John Matraia
John Matraia
19 Jul 2019

It’s 8:30 PM on Wednesday night, just two days before the release of Maxo Kream’s major-label debut, Brandon Banks. Piling into a dim, luxurious room at Manhattan’s 40/40 club, fans and peers alike await Kream’s arrival. Conversation is light, but the overarching meaning of the moment makes the air feel dense. Now years in the making, Maxo Kream’s slow-burning ascent is reaching a new apex, and this small room of listeners is fortunate enough to become witness just days before the album’s official release.

A few moments later, a thunderous presence makes his way down the hallway. Turning left, he enters the room, 4 glossy chains on neck and followed by a posse of friends. It’s Maxo Kream, the man of the night. With each step, his presence grows stronger as the heads begin to turn toward his direction. Kream’s face lights up to see the welcoming crowd of listeners, but his eyes maintain a focused glare under the soft lights. The closer and closer he moves to the center of attention, the more the moment begins to set in.

Here, just minutes away from clicking play on his long-awaited new album, time seems to slow down. The message becomes universal throughout the room: the heavyweight champ is here. He’s seen it all, done it all, and come out the other side alive and thriving, now ready to take the ring. He remains unfazed, confident, and ready as ever.

This is Maxo Kream’s moment, and he’s earned it.

29-year old Maxo Kream has already proved himself to be one of rap’s most essential characters, and with Brandon Banks, he solidifies this spot in the rap game on a larger, more emphatic scale. Just as we’ve discussed here on Lyrical Lemonade, Kream’s storytelling is a central reason in the justification as to why he’s such a necessary artist in the current state of rap, and music in general. By describing some of his darkest moments via powerful and extraordinary storytelling drenched in realism, he’s been able to stand out with ease, interweaving impressive rhyme schemes into his raps over top tier production. Through such, his unmatched level of integrity has shined through, constantly professing matter-of-fact reality as it is, and only how it is, without an agenda, all while crafting electric rap songs that stand strong on their own but make up solid bodies of work, as well.

His Maxo187 tape, a raw and gritty project that detailed Maxo’s dark, day-to-day endeavors in Houston, put him on the map as one of the most talented rappers in the underground, as he could effectively lay out captivating stories through impressive flows, along with catchy hooks backed by innovative production. The first track on Maxo187, “Thirteen”, sets the tone for the rest of his discography. The thunderous, horn-heavy beat, underlying authentic bars, proved he was a special artist from the jump. From there, Maxo went forth on this path with the next chapter of his story, The Persona Tape, where he continued to build on his strengths of storytelling, as showcased on jaw-dropping tracks full of chilling tales, such as “Hit Mane”, for example.

Regardless of where he finds himself in his career, Kream’s integrity is a constant that follows him regardless of what type of song he makes. Speaking of this, Maxo has been able to show off his range quite a bit throughout his career. Whether he raps over more traditional, borderline boom-bap styled production on a track like “Smoke Break”, or a more bouncy and skeletal beat on a club banger like “She Live” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, he makes sure to consistently switch up his sound without losing track of his roots. His last record, Punken, featured some of Maxo’s slickest flows to date over glamorous production. Most notably on tracks like “Grannies” and “Pop Another”, Maxo was able to get his message across through some of his catchiest hooks and flows yet, especially when placed over such flashy and mesmeric production.

This versatility has landed the Houston native somewhat of an “in-between” position that has only added to his cultural importance on a wide scale. Most notably, Maxo’s multi-faceted sound has gained him respect from all angles of the rap game, as we’ve seen on his collaborations with artists ranging from Father to Paul Wall. Perhaps most notable is his collaboration with Playboi Carti and Da$H for the iconic Soundcloud generation essential, “Fetti”. This embracement of all sectors in the hip hop genre is part of what makes Maxo so admirable, and with this in mind, it only makes sense to root for a character of such willing and raw transparency.

Needless to say, it’s worth talking about how real Maxo has kept it in a game of fakes, as he’s always been dedicated to telling his story the way he sees it, regardless of how grim his truths are. He doesn’t hold back, he isn’t scared to face reality, and he’s in touch with the dark side of himself, which is what makes him so successful as an artist. On “Meet Again”, the first single in support of Brandon Banks, and the album’s introduction, we hear Maxo as personal as ever; only this time around, this idea of being “personal” is more thoughtful than gritty, proving that he can handle a multitude of directions with his new project.

