By Thomas Johnson, January 26 2018 —
Maxo Kream’s lengthy birth name, Emekwanem Ibemakanam Ogugua “Sunny” Biosah, are among the first words on his debut, Punken. According to the record, ‘Emekwanem’ means, and I quote, “Don’t fuck with me.” Not that you would. Before the age most kids are old enough to inherit a rusting Corolla from their parents, Maxo was a fully-formed Five-Deuce Hoover Gangster Crip. The son of a Nigerian mathematician who booted him from the family household, Kream found himself engulfed in the traps of southwestern Texas at 12-years old with his arm of choice, a stolen AK, slung across his shoulder. His aesthetic is half-fatalist and half-murderous. He became a man by his teenage years, jading himself from the inevitabilities of flocking for a living. Punken has no ballads.
Kream isn’t the most dynamic MC, employing a linear flow of absolute forward momentum and barrels through his equally tough beats like a locomotive. He can maintain an impressive cadence throughout his songs but his strength lies in his narrative ability. He accounts for every minute, action, reaction and variable.
In 2015, when his #Maxo187 mixtape and his gold plated smile thrust him into greater public consciousness, Kream’s music could be lightly described as sociopathic. #187 and follow-up The Persona Tape were as cold as brushed steel, despite the fire and fury contained within. Kream is 27 now, an age he’s lucky to have reached. Though his songs are still as subtle as a hand grenade, recent eyeopeners have cultivated in him a newfound thoughtfulness. In September, when Hurricane Harvey rattled his native Alief, TX, it was reported that fans saved his family from the floods. As a result, we have songs like “Work,” which is warmer than anything he’s done before. Lead single “Grannies,” an oddly-endearing look at his domestic life has been his most successful song. “Love Drugs,” an open admission to the preference of mind-altering substances to human comfort, is as vulnerable as he may ever be.
Maxo Kream is a spiked bat that raps. He’s as cold as ice and survived this long through a sheer force of will. It would be hard to squeeze any of Punken into a playlist. It exists in solitude, standoffish and thorny, which is how it should be — Kream doesn’t have time to accommodate anyone but himself.