Before this write-up Maxo Kream was one of those up-and-coming artists who I heard more about than I knew about. He always seemed to be featured in key guest spots on mixtapes from similarly rising artists, and generally had a good reputation for delivering on those cameos, but that was about it. As a result reviewing “Brandon Banks” gave me a chance to finally learn who Kream was and what he was about. The first thing I found out was that his real name is Emekwanem Ogugua Biosah Jr. It’s probably wrong that I immediately thought “his family must be from Nigeria” but finding out that’s where his dad was from proved my instincts right. He grew up in what was described as “a lower middle class suburb” of Houston, Texas and ran with a rap group in high school called the Kream Clicc, which also explained to me where he got his rap name from.
“Still selling you-know-what to you-know-who”
The video for “Still” looks like a cross between The Carter in New Jack City and a chili canning factory (no beans because he’s from Texas). “Remember hand-me down clothes, I ain’t even had s**t” raps Kream as he talks about his come up from being poor while still living the same life he did when he had nothing. Even though the lyrical rhyme structure of the bars doesn’t remind me of Juvenile’s “Ha” in any way, the way the song’s title becomes a part of the song and is very much used repeatedly during the song at least made me think of it momentarily. From this more extended look at Kream both musically and visually I get the vibe that he’s very unapologetic about what it took to get where he is and dares you to say a cross word to him about it.
“Meet Again” furthers that impression by being shot from the confines of a penitentiary, with Kream dedicating his bars to a partner BEHIND bars. “I got some that’s coming home, I got some that’s going in/tried to go to visitation but they wouldn’t let me in”. It’s a very heartfelt song, with Kream saying he gave his friend’s mother money for his commissary, updating him on his baby momma’s foul behavior, and telling him how well his daughter is doing growing up. Kream’s loyalty goes so deep he even put “40 on a lawyer” to try and get him a reduced sentence or early release, since he doesn’t believe the public defender he got cares about his appeal.
The flipside of being unapologetic about his ways and means is songs like “Drizzy Draco” where he vows “I ain’t no f***in’ rapper, I’m a f***in’ grave digger”. It’s a mixed bag of emotions for me these days when I hear young artists talk affirmatively about their violent tendencies. In my youth I could understand rappers talking big about how G they were as “Some s**t you had to say to appeal to the whites in the suburbs” living their wannabe fantasies. Unfortunately with the slew of young rappers in the last few years who wound up dead or facing a long sentence has given me more cause to pause and say “I hope it’s JUST talk.” Kream is not unique from his peers in his brushes with the law, and while police are always going to disproportionately target black men (rappers even more so) I want to believe that if Kream is talking about his real life on wax, his newfound success as an emcee will give him genuine cause to leave the life behind and not “Still” be doing the same hustles he did as a broke young’un.
“Murda Blocc” featuring A$AP Ferg is the type of song that perfectly encapsulates the Maxo Kream dichotomy. His deep voice and strong delivery pair with evocative storytelling, and his sense of what’s popping on the scene causes him to make the right choices for guest features: Travis Scott, Megan Thee Stallion and ScHoolboy Q to name a few. There’s no denying Kream’s talent on songs like “Brenda”, conceived as a sequel to 2Pac’s moving “Brenda Got a Baby” but with Kream’s crass sensibilities.
In short Maxo Kream is the kind of new generation rapper I can get behind. There’s a clarity in thought behind his bars that makes him stand out. He’s not content to drink cough syrup, AutoTune his vocals, and make up a bunch of nonsense that makes no damn sense but sounds catchy as hell. In fact if I was actually to pinpoint a shortcoming about Kream it would be that he makes “songs” instead of “singles” and that makes it hard for someone with a solid reputation from mixtapes to break out mainstream. Maxo has a shot though. Whatever comes next for him I pray it’s not the penitentiary or the morgue, because too many of his promising peers have already had their careers cut short and that s**t is getting really old.