In an age defined by the over-consumption of media and the bombardment of news, minute by minute via social media, we often lose sensitivity to the human side of the tragic occurrences and misfortune we hear about. As devastating as it may be, receiving news of a tragedy that occurs anywhere other than home is either entirely ignored or only paid attention to until the next tragedy comes up. Consequently, now, more than ever, the world needs to embrace the value of personal account and further, the power of storytelling. Humanizing these tragedies, whether they be instantaneous or generational (not justifying, which is an important distinction), reminds us that what is presented on the news is a reality, and while these realities may not strike anywhere close to home for some, they permanently alter the lives and communities of others.
Houston native Maxo Kream has developed himself to be just the storyteller that music needs, in a time like this. Before this prowess receives celebration, however, it’s important to note that Kream’s stories are, in no way, derived from any sort of motive or political narrative. If they were, Kream wouldn’t present the two sides of his life so clearly — a strong-hearted and thoughtful man, just trying to make sense of the world around him and prosper against the odds, and a dollar-minded man who participates in the gang life and street lifestyles that characterize many questionable aspects of his Houston upbringing. Rather, Kream upholds honesty over anything else, simply humanizing environments and events that lose this personal connotation thanks to avenues such as social media, seemingly becoming more of a political game than any sort of offer to actually help or understand the stories and perspectives of those affected. He’s a product of circumstance, and as such, the Houston native is admittedly flawed and open with the duality of his lifestyle at times, as destructive and as prosperous as can be in a given moment.
For this reason, heartfelt accounts of the monstrous impact and lack of assistance surrounding Hurricane Katrina, a la “Roaches,” can exist right alongside cold-blooded accounts of the extents to which Kream has gone for a dollar, a la “Hit Mane.” Both are spectacular examples of the conspicuous tint that Kream attaches to his storytelling, packaging his rhymes with an unwavering sense of realism that transcends any sense of fear or lack of confidence. Reality is at the forefront of Kream’s music in this way, and especially in an era where artists are faking mugshots and going to great extents to get attention, it’s honorable to see an artist so dedicated to proclaiming his deepest, darkest, and most profound truths. As a result of this, bravery holds stake across Kream’s entire catalog, emphasizing the notion that his music refuses to become boxed-in by the prospect of narrative. Such daringly candid accounts of life mirror this, as Kream’s upfront storytelling and clear confrontations with paranoia, violence, and death leave little room for interpretation — on the surface, that is.
That said, in journaling personal anecdotes of urban struggle and its consequences, it becomes essential to understand where this style of music fits not only into culture, but into the condition of media and people today. In other words, how does a random Maxo Kream song attach to the stories we hear (or often times, tragically don’t hear about) in the news and why does this matter?
This question certainly arrives with a degree of subjectivity worth acknowledging, but on a more objective basis, this music attaches a face to stories that we otherwise may dismiss or, arguably even worse, develop an opinion on without any knowledge of how first-hand perspectives feel. In the news, urban tragedy has become a constant vehicle for political projection, but Maxo Kream’s music works against the danger of this single-story narrative. Listening to what a politician or a random news station has to say about the people of Houston, what occurs in Houston, and why it occurs, may provide a surface-level knowledge, but this knowledge doesn’t arrive without motive and therefore, inherent bias.
Citing these reasons and more, Maxo Kream’s music is objectively important, as songs like “Meet Again” explore the faces directly involved in the topics that the media portrays, offering an inarguably rounder picture of reality. It’s easy to look at the crime surrounding Maxo Kream’s story as wrong or without immediate justification in a societal sense, but there has to be a reason why crime is a part of his story — or, in a broader sense, why crime has become a generational constant in some areas. Under these conditions, it becomes apparent that Kream’s evocative lyricism not only describes the trials and tribulations of his upbringing, but brings into question themes of much larger applicability, such as the aforementioned ignorance of popular media and furthermore, the concept of understanding why a problem occurs rather than simply what the problem is.
Hence, a fair approach of comparison, at least in my head, is to refer to Kream as “the trap Ernest Hemingway.” The events and obstacles that Maxo Kream describes are captivating on a surface level, but the deeper sense of connection arrives when listeners look between the lines, seeing precisely why Kream is viewed as a storyteller as opposed to some sort of reporter of life in Houston who just regurgitates what he sees without adding any substance.
