Interview: Maxo Kream talks "The Persona Tape," touring with Danny Brown, and what makes Houston special.
On a dreary Monday night in September, Maxo Kream took the stage at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom in New York City. It was the sixth show of his 41-date national tour with Danny Brown. The following afternoon, he came by the HNHH office joined by only one associate -- a spartan entourage compared to most artists.
Over the course of a brief interview, he spoke with candor on the joys he finds in the tour life (specifically, the Danny Brown tour life), his relationship with Chuck Inglish, with whom he just collaborated on The Cool Kids' first song in five years, his summer project The Persona Tape, and what makes Houston special.
Houston has one of the more innovative rap scenes, and a lot of artists from other regions often try to tap into that Houston vibe. Why do you think people gravitate to that Houston sound, and what is it that some artists miss? Do you have to grow up in Houston to fully understand it?
It’s not just all about screw music. A lot of Houston is harmonizing and shit. Southern singing, like damn near slave singing. It’s more than just trying to slow it down and screw the music.
Then again, you gotta look at it like this. You got New York rappers, they battle rap, they freestyle. And Houston, we don’t really freestyle, we flow. They don’t know about that part, they just hear the syrup and hear the screw shit. I’m not knocking any nigga, you can be influenced by whatever you want. But it ain’t the Houston shit.
Outside of Houston artists, what rappers were you most into as a kid?
The Game and 50 Cent. Nas is like my favorite rapper, to me, he’s the best. Jay Z, Lil Wayne, but as far as influence, The Game and 50 Cent. I like how 50 Cent did Ja Rule. He ended this man.
The Game has legit recorded 100 diss tracks in his career.
That nigga love drama. He’ll put a whole mixtape out on you. The whole G-Unot shit. Nigga said Olivia is a man. He was getting on Tony Yayo’s ass. But he never said he was a peon. He just called him an old-ass nigga.
What’s the philosophy behind your squad, Kream Klicc?
Where I’m from, there’s a lot of gangs, a lot of cliques and shit. I was already on my clique shit. I was in a clique with a lot of older niggas, my big cousin, older heads, and I used to watch how they would get money. They was on some real gangster shit. They nothing but like two years older, but they would sit back and be like, “Nah, bro, you can’t do this.” Fuck that, I gotta get my own. I see them niggas getting it, but I get it my own way, so I started my own clique.
Everybody know I’m a crip, but they’re like, “Why is the K?” The K stands for kicks. I’m a sneakerhead. Kicks Rule Everything Around Me. Kicks and cash go hand in hand.
But then, on the southwest side of Houston, you got so many other cliques and it’s so gang-infested, just because there’s some other niggas out there doing the same shit, you might from a different hood, so it causes drama.
I’m from Alief. If you’re from the Southwest, you really only know the Southwest. We go downtown and shit like that. If you come to Houston, you gotta come to the Southwest side for something. I don’t care if it’s going to the Galleria or you fucking with a bitch.
What’s your favorite aspect of the Southwest side?
We got our own region, you got like Southwest-Fondren, that’s where Trae tha Truth from, you got Southwest-Alief, that’s where I’m from. And then on the Southwest Side you got MO-City, That’s where Z-Ro from. We got our own little world.
How many pairs of sneakers do you have?
Right now, I got like 42. I had way more, because I used to buy SBs, Vans, all this shit. I had damn near 100 pairs of shoes.
You sold them?
Hell yeah, I sell them bitches.
You got the Houston legend Paul Wall to appear on “Smash.”
That wasn’t the first time I fucked with Paul Wall. My first time working with him, I did something on his album a song called “No Fear.”
Talking to Paul Wall, I be forgetting that he’s white. I swear to god, he act like a nigga. But that’s just how it is in Texas.
He’s the nicest dude.
Cool, real genuine, real nigga. Shoutout Paul Wall.
Does it feel great to have been able to work with these Houston legends?
Hell yeah. Recently, the one that I met and shocked me was Lil Keke. ‘Cause I fuck with Lil Keke tough. In Texas, he’s a legend. And when I met him, he knew what was up. He like, “Maxo!” I’m like, “Damn!” Slim Thug, Paul Wall, all them boys, they show love.
