Maxo Kream on channeling tragedy, vices, and Houston pride into Weight of the World
In the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast, Jordan Darville gets the lowdown on the Houston rapper’s new album.
Maxo Kream on channeling tragedy, vices, and Houston pride into <I>Weight of the World</i>

The FADER Interview is a podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.

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Emekwanem Biosah Jr., the Houston rapper known as Maxo Kream, has occupied a specific and vital role in the rap landscape for years. Since his 2015 project, Maxo 187, Maxo Kream has bridged hip-hop storytelling foundations with contemporary sounds, and in the process, become an uncompromising voice for the streets. Across his albums, stories about murder, gang violence, drug abuse, sit next to tales of mental health issues, family struggles, and intergenerational trauma. What has always separated Maxo from the pack is his authenticity and delivery. His flow is mountainous and matter-of-fact, and his lyrics have a documentary quality to them that makes the images come alive, no matter how big the flex or how deep the pain.

For his new album, Weight of the World, Maxo Kream dives deeper into that heartache than ever before. The project was released on Monday, October 18th, the anniversary of the death of his cousin Woodrow Kream, and was recorded as Maxo mourned Money Madu, his brother. Maxo does not hide how these tragedies have affected him. In fact, he's used that pressure to make diamonds. Weight of the World explores how the worst aspects of our histories can shape our lives, break us down, and force us to rebuild. It lays bare the cost of grit and resolve, its spoils, and what it can never really bring back. There's music here that'll rattle your speakers and shake your spirit. And features from Tyler, the Creator, ASAP Rocky, Don Toliver, and Freddie Gibbs, add to the feeling of Weight of the World as the sleeper event album in rap for 2021.

Last week, The FADER's Jordan Darville spoke with Maxo about growing up in Houston, his fashion line persona, and getting in fights at church.

The FADER: Maxo Kream, thank you for joining us today.

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Maxo Kream: You already know.

So first off, I have to say, I'm sorry for the performance that your Houston Rockets put in against my Toronto Raptors. It's a sorry way to start off this interview, but I just have to bring it up. The elephant in the room and all that.

We ain't shooting after a little win, man.

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Yeah. I saw you in your "Local Joker" video, you got one hell of a jump shot yourself. You think you're going to try out for the Rockets this year?

Nah, I'm going to chill. I'm going to let them boys ball how they want to. Now, they want bring it to the street, on street ball, then we can put some money up. All that contract, I got to listen to a coach. You know what I'm saying? All that drug test shit, that ain't for me. They got that.

Are you friends with any professional ballplayers?

Hell yeah. James Harden, that's my boy. You know what I'm saying? We locked in for real. John Wall, I fuck with John Wall. Motherfucking JaVale McGee, Kevin Durant. You know what I'm saying? We spoke a couple of times. KD fucks with my music, but we ain't locked in like that, but I fuck with KD.

Is the old saying true that all ballplayers want to be rappers and all rappers want to be ballplayers?

To the extent, a Black rapper want to be a hooper. Once they get on the court, be like, "Hold on, nigga, we can show you this too now. We could hoop too. We could ball. We do our thing." But it was similar dreams, coming from where we come from, being Black, you wanted to hoop, you wanted to motherfucking rap, you wanted to be a wrestler. You had a couple dreams. So I feel like if we around a basketball player and they on the court, we could be like, "Nigga, we could do this too." And then, who don't want to rap? Everybody do raps. You know what I'm saying? All Black kids could rap.

But you didn't want to rap at first, right? You only took it serious after your first jail bid, right?

Hell yeah. It was like, I was trapping, man. You feel me? I was getting to it. I was having my own money and I was already popular. All them niggas that wanted to be rappers in high school did not make it. I would watch them niggas, they would rap in high school, really putting out freestyle and shit, I'm like, "These niggas tripping." I'm like, "They could do it." Deep down, I knew I could rap though. I knew I was going to do this shit. I just wasn't on no, trying to fake do it high school and shit like that. I was getting my money. But once I got tired of going to jail, in and out, same little shit. You feel me? Shit was dead. Like, man, yeah, let me go ahead and do this rap shit. Let me see what's to it, because I know I could do it.

And it came natural to you, right?

Yeah.

Now, do you think it's just something innate that you were born with, or is it just from listening to rap throughout your life?

Listening to rap, for sure. Hip-hop head. I really studied this shit. I already knew how to rap, but when I first started rapping, it wasn't all that. It was some cool shit that you really had to teach yourself. You know what I'm saying?

So, talk to me a little bit about your neighborhood. Describe Alief, Houston, for someone who's never been there.

