In conversation: Maxo Kream’s family affairs
The Biosah family has been through a lot. The trouble started in the early years when Emekwanem Ibemakanam Ogugua Biosah Sr. went to jail for a credit card scam. Watching the police raid his childhood home and take his handcuffed father away broke the world of Emekwanem Jr. The Biosahs, who had led middle-class lives in suburban Houston since the mid-90s, have were brought back into poverty and forced to move to the city center, where they moved in with Emekwanem Jr’s grandmother. It was during these early teenage years that he became Maxo Kream– following in the footsteps of his older brother Ju, he joined the 52 Hoover Gangster Crips and started dealing drugs, which prompted his grandmother to kick him out of the house at the age of 15.
Maxo rapped a bit in high school but didn’t start taking music seriously until after he graduated. Sound 2011 blanket Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortis” went viral and his career slowly gathered pace over the following years, his influence growing with the versatility of his lingering southern accent as he dropped mixtape after mixtape. He was still a Crip, but Kream Clicc, a tight-knit entourage of family and friends, was now his core team. In 2016, he was arrested and charged with conspiracy to launder money. He broke the deal and self-released his debut studio album, Punken, in 2018, reusing his prodigious talent as a storyteller, previously reserved for street scenes and detective stories, to detail complex family dramas. PunkenThe pieces illustrated the cost of poverty and the horrors of Hurricane Harvey, themes that Maxo relied on with Brandon Banks, which he released just two months after signing with RCA in July 2019.
The deal did not end the Biosah family’s hardship. Maxo’s younger brother, Money Madu, was shot and killed on March 12, 2020, leaving behind a newborn daughter. Maxo had just returned from a European tour as COVID-19 began to shut down the nation, and there was no way of knowing how long he could go out and win for his family again. But the confinement gave him time to focus on his next project, Weight of the world, which is happening today.
When we spoke with Maxo in September, he was anxiously awaiting another downfall: the birth of his first child, Mackenzie Adaeze Rae Biosah. We talked about family dynamics, crooked prosecutors, walking on water and Björk (sort of).
A lot of rappers talk about ‘family first’, but you actually put us there in the room with your family and show us what’s going on. Why do you think it is important to paint them so vividly?
Lots of people jumping in here and telling these stories, they cap like hell. I really have my family, you can ask them. They say to me: “Don’t show everything! The shit is getting deeper, but everything I’m saying is real. Ask my mother, ask my uncle, ask my grandmother.
“I focused all the attention on the kids so they can grow up differently from what we did, see different stuff. They won’t see any Uncle Maxo smoking pebbles or anything like that.
I’ve heard you say in other interviews that your mom got angry when she heard you talk about her business in your songs, but eventually got over it. How are your other loved ones feeling?
Some support, some angry, I don’t care. I earn my money with my life. My dad was crazy about Brandon Banks– he’s on the cover. The truth hurts, but the truth also sells: you must return this money to your loved ones. I really just worked to adjust to my family. It would be selfish not to suit my daughter, and I also have my niece. I focused all the attention on the kids so that they could grow up differently from what we did, see different stuff. They won’t see any Uncle Maxo smoking pebbles or anything like that. Maybe a bang, maybe a Backwood [laughs].
As with your family life, you are very explicit about illegal activity in your music. It has become common practice for prosecutors to use rappers’ words against them. Did this happen to you when you were stopped in 2016?
Hell yeah, man. They told me about a video I had shot three months ago, like, “Yo, what’s up? You say you sold the most books in Houston, ”trying to fit it into my RICO case. They are really on my cock like this. The HPD, the state police, the FBI, these are the biggest fans, my brother. They will corner you, try to analyze everything you say. They’re going to take the picture you’re painting and try to make it into a Picasso.
Do you think the level of authenticity of your music has made you more vulnerable to this?
Not really. I know what to talk about and what not to talk about. Damn the charge is freedom of speech. I can say whatever I want. Damn, I make money with the English language. What the fuck do they want from me? I’m signed to a major, I’m a taxpayer, they can suck my dick.
“HPD, State Police, FBI – these are the biggest fans, my brother. They will corner you, try to analyze everything you say. They’re going to take the picture you’re painting and try to turn it into Picasso.
