realization that you were like him ?
M : Probably when he got out of the jail the second time. I was grown then. The first time he went to jail, I was like 11 or 12. He got out, I was like 15. Then he went back when I was 17, and got out when I was like 22. So it was like, when I was 22, I saw the similarities between me and him, as far as the anger, the screaming, but the getting-money and the hustling too. Now I was making shit happen. Staying fly, ladies, whips. We got a lot in common.
A : Something interesting about your relationship with your dad, as you tell it on the album, is that on the first songs, you seem to feel resentment against him. But at the very end of the album, on « Dairy Ashford Bastard », you seem to understand what he’s been through. Was it a process you had writing this album or was it something you went through previously ?
M : I’ve been thinking about it ever since #Maxo187. I was like : « I’ve got to pull it out a certain way ». I was not gonna put a song like « Dairy Ashford Bastard » on a tape. It’s how I really wanted it deep, like the second part of the first verse. Plus I had to ask my momma, you know ? Cause he ain’t here until it dropped. I’m like « How he gonna react to this ? » Cause I know he’d be trippin’. He’s just like me. But he fucked with it. It’s the truth. Everything I spit is reality. You can deny the truth. Cause everything I’m saying, he showed it in front of me. He raised me the right way. But I thought he was gonna trip at first and get on some bullshit. Like my dad is gonna drop a tape and diss me. [smiles] But he ain’t on no fuck shit like that. Nah, that’s my n***a.
A : In this way, was it a blessing to have him on your album, for the skits ?
M : Oh hell yeah. Because he didn’t like me rapping at first. N***a was telling me I ain’t gonna make it, I need to go to school. I proved his ass wrong. You know, parents, they want the best for you. I’m nigerian, and in nigerian culture, we have a very strong education. So he wasn’t doing nothing wrong, but I definitely do nothing wrong either by showing him. If you are gonna do it, do it. You gotta prove it, though. I went to school, college, freshman year and then little bit sophomore year, but it was more like I’m in these streets, and I’m rapping. However I would have took college, if I would have took it seriously, I put it into my rap. Full hours, studying music, studying beats, studying all my lyrics. I’ve put all that at the end to the music as if I was in college trying to get me pass the bar, get my doctorates. Same thing. Just cause you don’t want to go to school doesn’t mean that you ain’t like to work. You gotta work. Ain’t no lazy ass shit. So I just had to prove him wrong. Let’s say I woulda went to school, try to do that shit, and woulda failed badly, and been poor. And not graduated. That would look like lame as hell, but I’m trying to please him. But pleasing myself, look where I’m at. I’m in motherfucking Paris, bout to perform. It’s going down.
« People were like « damn, why he’s so aggressive ? » And in order to figure out why I was a certain way at that age, I feel you had to hear my backstory. »
A : You talk about this work ethic in the song « 8 Figures », and about people showing off their money but don’t deserve to.
M : I used to be this young n***a showing off all that money, doing all that shit. But money looks better in the bank, looks better in your account than in your hands, bro. If you got enough money that you are gonna hold in your hands, that’s not a lot of money. On God. Like a million dollars ain’t shit. I made a million dollars. Every year. It ain’t shit. You need eight figures. The hardest thing I ever had to do in life was make a million dollars. Cause now everybody got these expectations, nobody ever had that much money, so when you got it, oh you can buy whatever the fuck you want. They be tryna make plan for your money and shit like that. But then when you’re broke, ain’t nobody. And, a million dollars is not a lot of money. I can spend a million dollars in five hours. On God. All I gotta do is go to – what’s it called, Galleries… Lafayette ? Ah shit, I’ll spend all that shit. Quick. I had to run because of this interview, because Balanciaga… ppshhh. I almost spent too much money. You see how I’m here now ? Crazy. I’m balanciaga’d up. For real. I spend that shit. On clothes, I love clothes. I don’t wanna sound like a super dupper fashion n***a. But I’m a fly n***a.
A : On Punken you had a song called « Grannies » that was one of the first time you were dealing with your family ties. As we said, it’s really much more present on this album. What triggered it ?
M : When I came out, I was making shit like « Shoota », « Trigga Maxo ». And people were like « damn, why he’s so aggressive ? » And in order to figure out why I was a certain way at that age, I’m not that way no more, I’m grown – I feel you had to hear my backstory, on my family, on where I come from, on why I got so much anger. Like they shot my brother and my daddy, so I can’t let it be a sequel. I felt like « they shot my dad, they shot my brother. Then I’m next. I can’t go out like that. Hell no. »
A : Whether when you talk about this backstory or when you rap about it, you are alway raw about it, you don’t water it down.
M : My heart pump blood, not Kool Aid. A lot of these n**as sweet. I come from trapping. Selling drugs. Selling it to a customer. That’s the kind of music I come from, the kind of lifestyle I come from. Now, all of these kids come from taking all these drugs. I be hearing n***as about some « I don’t sell drugs, I pop them ». I’m like « what the fuck ? » We all got our vices, but man, fuck this shit. That’s where I come from, I’m cut from a different cloth. Where I’m from, face tats mean you are a OG killer. Nowadays, face tats mean you are a Soundcloud rapper. You probably saw some white suburb kids cursing at their momma and daddy and not taking care of their family. I feel like ain’t no more real n***as out there, ain’t nothing authentic no more. Everything is fast food music. N***as like « I’ma pull up in the Rover, speed off in the Rari » type shit. There’s nothing real, that’s not real life. Everybody don’t got no Rover or no Rari. I really had a Rover though, when I was trapping. I get it to my momma and then lost it to hurricane Harvey. It flooded. That mad black Rover I used to rap about ? Hell yeah.