It depends on what side you on. If you on the beltway side, trenched out, thugged out, drug dealing, crack heads, prostitution. If you're on the Dairy Ashford side, a lot of gang banging, a lot of young turnt niggas on a lot of gang shit. You know what I'm saying? If you're on the Highway 6 side, cool, suburb houses, big houses. You know what I'm saying? They older, but you know what I'm saying? Two-story houses and shit like that. But yeah, 75% of it thugged out, then it's 25% that's cool that's on the Highway 6 side. Then you go back by West Oaks, headed towards the Mission Bend side, you feel me? It get way better.

Was it difficult for you going from that environment to Fort Bend, back and forth between the suburbs and the hood throughout your early life?

Hell yeah. I grew up in Alief, cool. Then I had moved to Mo City [Missouri] my 6th-grade year, 5th-grade year. It's weird because Alief, we thugging, we fighting and shit. 'm too thugged out for them. So I ain't really connect with them Mo City niggas, like them Fort Bend niggas like that. You know what I'm saying? I was always too thugged out, ahead of my time. Then I come out the Alief, I'm better in sports because I'm in Fort Bend. You know what I'm saying? Shit like that. But then, from 6th grade on to almost 11th grade, I been in Alief.

Then I moved to Sugar Land. Sugar Land different than most cities. Sugar Land white, suburb, High School Musical-type shit. And then, I got into hella trouble in Alief, but when I moved to Fort Bend, it was worse because any little thing I did, they was more strict, because Alief wasn't strict like that. I went to more alternative schools in Alief than in Fort Bend. Fort Bend had locked me in, it was something called CAAP. They had to put me in there just for 90 days out of school year because I had so many different shit going on with cliques in Mo City, cliques in Alief. You know what I'm saying? So much different beef that they couldn't send me to M.R. Wood, because even the neighborhood that M.R. Wood was in, I was beefing with that whole neighborhood that's around the school. Then if I go to the school, I'm beefing with the whole school. A lot of chaos, putting a street nigga in that environment, hell yeah, you going to get in trouble.

At the same time though, I imagine that being forced in those two very different settings prepared you to be the consummate networker that you are. Because I feel like you can talk to and collaborate with a lot of different rappers, no matter where they're from or what their background is.

It's that too. I feel like moving to Fort Bend really got me on the fashion shit, really had me dressing. Because I went from tall tees and skinny jeans and shit in two months, in a month, just moving out through that whole little transition though. You feel me?

Yeah. I want to talk about your fashion line in a second, but I need to get to your album first. And first off, this album, it feels like a new statement from you. It's bigger. It's more ambitious. It feels to me like you're building an empire more than just a catalog of music with this record. Now, did you approach this album differently than your other projects, or was it just the same sort of work ethic?

Same shit, different day. I came at it with the same shit, but it's just like different shit been happening, like losing my brother, him having my niece before he left. You know what I'm saying? Taking care of my family; my grandma having COVID, just all that shit. You know what I'm saying? Just played one throughout the whole thing. So the pandemic, all that, it just gave me something new to talk about.

Yeah, the title Weight of the World is significant too, because you haven't shied away from talking about your struggles and how they've affected you personally on previous records. But with this title and especially the first song, "Cripstian," which is one of the most personal songs you've ever released, it's really just setting it up like, "This is what's going down in my life and the struggles are a lot more deeper than I previously let y'all know about." So with "Cripstian," talk to me a little bit about that song and writing that. Are you a religious man?

Yeah, I'm Christian.

So what's your relationship with God like these days?

I talk to him. I guess it's praying, but I talk to him. I feel like he with me. You know what I'm saying? I don't really be getting down on my knees and praying. I just close my eyes and talk to him. I don't go to church for real. That ain't me. I grew up in the church, but man, fuck that shit. To be honest, I ain't got time for that. Coming in, smelling like weed, being judged by all these hypocrites. Kiss my ass. I know what I got with God. You feel me? So I go, but at the same time, I'm a Crip too. And it's like, a nigga praise their gang bringing like a religion. I ain't saying I do that. I'm just saying that's how it be. You feel me?

Yeah. The word hypocrisy, especially in the context of religion, it's always going to be relevant because you're always going to have people who would rather not look at what's really going on and would reject authenticity in favor of keeping up appearances, so to speak. When was the last time that you went to church?

Shit. Last time I went the church, 2010 or something like that, and my little brother beat up an opp.

In the church?

Hell yeah. I was going to our church. That's what I'm telling you, it's Mo City niggas. I went to church in Mo City, but I was an Alief nigga. So we'd go to church, or we'd talk shit on the Gram and shit, and not know that we go to the same church. Well, on Facebook, because I said back in 2010. And we was catching they ass, beating they ass up. Really, my little brother and them. I was chilling. They was scared of me. They was terrified of me, but they ain't know how my little brother Mon was rocking. So R.I.P., Money Du.