Maxo’s impressive adaptability only carries over on a more prolific note to the next chapter of his story with his major label debut album, Brandon Banks. If not anything else, Brandon Banks is an extension of the triumphant story that Maxo has laid out up until this point throughout his past projects — one in which the son of Nigerian immigrants beats the odds and rises from poverty to become a superstar recording artist. In such a way, this is a continuation of the story, and as Maxo told me during our conversation, this is for the fans: “I want them to feel like they know Maxo more and more with every tape”. 2019 brings us a new Maxo, now with a record deal as proof that he’s made it. Just because he has a record deal, however, doesn’t mean his journey is done. In fact, this is just the beginning. 

The album title borrows from the name Maxo’s father used as his alias when he came to America. More specifically, it’s the name listed on the federal case for fraud against his father that left him imprisoned, causing Maxo to lack a father figure for much of his teenage years. The title is a way for Maxo to personify the streets, portraying his important connection to his father by telling his story through him, being that he is such an important force in his life. Nothing gets this point across more than the album’s conclusion, “Dairy Ashford Bastard,” which addresses all sides of his father, good and bad.

Brandon Banks is a victory lap of sorts for Maxo, as he has risen past his days of the streets while staying true to his underground Houston roots, delivering a combination of everything that has brought him such well-deserved recognition up until this point. The album delivers menacing cuts like “3 AM” with Schoolboy Q and glitchy bangers like the Travis-Scott assisted “Relays”, sitting right alongside think-piece tracks like “Brenda”. He also teams up with A$AP Ferg and a number of A-list producers, plus the legendary Mike Dean, who handled a majority of the mixing and mastering of Brandon Banks.

While one chapter of Maxo Kream’s story has come to a close, with that comes the start of the next chapter in his bright career. Even though he keeps his past close, he refuses to shy away from evolving to become the best that he can be, and Brandon Banks is proof of that.

I had the opportunity to ask Maxo a few questions about Brandon Banks, growing up in Houston, his legacy, and more. Check out our conversation below.

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So I want to talk about the title of your major label debut record, Brandon Banks. Would you speak on what this title really means to you and the album overall? 

Shit, Brandon Banks, that’s my dad. That was his American name when he was in the streets doing his thing. That really affected me, so I wanted to tell the story of that. You know, on a lot of my songs my dad would be on the intros, talking shit, and people would talk about how they fucked with my dad and how funny he was. So I was like, shit, let me build my story around my dad, because you know, he is part of my life. He’s a big part of my life. I want people to really understand me better through this. If you understand my dad and what he’s been through, and what I’ve seen growing up and what I’ve been through, you can understand me. 

Have you worked with you father throughout the process of creating the album? 

Oh yeah, he know what the fuck going on! You gonna see when it drop though!

Did you always have a plan to pay respects to your father through an album in this way? 

Hell nah, it just happened. I don’t plan none of this shit bro — well, not none of it, but I don’t set it up like that. I’m not thinking in terms of long term goals like that. When I get in that mode, that’s when I get to work and put it together, you know? I’m a day by day n***a. I live every day, day by day.

Who were some of your role models in Houston — with your dad in and out of jail, who did you look up to when you were younger?          

Man, I looked up to the motherfuckin n***as with money, the dope dealers. I mean, I wanted to be an NBA player, I fake wanted to be a rapper. I wanted to be everything when I was little. I said I’ll be an astronaut, I said all kinds of shit. But you know what I’m saying, I looked up to the n***as with money, the dope dealers, my older brother, shit like that.

With that, it’s worth talking about how honest you are in your music. You tell it how it is, and rather than always glorying the street lifestyle, you’ve also covered the other side of it. Showing the consequences of that lifestyle was something you started to do more of on your last record, Punken, and your recent single “Meet Again” is a perfect example. How important is it to you to show this side of the street lifestyle to your listeners? 

Because man, you gotta know what you’re getting yourself into. Like if you’re not from the streets, don’t fuck with the streets. If you’re in the streets, you know what comes with it. Plus, you gotta think, I’ve been rapping forever, since like 2011, you know, like I was a young n***a — that’s damn near a decade ago! So everything was shoot em up, bang bang, shoot em up, bang bang. I lived life over that time. And after a while, it was like okay, now I’m getting older, and I’m really going through shit. I ain’t 19 no more. Now I’m 24, so I gotta talk about what I’ve been through. 