The Persona Tape was somewhat left-field compared to Maxo 187. Was that intentional?
Yeah, that was on purpose. Maxo 187 was more of a coherent project. I was telling a lot of stories. The whole concept of that, like on the cover, I’m cheesing, but it’s a lot of dark grimy stories. I tell a lot of stories, and they be funny. With ThePersona Tape, I was just putting out hits, feeding the fans. It wasn’t particular one flow on the project, I was just putting out music.
Where do you go from here?
Album? Maybe like a small EP for the end of the year. But 2017? Album.
What creative direction are you feeling for the album?
This my motto: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. ‘Cause if you fix something that ain’t broke, you’re gonna fuck around and break it. And then, not just over-saturating myself and putting out fast food music. I’m like, “Nah, you come jam my shit, you’re getting the whole plate. You gotta sit down, put the napkin in, really enjoy the meal.”
Do you hang out much with Danny and Zeelooperz much on tour?
Hell yeah. Zeeloperz is funny. This nigga got his braids backwards, he’s got hangtime in the front. So I be chopping his ass up. Zeelooperz cooler than a motherfucker.
Danny Brown is a real nigga. Like people think he’s gonna be weird. Nah, that’s a Detroit nigga. He’s older, he’s like my brother’s age. He’s 35. So he got a lot of wisdom. So I just sit back, I just listen, peep game. Soak up knowledge from an older nigga. Danny a good nigga, a smart nigga. Independent. Crazy fan base. That’s how I’m tryna get my shit. Overseas killin’.
New York sometimes can be a tough audience, how have they received you?
I was doing my first shows in New York in Connecticut. Y’all been showing love. Just to get that New York love, that’s already a step, being from the South. I seen how y’all did Outkast back in the day. I already know how New York is. So you get that love in New York that’s what’s up. I fuck with a lot of New York rappers. Believe it or not, I fucked with Joe Budden, Mood Muzik 4, I fucked with Papoose’s shit. Old Meek Mill freestyles, Cassidy, Reed Dollaz. Lyrical, spittin’ shit. I love that shit.
On tour, are all y’all chilling together backstage?
I have my room. And then Danny has his room. But we be going back and forth, trading Henny bottles, getting fucked up before the show. It’s like some family shit. It’s like, you got a cousin coming in from out of time, he’s staying with you, you gonna bring him. I came on the tour, Danny like, “Here nigga, here's some weed. Some pills. You need some bitches? Get cozy!”
You've been on tour a lot on the last couple years. Have you learned anything about yourself, or about the music industry?
Hell yeah. I learned I do not need a million niggas to go do my tour. That’s how I used to move. But hell nah, you get on the road and just do it. I really love this shit. I love performing in front of crowds. Watching them sing the lyrics. Because I remember was back at South by Southwest, printing out my CDs, begging, hoping that someone would jam my shit. You just start grinding, the grind so fun, you just tend to love the grind. You just progress.
That must feel so validating. All you really want, really, is to see these people rapping along to your music.
That, the money, and the bitches. New York, I ain’t gonna lie, y’all actually got some bitches. I ain’t been here, I thought all y’all bitches were gonna sound like DMX on some Brooklyn-ass [puts on thick, deep New York accent] “Yo! Who you talking to!?”-type shit.
When did you meet Chuck Inglish?
I seen Chuck Inglish at Illmore, 2013 or 2014. Goddammit. It was me and Rocky. I had bumped into them, I was just chopping game with ‘em. I was just telling [Chuck] how much he influenced me. Like my swag, my beats and shit. To me, I think he’s the greatest producer.
When did that Cool Kids record get recorded? Is that old?
Hell naw. We did that shit like a week ago. Week and a half ago. I pulled up on ‘em, they had already recorded on it, He was like, “Man, there’s a verse open for you.” I heard it, I played it back, I was smoking a Sweet, put the Sweet out, I went in there and did that shit in like 15 minutes.
Do you need to vibe with the beat to write?
I write, but with The Persona Tape, a lot of that wasn’t written. It was just off the head, like “Choppas.” Some of the songs was written out, like “Hitman,” the hook was written. But as far as the verses, I just get high, get in my mode, and just go in the booth.