That shit was crazy though. I don't condone that shit. We wasn't raised like that. My mama whoop our ass. You feel me? But it was just like, shit was deep. At that time, that's what it was in my life. I had a lot of chaos, a lot of that shit. That's why I'm glad to be where I'm at and that's why I could speak on this type of shit in my music. My shit was real. It wasn't no like, "Yeah, I'm with my boys up here." You go anywhere, a gas station, hear that, this, that. You catch one. You feel me?

Have you adjusted to stability well? Because your career, you've had troubles with the law, even when your hype was growing. And now, with your new deal, the clouds are starting to clear up a little bit. So, is it unusual for you to not have something possibly career-ending hanging over your head?

I mean, it's better. But man, I used to say that two years ago, I'm like, "Damn, bro. It's crazy. I ain't got no ops." Or like, "Damn, we ain't got no opps no more or something after all that." I ain't got nothing really going on, but that shit just made me want to go get my money really, go grab a bag. That's why I'm saying, it's 2021. All the shit I'm talking about is from 2010. But at the same time, I'm like, "I'm a money-getting nigga. I want to get to these bags. I'm going to do these endorsements, sponsorships, these acting roles, these movie roles." You feel me?

On this album and in your previous projects, I noticed that you use a lot of comparisons to movies. You reference Freddy Krueger and Wes Craven a lot. Do you have any favorite movies or favorite directors?

John Singleton. I like what he be doing. I like Belly. You know what I'm saying? That's one of my favorite movies. I like The Godfather. Menace II Society was more realistic. Boyz n the Hood was cool too, but Menace II Society, you get that gritty gangster shit. You feel me? I like that shit. I like hood movies. They don't really make movies like that no more. You know what I'm saying? But I fuck with it, because I don't really like Black trauma. A lot of these movies, we be glorifying, we showing Black trauma, all that in the movie. Somebody got to die. You feel me? It ain't never was just a happy ending type shit. So, you know what I'm saying? Shit like that. But I don't lie, I like the ones I can relate to that's motherfucking realistic. You know what I'm saying? Yeah. They don't really make real Black movies like that no more, good ones.

What'd you ever want to write movies or just act in them?

I'd do both, but it's going to be weird because I don't write music. So it'd have to be like, I go in and I say the script, think about it, come back, say it again. Then I have writers break down, take it and break it down and build on it. You feel me?

Yeah, that's how some screenwriters did that in the old days. They would just speak into a tape recorder.

We going to have to bring them into our world, because that's like telling Lil Wayne to write a script. Wayne don't write music. I don't write music. I do voice memos and freestyle really. Like "Cripstian," I ain't write nothing on that song.

Have you ever tried writing your lyrics down?

Yeah, I wrote some on Maxo 187, but I don't really be-

What's the difference you see?

Man, it come out more real. When you write it, it's like you reading off a script. You know what I'm saying? And it sound real computerized. But then, with a nigga freestyling, just kicking that shit, you know what I'm saying? It come off the tongue better. It come off with the right emotion, with the real emotion.

One song on the new album that really caught my attention was "They Say." In previous albums and interviews, you've been very adamant that you do not give a fuck about what people think. And this song lists just about every piece of gossip or criticism or shit-talk that anybody could have about you. Why did you feel the need to address that kind of stuff on the record?

Man, that track, I'm going to be honest, it was a joke at first. I was rapping on the beat like, "And they say Maxo a bitch, they say Maxo a ho," but then I felt something with it. I'm like, "All right." I just kept going. You know what I'm saying? Then I just started bringing up this shit. You know what I'm saying? "He ain't toting no Uzis; he ain't no dropping no bodies; he ain’t popping like Uzi; he ain’t icy like Yachty." I'm just rapping. You know what I'm saying? Spitting that shit. Like a player hater ass, God damn perspective. I like shit. You know what I'm saying? Everybody get hate. Niggas don't hate to me to my face, bro. A lot of that shit could be because niggas scared of me. So I'm like, "Well, shit. Let me hate on myself in the song." You feel me?

How did it feel rapping from that perspective?

I ain't fuck with it at first. I'm like, "Man, I ain't putting out this bullshit." You feel me? Yeah. Like I said, I ain't putting out this bullshit, friendly-ass shit. You know what I'm saying? It's old, because man, niggas don't play with me like that. But at the same God damn time, they was like, "It's good to show vulnerability." You know what I mean?

