Interviews are a bit of a tricky proposition for Maxo Kream. Sure, like any rapper ascending the pantheon of the music industry he knows they’re advantageous if not entirely necessary to promote his music. But, as he contends when we speak via phone one October afternoon a few weeks before he’s set to release his third album, Weight of the World, why bother interviewing him when you can simply listen to his music? After all, Maxo says, “When people be asking me questions about certain shit, I just be like, ‘Go jam my album. Cause I’m definitely going to reveal it all there.’ And that’s not me being an asshole,” he adds. “Cause if you jam my album, then you really feel me.”
Yes, Maxo Kream — the Houston rapper, all booming, gruff vocals and menacing flow — is a true storyteller. And one who, if you listen close enough to his music, will reveal his true self. Namely, how a street hustler born Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr. has steadily transitioned from a bonafide, self-proclaimed ‘shoota,’ to one of hip-hop’s most poignant wordsmiths.
To that end, Maxo’s new album — which arrives on October 18 and includes standout guest features from everyone including Tyler, the Creator to A$AP Rocky and Don Toliver — features some of his most personal revelations to date: “Weight of the world upon my shoulder/Plus my granny getting older/she got sick and caught pneumonia/doctors said it was Corona/I hope it don’t kill her,” he raps on the open-book-of-a-first track, “Cripstian.” Later, on the braggadocious single “Local Joker,” he admits, “Before I heard the word ‘Romance,” I heard the word ‘Hoe.’”
Still, tell Maxo he’s gotten more emotional in his music, and the man who hit the streets at age 13, and whose debut album was titled 187Maxo, will immediately defend his street credentials.
“Sure, I can show you the more vulnerable side of me but don’t think for one fucking second I’m not Trigga Maxo,” he says referring to one of his street nicknames. “You feel me? Don’t ever. Cause that could be your biggest mistake. But I’m an older more understanding mature Maxo. I love people and I understand not everybody a gangster. But everybody got family problems. Everybody got shit that they go through. That’s what’s relatable. I’m human like everybody else.”
For Maxo, learning to let down his guard and do more than simply puff out his chest via his rhymes has been an evolution, to be sure. Whereas his earliest albums were gritty tales of street mayhem, 2018’s Punken, and especially the following year’s epic Brandon Banks, named after his father’s street alias, showcased an emcee eager to peel back the curtain and expose himself as a true poet.
“At first I wasn’t never doing that kinda stuff,” he says of his more heartfelt, transparent bars. “My shit was focused on my life and my street shit. I didn’t want to bring my people into this [personal] shit, you feel me?” he says. “But as I got older I realized my family is part of me. And that shit be real.”
It’s why his father — whose face is featured partially on the Brandon Banks album cover — pops up several times on Banks, and why on Weight of the World he only continues to showcase his inner self.
It makes sense, he says, because, as Maxo notes, he’s not out to glamorize street life. He just wants to be honest and truthful with his listeners. “Because the goal at the end of the day is to get out the streets, bro,” he declares. “The goal was never to stay in the streets. Once you get away, fuck ‘em. Fuck how the streets feel. At the end of the day, what if you die in the streets? It’s like ‘fuck you.’ Cause you lost your life in the streets. The streets don’t love nobody. But shit, we love the streets.
“Hell yeah I grew up fast,” he continues. “Cause the streets will do that to you.” As he sees it, at age 31, Maxo is not only of a different breed but from a different generation and way of life than many contemporary young rappers: “A lot of these kids now just grew up on the internet, bro. I was in the street before I had a MySpace.”
One of the ways he says he’s expanded his worldview on his new album is by capitalizing on opportunities to work with other artists. Tyler, for example, was jamming Maxo’s music in London with Rick Rubin when the rapper reached out to inquire about he and Maxo working together. The resulting Tyler-featuring “Big Persona” is one of Maxo’s most successful songs to date, having racked up more than 4.5 million streams on Spotify alone.
“The whole goal of features is to work with other artists and get me out of my comfort zone,” Maxo explains. “That’s how you get better.”
But above all, what continues to motivate Maxo Kream to evolve as an artist is nothing more than living his life as it arrives at his door. The good and the ugly. The joyous and the tragic.
“Every project I do I go through life changes and experiences,” he says. I can’t make music without going through some shit.” For example, while putting together Weight of the World, his brother tragically passed away. And then of course, there was COVID. “It was a lot, bro,” he says.
At the end of the day, though, he contends of Weight of the World, easily his most anticipated LP to date, “I feel like it’s just another chapter in my life. As I go, I progress. Shit just get better. And then it just do what it do.”