A : Always on this family-centred theme on your album, there is a track with KCG Josh, « Brothers ». Is he your real brother ?
M : It’s my blood brother, my little brother. He really exercised his lyricism. I’m a lyricist, I do that. But that n***a could rap, rap. I see him being like Logic, Kendrick, J. Cole type shit. I’m a street n***a, I’m a n***a that did that. But he was more like put up, I made sure he didn’t have to do all that shit. I bought him clothes, shoes. I kept him good, kept him playing basket ball so he hadn’t be in the streets.
A : It’s funny how he starts his verse saying « we used to steal from each other, but I would still kill for my brother ».
M : Oh my god, that n***a used to steal though ! Steal all my weed… I was like « Bro ! how am I not making money this week, bro ? » It was a full three months I was not making no money and I saw this motherfucker smoking my weed. While he was stealing from me, I used to buy him shoes. The shoes I bought him is Space Jam Jordans. My bitch ass brother stealing my weed was acting like that. So when I was 18, I stayed in my momma house, like my last year. I just had a bed spring and a mattress. I didn’t have no bed. So I took the bed spring, cut a hole at the bottom to put my weed up. He was not going to think about looking at the bed spring because it was flat. So that’s how I used to hide my weed from his ass. [laughs]
« As long as I’m an upcoming rapper in their eyes, I won’t never get old and washed out. »
A : Two other guests on your album feel like extended family : Megan Thee Stallion and Travis Scott. The three of you are representing three different faces of Houston rap.
M : I got real life relationships with these people. Me and Megan been rockin. Before she was motherfucking goddamn who she was. Like when I first met Megan, I was supposed to sign Megan. Back in 2016. But I had legal shit happen, you know what I’m saying, lost a bunch of money. And Travis, that’s my n***a. He used to push me to rap back in the day. Because I was only known for shooting up parties and fucking up shit. I was a fly n***a. So he used to be like « bro, you are coming with the BAPE, you got the whole Biggie persona ». He’s always been serious about music. I remember back when I was dropping songs, it was just raw edits, he used to get his shit mixed and mastered, go to a studio. Ask the little braided up n***a when you see him next time, he’ll telling you. That’s my boy. He came through with the verse, same for Megan. It’s all Houston.
A : Being from Houston, a city with a major rap legacy, did you feel you were expected to carry on a musical tradition ?
M : Yeah, they would think anybody had to be chopped and screwed. But I’m born in the 90’s. I grew up on that shit, but that’s not me. I stick to what I do. A lot of people compare me to Scarface, which is cool. I don’t really jam Scarface like that, but I know he was a storyteller, he was really in depth. They compare our voices and the way we rap. I’ve been digging into Scarface and Jay more. Nas is my favorite rapper, ever. No : I think Nas is the best rapper. But I’ve been digging into more Hov, and it’s like : goddamn ! Kobe and LeBron. I like Nas the way he could rap. But I like Hov cause he gon’ cut the fact off the state and serve it to you. He don’t got to do all that but his punchlines still gon hit. He doesn’t get his message across. But as far as Houston, man, I just do me bro. That sippin’ syrup shit is old, that chopped and screwed shit. It’s still going on and shit, but me and Travis is new. But you do see little bits and pieces, Travis is bringing back some. « Rest in peace to Screw, tonight we take it slowly ». Making sound very Pimp C-like. So it’s still there, but we try to focus on us, cause every time this shit get brought they bring back all the old. But fuck the old. Not fuck the legends, but fuck the old, focus on the new.
A : On one of the songs, you rap « I ain’t a fucking rapper, I’m a fucking gravedigger ». In the meantime, with this, are not you proving that you really are a rapper, caring about the craft behind your music ?
M : You got to hear the whole line : « I’m a old school fool, don’t make me show my age, I ain’t a fucking rapper, I’m a fucking gravedigger ». That’s a Gucci Mane quote. He copped that murder case that he beat – I don’t want to speak on nobody case. He said that part on that diss to Jeezy [« The Truth (Not a Jeezy Diss », on Trap God, 2012]. It’s one of my favorite songs of all time. « Go dig your homeboy up, I bet he can’t say shit ! » I say that shit on « Murda Blocc » too. So there’s a lot of Gucci Mane influence. I felt like… I won’t say the new age Gucci Mane, but I could be telling you ‘bout some stories, you know what I’m saying, about the past. But then I can snap again in that mode. But I’m not gonna let that overshadow what I am now. I’m grown from that. But I know what I can be and what I was. I’m cool now, but don’t get me in my mode. But we’re never gonna see that mode. We are gonna see more persona, more big boss Maxo, more progression, more rapping. ‘Cause I am a rapper, a good rapper.
A : That’s why I wanted to check it with you. Because with some songs on this album, like the storytelling on « Brenda », you are proving your talent as a writer and a rapper.
M : I like « Brenda ». It was supposed to be on Punken. I made « Brenda » the same day I made « Grannies ». That shit way back, but the beat was wack. And I finally found a better beat for « Brenda », that’s why I put it on Brandon Banks.
A : On your Genius profile, it still says you are an upcoming rapper. What do you think about that ?
M : That’s cool, cause as long as I’m an upcoming rapper in their eyes, I won’t never get old and washed out. Cause it’d be sounding like « oh he been rapping bro, we off ». I will be an upcoming rapper for the next ten years, making that upcoming money. Cause that mean I’m staying relevant. That means I’m always new to somebody. I ain’t tripping of that shit. Call me what you want, just pay me. I feel like I’m James Harden : I’m getting better every year.