Did making that song help you perhaps, except that there are people out there who are saying this sort of stuff, and give you a new perspective on what they're saying?

No, because I know niggas say that shit. Like I said, I never gave a fuck, but it was a good song. You know what I'm saying? That's me, I never gave a fuck what a nigga had to say. If a nigga come say it to my face, they not going to say it disrespectful. They give their opinion, and I respect your opinion. You know what I'm saying? I'm a real-life individual. I respect people that come talk to me in my eye like a man, for sure. But if you gossiping behind my back, you can't say to my face and my 10 toes, I get it.

On "Worthless," that song is also a standout for me on this project. It sort of encapsulates your different relationship with drugs that you've displayed here as opposed to previous albums. It's not to say that it's all positive necessarily, but on this record you talk about stepping back from some while embracing other substances. You're almost nostalgic here. You rap, "Life was better when I was popping handlebars." But you're also saying, "Hey, without these, I don't necessarily have the confidence to make what I'm making."

I don't say confidence. I got insecurities, but I ain't worried about that with the rap shit. I just don't want to do it, but I just be like, "Fuck this shit." I be in the studio if I'm sober, like, "All right." "Greener Knots" with Hit-Boy, I freestyled it, but I was sober. I woke up early. He got mad Red Bull inside the studio, so I was just chugging Red Bull, rapping. You feel me? That's different.

But if I'm just in there by myself, I'm trying to bounce. The Adderall, I mean, shit, that's how I look at it. Don't bash me for taking that shit. Yeah, I'm going to say y'all. Y'all take it to pass motherfucking finals and pass the bar and all kind of shit. Yeah, so I'm going to take this shit to make my album, and I'm prescribed it. I stopped popping Percs, do all that other shit. Stopped taking Xans. I slowed down on the lean. Well, I don't take lean no more, for sure. Around that time, I was slowing down on it. I don't take it no more. I only take Adderall when I'm in the studio. And shit, it's a good thing. That's how you got "Cripstian." That's how you get "Big Persona." That's how you get a lot of this shit.

How does your family feel about your new drug regimen? Do they feel more positive about it because it's being used for productivity?

Hell no. My dad Nigerian, so he feel like everything, he like, "Oh my God, my son is popping cocaine." I'm like, "Daddy, what?" Hell no. They don't even fuck with the weed shit. They be like, "Slow on the weed." Shit like that, even though I don't smoke. I don't do no drugs or nothing, but around that time, making the album, you feel me? I was on my shit, for sure.

Was it difficult to write a song like "Trips"?

Not really. I did it the second day after it happened to my brother, so I just had to go on there and do it. I felt like I just had to go get it off my chest.

So it was still very raw?

Rawer than a bitch.

Tell me a little bit more about what your brother was like as a person?

Took care of his family, handled his business; a hustler, a leader, a brother, a son, a great father. You know what I'm saying? Was the peacemaker. See me, I used to start shit, to be honest. I'd start shit, punch niggas down, shoot shit up. I'm just being real. Madu would do all the shit too, but at the same time, that wasn't him. I ain't going to say he wasn't no gangster or nothing, but everybody loved him. Niggas would be like, "I ain't going to do that because I fuck with Madu. Madu a real nigga, but Maxo, ooh." You know what I'm saying? He's the peacemaker. So shit, he was the good nigga. I feel like I was the thug nigga. You feel me? And that happened to a good nigga. You know what I'm saying? I ain't taking nothing back, but you put me in that situation, whatever. I was there with him, I ain't going to lie, that's my brother, I love him to death, he wouldn't have died. We probably would've both been locked up for murder. I ain't going to lie to you.

Is that something you're still wrestling with, his passing?

For shit sure. You can't get past nothing like that. There ain't none of that. You just learn how to grieve differently. You feel me? That's all. There ain't nothing to do. Just yeah, I'm fucked up about that. But you know what I'm saying? I look at his daughter, I look at motherfucking God damn, my mama, everybody, and I was like, "I got to keep putting on." He always told me, don't stop this rap shit. I can't go backwards. Never go backwards.

You're a new father, right?

Yes, sir.

Congratulations.

Thank you.

When you found out that you were going to be a father, how did that affect your approach to your career: rap, fashion, whatever?

Shit, just to go harder with it. Keep applying pressure with it.

Yeah. Something that I like about this project is that part of what I was saying about the ambition, I think that translates to the collaborators that you've enlisted for it as well. I think you've got Tyler, Rocky and Gibbs. And I feel like those three really stand out on the record because they're artists who have created their own lanes in rap, similar to you, their own empires. And so seeing you rap next to them, highlights how similar your ambitions and your ideas for the industry, or your places in the industry are. In terms of bringing these collaborations together, did you have a list of rappers that you wanted to work with? Did it come more natural? How did it work? How did all of them come together for the project?