Kream’s most recent release, “Meet Again,” is a perfect example of this rounded storytelling, as he describes the limits of communication with some of his closest friends and family behind bars. Noting one conversation, in particular, Kream focuses not on what led his friend to go to jail in the first place, but on upholding a positive spirit in such dire circumstances, proclaiming the lines:
“But let me tell you ’bout your daughter, yesterday, she tried to walk
Every day, she gettin’ smarter, other day she tried to talk
You can’t be there like a father and it’s fuckin’ with you mentally
Court-appointed lawyer got my bro a half a century“
In moments like these, Kream rarely sounds like he’s speaking to listeners when he raps. His music takes on the form of a vice of sorts, displaying an inherent venerability in the concept of Kream putting his thoughts on wax for the sole purpose of speaking to and for those who can’t speak for themselves, whether they’re bounded by jail, death, or circumstance. Sure, he wants to make money and find success in the process, but quite apparently, telling an imprisoned friend about the growth and maturity of his young daughter is a moment of tragic beauty that means so much more than a cool or likable rap song — it’s a moment of connection born out of necessity.
Attesting to this point, woven within Kream’s stories of crime life are senses of familial connection between those involved, highlighting the pressure of fitting in with one’s surroundings and joining certain lifestyles out of a sense of necessity and familiarity (see “Thirteen”). This example, in particular, accents Kream’s sense of perspective, as he leaves many easily-concluded elements of truth unspoken. Working toward the same function, he chooses to pack his stories with round characters and events, both good and evil, that reflect such silently influential endogenous factors. Consequently, the lyrics are easy to follow but dense in underlying themes and the intricacies of atmosphere, combating the dangers of the fallacy of composition in the process.
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While Kream’s storytelling capabilities are certainly of essence in this piece, however, his stature as a culturally important and malleable figure in rap is of adjacent merit. More specifically, underrated are the Houston native’s iconic contributions to the SoundCloud era in “Fetti,” alongside Da$H and a young Playboi Carti, and even “Cell Boomin” with Awful Records’ own, Father. The fact that these songs exist alongside more thoughtful cuts — each of which are different but equal in uncompromising authenticity — is certainly worthy of acknowledgment, as Kream’s masterful examples of perspective prove his worth as an artist. In some cases, his menacing, hard-nosed presence is celebrated (“Pop Another”), while in others, it’s the humanization that he adds to the hard knock upbringing that receives the well-deserved attention (“Grannies”). Both, in their own respects, showcase an artist who is equally as concerned with his own living until tomorrow as he is doing right by his people, regardless of what needs to be done to get there. Kream not only understands the two sides of the street lifestyle and their intersection, in this way, but he has lived both — and because of this, he strays from judgment in the narratives that his songs offer, simply presenting two lifestyles exactly as they are; that is, as realities, more than anything else.
With this, Maxo Kream’s undying loyalty to his upbringing allows for his catalog to track both maturity and change within his life, all the way from drug dealing and killing to get by to being able to provide for his family and friends as a noteworthy rapper. While this success has sprung Kream far beyond Houston, however, he refuses to turn on the people, setting, and culture that raised him, and his music reflects this, showing ingrained respect and devotion toward those who made him the man he is today.
“Give me strength to count my blessings, Lord knows it could be worse
I got n***as in the pen and I got n***as in the dirt
Pray to God to keep my faith, ’cause right now, I’m losin’ hope
So I’ma pray to that dope, put that faith in my work”
Derived from this is the importance of presenting the full story, as doing so tends to rid the characters involved of unjust, one-dimensional judgment from the given audience. For Maxo Kream, this idea has contributed to his stature as an ambassador not only for Houston and its struggles, but for faceless struggles all over the country that rarely receive media coverage. At 29 years old, Kream has lived multiple lifetimes and seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows both within his community and beyond — and yet, of all the paths he could have traveled, Kream has chosen to bridge the gap between generations and communities by simply telling his rawest and deepest truths.
Admittedly imperfect and strayed by the temptations of both good and evil, Kream is a beacon of unity and identity in storytelling, and therefore, a human whose legacy will live far beyond his years, both as an artist and as an individual.