Over the last couple years, Maxo Kream has established himself as one of Houston's most exciting young rappers by way of being one of Houston's least traditionally minded artists. In a city where tradition reigns and a syrupy, soul-inflected Southern sound is expected—and for the record, the world will always be lucky to get more smooth Houston tracks about candy-painted cars—Maxo Kream is an anomaly, falling more in line with peers around the country who have taken hints of that Houston sound and twisted it in new ways. Maxo, who is 23 and therefore a decade younger than Houston's leading lights, explains this shift in pragmatic terms: When we talked last year, he described growing up in a rough South Side environment where people were more likely to rob a guy rolling down the street in a colorful slab than admire him.
On #MAXO187, his new project, there's still a subtle classic Houston influence, which Maxo attributes to trying to make a project that hailed back to the sounds of his childhood, but there's also a sound that's less reflective of geography. The mixtape incorporates the rattle and choppy delivery of trap music, dabbles in the murky sounds of the contemporary rap underground, and even hints at the crazy cacophony of EDM. Guests are from across the map, with Noisey favorites Father (Atlanta), Lamb$ (Cincinnati), Joey Bada$$ (New York), and Fredo Santana (Chicago) thrown alongside Houston's bright new lights Sauce Twinz and LE$. The sound, in other words, is a dispatch from hip-hop's experimental but street-wise underbelly, and it's 100 percent right now.
There are funny, tossed-off moments of rap bravado alongside the mundane ("whoop a nigga ass for some Pokemon cards"; "make her come like torpedoes! / suck dick for hot Cheetos!"), but there are also moments of genuine eye-opening narration. The first verse of the whole project begins with the lines "I was 12 years old when the cops kicked the door / had to the gun to my mama, baby sister on the floor." It is heavy stuff. Joey Bada$$ offers maybe the most agile verse I've ever heard him deliver, working in a punchline about the movie Ratatouille, and Father crops up with his usual charm. Every guest brings their A-game, and it's a roster of guests you should be excited to hear. But Maxo is the volatile, charismatic center, a skilled but unpredictable rapper with a gift for disarming imagery and a talent for coasting on a wide variety of beats. Forget geography: This tape is a perfect encapsulation of the sound of hip-hop's rapid synthesis of styles in the internet era and the way the genre's new underground heroes are bridging aesthetic and regional gaps. More importantly, it is also fucking cool.
To get a little more context on the project, I hit Maxo up over text to see what he had to say about the sound, as well as current events in general. Like any rational human in 2015, I prefer my facts delivered in emoji:
There you have it, clear as day, in white and gold. There is a lot to look forward to here, and I advise you to check it out, which you can do below, right now.
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