Whatever fitted. I do a song, be like, "Rocky would sound good on this." But Rocky sent me two songs, so I hopped on it. I do a song, I'll be like, "Freddie would sound good on this." You know what I'm saying? Just all genuine vibes. You know what I'm saying? In this higher thing, feel together. You know what I'm saying? One of my favorites is the one with Don Toliver though.

He's from Alief too, right?

For sure. Southwest Alief, Texas.

Did y'all run in the same circles?

I was a little bit older. You know what I'm saying? He ran with a few other younger niggas. Yeah, bro. No, he could tell you too, he knew the movement. That's what I was saying, you was asking about Alief earlier, you get what you get. Don wasn't no street nigga or nothing, but he did his shit, his fly shit, his sneaker shit. You feel me? He was a cool nigga, for sure.

Grown up with Travis Scott, what did you notice in him when you were younger that you still see today when he's on top of the rap game right now?

That nigga love music and he loves streetwear fashion, boy. Them two things. Shit, back when I met Travis, he was rapping, but he was doing a lot of producer shit too. And that nigga always been like, he really loved that music. Back when I was terrorizing the streets, shutting down parties and shit, bro was loving that music shit.

So let's talk about your clothing line, Persona. It's launched so far. How have you felt about the lookbooks that you've put out so far and the reception that it's gotten?

Man, shit, I fuck with it. I feel like the brand is still building. You know what I'm saying? I got some collabs coming and just really pushing and keeping my brother's legacy alive. That was his dream, this Persona shit. You know what I'm saying, with the clothing? So, shit.

And talk to me about working with Don C and how that's informed your approach to the clothing line.

Man, shout out, Don C. You know what I'm saying? Because he understood my vision, I get his vision with this high-fashion streetwear. You know what I'm saying? And he a legend. Even he's still going crazy now, like assisting Virgil with the NBA-Louis collab. You know what I'm saying? Having the sneakers. A lot of people don't give Don C his flowers, you know what I'm saying? Verbally a G.O.A.T., and he understand the streets. Just with him fucking with me on the level he fucking with me on with this shit, it's phenomenal. And plus, we got some other shit coming too. You know what I'm saying? You could be looking for that on the rise.

What do you think that your line brings to streetwear that streetwear is currently missing?

Live-ass shit. Live-ass graphics. You know what I'm saying? Bringing the essence of streetwear back in the streets. I feel like we moving away from high fashion. Don't get me wrong, I love high fashion. I got on Balenciaga right now. You know what I'm saying? With a Joe Freshgoods hat. That's how I mix up the streetwear with the high fashion, but I feel like streetwear getting cool too. But even high fashion doing it with the integrating, doing the collabs with the streetwear. We get more streetwear high-fashion collabs, that's going to take off. That's what I'm here for, to see that kind of shit. You know what I'm saying?

So before we go, I wanted to talk to you about your relationship with Houston, and if it's evolved over the past few years. Because you had Hurricane Harvey, devastating storm; and the Black Lives Matter protests, which were especially resonant in Houston because George Floyd was a Houstonite. So did seeing all of these huge events over the last few years make you appreciate your hometown or give you a different perspective on it?

Yeah. I'm going to say, I've seen us come together, shit like that. But to be honest, Houston, bro, niggas get on here with the cap, Houston really sectional-like. You a Southwest Alief nigga, you fuck with Southwest Alief niggas. You know what I'm saying? If you a Sky Block nigga, you fuck with Sky Block. Third Ward, you fuck with Third Ward-type shit. Everybody fuck around, but it's like we different sections and shit. But to see us all come together, it was cool. You know what I'm saying?

What's it only temporary?

Nah. You know what I'm saying? Going against the police, this is forever. Fuck the laws. You see another brother in trouble with the laws, yeah. You got a separate Black Lives Matter from what go in the streets. You know what I'm saying? Opps is opps, cops is cops. You know what I'm saying? It's a contradiction, just like "Cripstian." That's a contradiction in itself. You know what I'm saying? But shit, that's the life that we live though.

There's nothing wrong with contradictions. It's what makes us human.

Right. Contradictions and vices.

So just to round it out, what's your five-year plan? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Acting. A chain of Persona stores everywhere. Dropping this music shit, going harder with this music shit. My art is flourishing. Blessings. Bring in more blessings. You know what I'm saying?

Maxo Kream, thank you for joining us.

Yup.

Take care.

For sure.

Maxo Kream on channeling tragedy, vices, and Houston pride into Weight of the World