And now me being the age that I am, I realize that these young n***as listen to n***as talking about the streets, even when they’re not doing that shit. They don’t realize that if you’re gonna do all that, you’ll go to jail, they’ll kill your momma, they’ll kill your daddy. Like n***as don’t realize that the youth today is so fucking stupid. They think they can do that shit.

Speaking of that, what do you think about people who rap about things they’ve never experienced, being that you’re someone who has always kept it real?

They lame as hell, but they’re getting money. I won’t stop no young black man from getting their money. But you’re really lame as hell and you know that, n***as will really strip you. They’ll take your chain and beat you up. But, get your money.

You’ve bridged the gap between street rap and SoundCloud rap in the past, and you’ve also bridged the gap between new school and old school rap in general. Is that something that you think about, or is making this type of music just what makes sense to you? Especially in Houston, what does the respect from the old crowd mean with such a rich rap history there?

I mean shit, I just put myself in my own lane. For me, being in my own lane with no one around me really just allows everything to gravitate towards me. I mean I grew up in that area, I grew up with both, you feel me? I’m like the young OG, so I’m around the OG’s, but I’m with the young n***as, too — I just incorporate all of that into my music. 

I’m a Houston n***a, everything I do is authentic. What they were doing back then, that’s cool. That northside and southside shit, riding 4’s coming down, that’s cool for that time period, but what I’m speaking and doing right now is where Houston is currently at. Just how when they were doing it, it was current. So you know, they respect me.

One of the first singles you dropped since signing this record deal was “She Live” featuring Megan Thee Stallion, proving that you’re willing to share the spotlight with other rising talent from Houston. How important is it to keep Houston close to you and make your Houston roots known through your music?

Houston is everything. That’s home. I’m always gonna put on for the H. I knew Megan before she was even cracking, so shit, it’s just genuine. And I felt like it was the right timing, you feel me? She’s been doing her thing, just now the world is seeing it. That’s how it is.

And from what I understand you’ve known Travis Scott for quite some time being from Houston. What was it like working with him for this album?         

Shit, it was regular. I was at the Astroworld festival, and he said to pull up to the studio. I’ve been rocking with Travis since we were goddamn teenagers. He’s from Fort Bend, Missouri City, and I moved out there when I was like 16. So when I moved out there, I ran into him. They had been on that rap shit, but I wasn’t on no rap shit for real yet. We were just getting fly, going to parties and it bled over into the streets. But I was more in the streets, he was doing his thing.

In the studio, it was normal, same shit. To me, he’s Jaques, and he looks at me as Emek, you feel me? It was on my page the other day, Travis Scott brought me out to Rolling Loud 2014, a long time ago, before I was at where I’m at. He had some fame and some buzz a little before he was at where he’s really at. But shit, we’ve been rocking, that’s normal shit, that’s Houston shit.

I read that you caught ScHoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar at a secret Kid Cudi show years before they blew up, back before you started rapping seriously. What was it like working with ScHoolboy on the album?  

Man, working with ScHoolboy, I ain’t gonna lie, being a Crip, he’s 52 Hoover from LA, I’m 52 Hoover from Houston, shit just made sense. Plus, fuck all the gang shit, just him as a man, the way he does his music, you feel me? I’ve always been a big ScHoolboy fan, so that shit was more like, alright then cuz putting in work, you know what I’m saying?

Touching on the SoundCloud wave from earlier in your career, songs like “Fetti” and “Cell Boomin” are iconic rap songs for that era. What do you think about the legacy of tracks like these and what do they mean to you now?

They still doing their thing. “Fetti” is still one of my favorite songs, “Cell Boomin” is still one of the top songs, you know? That was my young n***a phase, that was young n***a Maxo, Trigger Maxo, it was good for that time. Now it’s time to show the young OG Maxo.

What do you want your legacy to be when all is said and done, as far as your rap career goes? 

I don’t give a fuck about the legacy. I want to be rich. People could talk about legacy, I mean I got legacy now but, man, I don’t care what people think. Fuck what people think. That isn’t gonna pay my momma’s bills, that isn’t gonna help my family. Fuck what n***as think.

I’m just making money.

Forward and additional words by Seamus Fay