Bayou City

A Candid Chat With Outlaw Houston Rapper Maxo Kream

Alief's Maxo Kream isn't blowing smoke about his street cred.
Alief's Maxo Kream isn't blowing smoke about his street cred. Photo by Greg Noire/Courtesy of Audible Treats
KTRK news reporter Pooja Lodhia couldn’t believe all the drugs and guns in the Houston rapper’s video. She was explaining to her editor that the story she was trying to get on the nightly news was about a rap crew arrested for allegedly moving drugs across the country, and the truly surprising thing was that the Kream Clicc, featured in the video, wasn’t at all shy about flaunting all that street-life paraphernalia.

A lot of Houston news reporters jumped on that arrest story back in October. But the one important thing that was probably lost in a lot of those television packages was just how much of a star the bearded rapper in that video is. To many people he might still be a new rapper, even though he’s been building his name since around 2012. And locally, well, anyone from Houston knows just how high you have to climb to reach Maxo Kream status.

Later that evening the online version of the TV video was shared on social media, and Houston rap heads ate it up. Maxo gave the tweet a "like" and it was retweeted dozens of times, something hardworking TV web producers love to see.

Yet, months later, Maxo won’t talk about that arrest. It’s what you’d expect from anyone with an ounce of street knowledge. He will, however, talk all about how he cracked the Internet, the gang he claims, what it’s like to go on a major hip-hop tour. He’s loquacious like that, but the way he relates all of this information is menacing all at the same time.

Lately, you can catch Maxo hobnobbing with the latest crop of rap stars on both coasts, recording tracks and doing shows. With the smash "Grannies," an independently released jam that takes you deep into the dark corners of Alief, he’s proved once again he’s on top of his game.

In some alternate universe somewhere, Maxo Kream is a sex symbol. He’s a ladies-man rapper who wins over all the girls with his sweet poetry.

But that’s not the world we live in. Ours is brutal and cold, and Maxo, whose full stage name might make him sound like a porn star, is quite literally the personification of the trap.

Recently, the Houston Press had a chance to talk to Maxo while he was back home from Los Angeles.

Houston Press: You’re part Nigerian, right?
Maxo Kream: Yeah, my father is Nigerian and my momma she’s black.

Was Nigerian culture a big part of your life growing up?
I’m going to keep it all the way clean on this. I didn’t fuck with my African side because my aunt snitched on my dad. When he got locked up, that’s when I really jumped in the streets, at the age of 12. I have certain cousins that I fuck with, but it ain’t just like I’m fully intact with my African side. I fuck with more my black side just because of circumstances and shit I went through when I grew up.

Did you know Houston has one of the largest Nigerian populations in the country?
Man, Alief stands for southwest African Texas. We got them Africans, bro. Nobody got more Africans than us. Really, I’m closer to my African friends than like my [African] family.

Do Nigerians here know you’re Nigerian and show you love based on that?

Hell yeah, they’ll show me love and then they’ll be like (he talks in a faux Nigerian accent), “Oh, this akátá boy. This boy is akátá.” That’s basically what they say, it’s like calling a black person [the n-word].

My daddy he comes from royalty, they got money. His daddy was a mathematician. My momma, she’s from Briargate townhomes; if you ain’t familiar with that, that’s [Missouri City]. But that’s the real hood part of Mo City.

You named an early record after former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Where did that title come from?
Hitting licks [doing crime, robbing]. You know what I’m saying? I been hitting more licks than Lewinsky.

And a few years ago, you also had a song called "Whitney Houston." Why did you choose that name for a record?
Because it’s Houston. [You] think you gonna come to Houston and you’re about to get a cup of oil, you’re going to be riding 84s; maybe, if you go to a dead end. I tell you, if you come to Alief, you better tuck your chain. Watch out for these young [people].

Look, there’s four kinds of [people] on the southwest side, and I’m speaking from Fondren to Alief. You’ve got trappers, you’ve got jackers, you’ve got scammers and you’ve got pimps. And then out of all those four, all are in some kind of gang or click, that’s Houston for you.

Your video for Grannies had gotten so much attention this past year. Where was the video filmed?
That’s on South Drive, off of like Wilcrest and South Drive, that’s Alief. There are apartments, but it’s damn near like projects. You have streets with like 10-12 apartments on one street.

That video reminds me of Juvenile’s "Ha" video.
Hey, you must have heard me say this in another interview, and you’re asking me now.