“Cripstian”, the first track on Weight of the world, pick up where Brandon Banks interrupted, recalling the line “carried by six before I am judged by 12” of “”Review. “Do you see your albums as chapters in a longer book?
Yeah I can come back and do Brandon banks ii at any time. But the older I get and the deeper I get into music, I get more emotional and open up more to my fans. There are a lot of shockers on this strip if you are careful. It took a while to really build the cohesion of it, but damn, I had the time. I had nothing to do with this pandemic. It’s not like Maxo has ducked out – I was going to the grocery store with everyone.
What do you think religion and gang life have in common?
Same shit. If you are a gang member, you idolize something, be it the flag or the man. They are the same objectives, the same practices, the sacrifices, the discipline. For some people, being a Crip is like being a thug, a gangbanger. For others, it’s a badge of honor, like being in the Navy.
The first half of “They Say” is a sort of self-talk piece. What was it like directing all this hate at yourself?
Many of these criticisms were exaggerated. Ain’t nobody gonna play with my crippin ‘. I don’t know what they’re talking about behind my back, but I was just having fun with it. I was supposed to do this track with J. Cole, so when that beat came up and I was like, “They say Maxo is a bitch! – but it was hard, so we kept it. And then my producer. teej – I don’t know what he has against me, but he loves to hear me say shit about myself – said to me: “This is dope, keep going! This is kind of cap, nobody plays with me in these streets. I didn’t even want to put this song on the tape because of that. I didn’t want nobody to be afraid, like “One day you play with Maxo, the next day you will be a new variety of cannabis ” [laughs].
“It took a while to really build the cohesion, but damn, I had the time. I had nothing to do with this pandemic. It’s not as if Maxo had ducked: I was going to the grocery store with everyone.
“Big Persona” is sort of the opposite of this song. It’s the biggest flex of the album, with the Tyler, the Creator feature and the lyrics that sound like flashes back from your mixtape years. How has your personality changed over time?
First of all, RIP Fredo Santana. Thisthat’s where we got it from. My brother and I took that and put it on our backs like, “Damn, we Kream Clicc.” We’re getting older, so we’ve already settled into our personality, but now it’s the beautiful shit: owning a property, the fancy cars, the jewelry, the lavish lifestyle. That’s what persona means to me: to live a lot of time for myself and my parents.
“Worthless” and “Greener Knots” both have really dreamy lo-fi beats. It made me wonder what kind of music you like to listen to outside of hip-hop.
I have a stretch of wild music that I fuck with. I listen to hip-hop and drill – and I mean, to me Durk and Future are R&B, but damn they call it shit rap so I guess I just jammed rap [laughs]. I’m cool with EDM, however.
I always wanted to ask you about the production on “Mob of Gods” of one of your first tapes, Quick strikes. It contains an excerpt from Björk’s “Jóga” which blew me away the first time I heard it. Are you a Björk fan?
No, man. I was doing the song with A $ AP Ant, so I was like, “Bro, take some crazy video game clip on some evil shit.” This is how I came. I don’t know nothing about no York [laughs].
“Mama’s Purse”, for me, is the highlight of the album. There’s this line, “You see those crackheads and junkies / They’re my uncles and my aunts” and later, “You see a pimp and a prostitute / Well me, I see a happy couple. Are these lyrics meant to fuel the thinking of your fans who don’t know what it’s like to grow up like you did?
I was just looking at him like, “Damn, that’s how the hood looks at him.” I’m not really saying the crackheads on the streets are my aunts and uncles. But where you might think, “Oh, he’s a crackhead,” I’m like, “Are you okay, Unk?” Need a dollar? Some people look at a pimp and a prostitute and see social destruction, but from a real point of view, they are only making money. A lot of rappers don’t think about that stuff because they just go to clubs and come back. They don’t think about Pitchfork and festivals and really going out like I did. It made me think, “I really came from this shit and I can shed some light on people who don’t know this world.” Don’t get me wrong: I have all this shit in my family, but it’s not just my family, can you feel me? Many of us have “crackheads”, “meth heads”, “hookers” in our families, but they’re just humans, my brother. Whether you are upper class, lower class, we all deal with the same bullshit. Florida