A Week In the Life of Houston Street Rap

Maxo Kream
Maxo Kream
Photo courtesy of Audible Treats

Originally, this column was going to start off discussing the massive gamut of EPs we've received in the last two weeks or so. hasHBrown decided to take a Power Nap, which condenses the best of him into seven tracks plus an instrumental. Ingrid, Beyoncé and Parkwood Entertainment’s secret weapon, balances sexuality and argumentative relationship plateaus with Trill Feels. OneHunnidt had to press pause on rapping about going to Amsterdam and living it up like a European soccer player in time to finish he and Chris Rockaway’s Graffiti Vibes. All of these projects found their way onto the net within a ten day span. All of them are particularly good. At times they’re insular; but at others they let everyone dance around and appreciate them. However, all three of them got shifted down a peg because of two husky, outright mean rap tapes appearing a shocking two days behind one another.

Trae Tha Truth’s Another 48 Hours is his leanest project in years. He had to divide the double-length Tha Truth into two albums — last summer's release that came with busy features, honest portrayals of paranoia, regret and walking through fire; and a winter followup that was bitingly cold and anchored by Trae giving all of himself for the world to see. In his own milieu, Trae will forever come off as an everyman with a gold grill and heavy chains that appear more like championship belts than jewelry. When dealing with a wide range of others, you merely have his stories to run off on. And most of those stories are little motivational speeches that will make you want to lift up cars, potentially punch Donald Trump (beware, the Secret Service won’t like that) and then some. Trae Tha Truth is a story of Americana as much as anybody draped in the American flag after every U.S. victory in the Olympics. Particularly in a sport we’re not known for winning very damn often.

Trae’s victories in the past year haven’t been as well-documented as the losses he’s taken over the years, but it doesn’t bother him. Another 48 Hours leads off with a news report about DJ Screw and how Screw’s influence on music stretched beyond Houston and pulls even further outward, all with the usual cast of characters from Trae’s world.

Trae’s son Houston challenges him on “G Thang” to deliver on this freestyle tape he recorded in two days and Trae responds by singing through cut-up Screw samples. With menacing pianos blocking his voice on “Slow & Tip Toe," he slices part of Yungstar’s legendary “June 27” verse into a chorus. That’s the underlying subplot of Another 48 Hours — how many Screw classics can Trae fit into this slim moment? Lil Keke’s “Pimp Tha Pen” filters its way into “Slant”; Screw’s own opening from Big Moe’s “Bang Screw” appears on “Break The Equator”; and, on the ethereal closer “Texas,” H.A.W.K. arrives to drive the point on home. “You know my whereabouts, down in the dirty South,” the late rapper flows in a baritone that seems just as eternal as it did almost a decade go. It’s quite fitting that the last words on Another 48 Hours belong to him, asking the almighty important question — what do you know about DJ Screw & Fat Pat?

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What do you know about the godfather of some segments of modern rap music, if not pop, when it concerns Beyoncé? What do you know about the Screwed Up Click’s best all-around rapper who was tragically cut down before he even released his now-classic debut album? What do you know? It’s not a way of Trae telling listeners to do their homework, but he’s the connection between that era of the Screwed Up Click and now. And he's made a gritty, damn near spooky all-flows tape in honor of it.

So on Monday, we went retro with Another 48 Hours. Tuesday night, Maxo Kream delivered upon his promise of bringing out yet another bowling ball of impressive street rap to our ears.

Sometimes diving deep into Maxo's world feels almost like Being John Malkovich or The Cell. You can easily get lost in the dalliances of gun talk, the endless supply of lean, and ultimately Maxo’s penchant for leaving bodies all over the place. It’s akin to looking at Chucky, the best friend of Fresh, talking about his favorite comic-book hero, The Punisher.

Blah ! Blam! Blam! Blam! “Punisher taking out all those fools!” he yelped with a childlike glee. Maxo is sort of the same way, only he shows little remorse for rooting for villains and ultimately being one. March 2015's Maxo 187 let that cold exterior step into the forefront. It was no longer about robbing people for sneakers and chains; it was about cold-blooded murder and ascending further than few ever reach, hard-boiled gangster rap with little conscience behind it. If Maxo Kream had an analogue, it’s that of Eazy E, cartoonish yet deadly serious. That’s the gist of his latest excursion, the Persona Tape, in which Maxo's daily life, or his rap one anyway, constantly involves living on the edge.

Kream's story, unlike most rap acts, doesn’t seem to have a bottom. There’s no low point that made him immediately jump into a life where telling his ups and downs became necessity. Rather, it’s nothing but ups in rather brutal fashion. “Hit Mane,” with its choppy drums and sinister drawl, features Maxo employing the skin of a shooter for hire, willing to take out someone’s father for $45,000. Dumping bodies in vacant buildings, looking at fiends like lost souls, Maxo perceives all this with the same icy stare that Snoop and Chris gave any solider on The Wire. He’s a chameleon, a vastly improved storyteller who can match names, dates and locations to the clips he loads up in-studio. “Karo” follows up the initial stand and recant moment of “Choppers,” where Maxo relives his days selling to students and teachers at TSU. The plug, the never-ending uneasiness of potentially getting locked up are visible, yet Maxo shrugs it off. No one knows for certain what the Kream Clicc motto is, but if you let Maxo’s raps tell it, never taking a loss seems to be the key figure.

The Persona Tape shifts a bit from where Maxo 187 left off. The production hits harder, Maxo seems to breathe a bit more and more names get to add their own legitimacy to his growing brand. Cool Kid Chuck Inglish adds thick, chunky 808s to “Comin’ Dine,” making it arguably the year’s most bloated trunk rattler. Ryan ESL’s chirp and weave on “Big Worm” transitions Wiley’s classic “Morgue” record into a 21st-century ode to one of Friday’s best characters. The “Big Worm” video isn’t devoid of personality and doesn't even feel boring. Which is what makes Maxo’s movements — bloody, visceral and sometimes outrageous — interesting to listeners.

What’s been understood about the round-face kid from Alief is that he’s coming to terms with stardom, a sort of assumed posture that seems to have washed over plenty of newer Houston acts. Except, Maxo doesn’t give off the vibe of being untitled. He moves according to code among his brothers, making sure his retro fashion choices are kept up and manicured. The only time he seemingly wants to show menace is either among a crowd or, more important, when listing off enough weapons the NRA ought to donate some money to him for all the promotion. The Persona Tape eschews very little in the name of Maxo Kream. You know what you’re getting: a wide-ranging gangster flick straight from the streets of southwest Houston.

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