No, I didn’t, but you look at your video and it makes sense.
So, yeah, kind of like on some Juvenile "Ha" type shit. That’s what I was watching and I was like I should make Grannies like that. Pull up and just shoot what’s real, nothing scripted.

And most of the time you go to my older videos, it’s on some super-hood shit, young [people] with bandannas, guns and all that, and with this I wanted to show that that ain’t just what the hood is; there are families out here, people really living. I wanted to show life, bro. We had a barbecue, families out there, we had kids. There were no pistols, no cops, no bullshit; it was a good day.

Can you talk a little more about how you developed the song?
I been had the beat, and I was like man, bro, I don’t even like this beat. And then the beat kept playing, the beat kept playing, and I just caught like the fastest drum on that and I just inserted words.

I just started telling a story and the first thing that came to my mind, I started reminiscing. You know on those MexikoDro beats, he’s known for like the turn up, turn up. Shit doesn’t event need to have a concept. But you know I wanted to have a story with it, but still give it that bounce.

Is your grandmother still alive?
Hell yeah, she’s about to turn 80 this year.

God bless her. Your flow on that song is so distinct — how did you develop that kind of delivery?
You know what’s crazy? I’m still developing my flow.

Was that how you wanted to sound when you first started to rap?
Hell nah, boy. I remember I performed at a show and I started to choke and everybody started laughing. They were like, “He’s choking, he’s choking.”

I really started rapping because my little cousin Lyndo started rapping. He was like, “Man, come on, let’s rap, let’s be rappers.” And I was like, "Rap, man, you’re goofy as hell." We had a song called Get ‘Em and oh my God, I had some weak-ass bars. And then like Lyndo hopped on that hoe and just killed my ass. Before I was Maxo Kream, I was Maxo C and he was Lyndo C.

There’s a ton of rappers coming out of Missouri City and Alief. Do you consider those areas neighbors?
Hell no. Mo City is not the southwest. That’s Mo City, they break their wrists, we throw our dubs up. It’s like Folks up, and Folks down; if that makes sense to you.

I fee like Alief got more gang-banging than any other side of town. You go to one side of town and everybody is one thing. Like you go to Acres Homes, you got the Hoovers, you got 60’s of course, and then you have the 44 Neighborhood Pirus, but they all have their own section. In Alief, hell nah, you’re all on the same street.

You’re still very connected to the gang culture. What gang are you part of?

I don’t gang-bang. But fuck it, Five-deuce Hoover Gangster Crip, they know.

Has being affiliated with a gang caused you any problems with your music career?
I couldn’t get into Canada because of that. I was on tour with Danny Brown and we were about to go into Canada and I was good, I cleared for everything; then they Googled my rap name and it said member of Forum Park Crips, which is a fraction of Hoover Gangster Crips, and they ain’t let me go over. They were like if you’re a Crip, a Blood, a Folk, Hells Angels or KKK, any little group like that, you can’t come over. You just pay a little something.

What was the rest of the tour like? What do you learn from touring with a guy like Danny Brown?
I gained a lot of experience; I learned a lot going on tour. I don’t care who you think you are, on the road you must eat right. Your health: strap up, don’t get burned. There’s going to be hella (women). [I learned about] staying focused; it’s a job. I used to mob, I used to do a show with like 70 people. Now, I just hit shows with me and my DJ and like three of my [friends] and I’m good. That’s one thing I learned.

And at first I didn’t really do sound check, and my set was sounding ugly as hell. But now everything’s on point. Danny is just like the big bro. He’s real. People think he’s some weirdo, but he’s a Detroit [guy]. He took me on my first, biggest tour — 42 dates.

As an independent rapper, you’re aware of how Houston artists a decade or so ago got on the map through that out-of-the-trunk CD hustle. How was it different for you and what was your version of that selling-music-out-of-your-car game?
Shit, having a clique of [people], doing Kream Tuesdays, spamming [people]. I didn’t give a fuck, bro. I used to spam my shit, send my music to everybody. Now, I don’t condone that to any rappers to do that anymore.
My out-the-trunk game was selling tickets for Scoremore to open up for Kendrick Lamar. And I would sell 300 tickets.
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Camilo Hannibal Smith started writing for the Houston Press in 2014. A former copy editor, he was inspired to focus on writing about pop culture and entertainment after a colleague wrote a story about Paul Wall's grills. His work has been published in the Los Angeles Times and the Source magazine.