It has been an uphill journey for Houston rapper Maxo Kream since he dropped his acclaimed 2016 mixtape,The Persona Tape. His evolution from chop-and-screw-fueled anthems, trap hooks, and real-life run-ins reverberate through exceptional storytelling on his official debut LP, Punken.

Billboard sat for a one-on-one with Maxo Kream to discuss “Beyoncé,” studio sessions with Lil Uzi Vert and the success of his single, “Bussdown.” Become better acquainted with the gangster-turned-MC below.

Billboard: Where did you come up with the title for your debut album,Punken?

Maxo Kreme: Punken, that is my nickname. That is what my people used to call me. I got it because I was a pumpkin for like three years. I was just fat and round. Family is still calling me that. I just remember it originally being “pumpkin,” but I wanted to be cool. So, my daddy used to call me “Big Pump.” Then when Big Pun came out, [my father] used to call me, “Big Pun!” [Laughs]

How do you feel after the success of “Bussdown?”

It was really something new. You know, most of the time I roll out songs, it will be something like “Grannies.” I like storytelling, but I can have fun [with it]. It was like double-entendres. A buss down can be the pack. A bussdown can be a watch. Well, it can really be considered a triple-entendre, as in a female, too.

There is interesting artwork on your chest and stomach. How did you select who would be inked on your tattoo mural?

Aight, so, I’m gon’ just give you the meaning [of] Five deuce.  Fifty-two! [My tattoo represents the] Hoover Gangster Crips. On [my mural,] I have OG Bobby Johnson. He is from the Hoover Duece [Crips] in South Central, Los Angeles. I have Stanley “Tookie” Williams. I have Benjamin Franklin wearing a blue bandana. They are [positioned] inside the fifty-two tattoo. Then, on my stomach, it says “Trap or Die.” I tattooed all the trap lords and trap guys. I have myself on my stomach, too. I don’t know if that is conceited.

You have collaborated with well-known millennial hip-hop artists like Joey Bada$$, and Playboi Carti. What inspired you to select fellow emerging artists for your debut LP?

I am feeling like… I’m on some anti-old-n—a shit. And I am a fan of the artists I collaborate with. I like collaborating with upcoming artists. Damn near all my collabs [thusfar] have been with upcoming artists — even if they are big [names] now. That is just how it goes.When Joey reached out, that was my bro. I’ve been rockin’ with him since he made 1999. I would be backstage and freestyle with his ass. And Carti is a little bro, too. Before he got things crackin’, he was living with us in Houston.

With that said, what was your favorite feature from your first album?

I’d say “Go” with D Flowers. He is coming out next from the artists I’m rolling out. D Flowers is very talented.

The wheelchair emoji is your go-to on social media. You also have this emblem on a chain. Can you explain what they symbolize for those unfamiliar?

Crip! And, I’ll probably get another chain. A bigger one.  

What has been the most significant lesson in your career since the 2013 popularity of your EP, QuiccStrikes?

Don’t force anything. Do not oversaturate your projects. Take time to make sure it is right. Since 2013, I came in with a lot of artists. They are not even around, or relevant today. Even so, I am still looked at as a new artist. It is still fresh. Every time I put out a body of work, it is decent. It is what [listeners] want.

How has Houston, Texas built your soundscapes?

A lot! When the world thinks of Houston, they think of chopped and screwed type [of music]. With that music and the Internet, [I was] able to reach out. That is where you really get the Maxo [sound]. You got a mixture from Nas music to Houston, Texas. That is what I feel. I am in the middle. Also, I chop and screw a lot of my music. I’ve done [chopped and screwed] versions to most of my projects.

Punken features an interlude titled, “Beyonce.” You mentioned several prominent artists. What made you reference your hometown hero specifically?

It is because Beyoncé can sing. That is how my Draco [semi-automatic pistol] is. Beyoncé is a bad woman! The song consists of me naming my guns [that correlate].

Can you describe your studio session with Lil Uzi Vert for the single “Mars?”

We were playing basketball near the studio. We were just coolin’ and chillin’, really. Lil Uzi Vert actually just gave me the song. It was already his. So, he told me, “Just do what you want to do to it.” He was about to go on tour with The Weeknd. We were in the studio trying to build something, and then it was, “Boom! Take this.” [With my creative process], I usually go in the studio and lock in for a few days. But, I wanted to get on [Uzi’s] vibe. I needed to see how he rocks out, So, that is how we got that crackin’.

Your Crip affiliation has been placed at the forefront of your music’s packaging. How have your experiences and run-ins contributed to your creative process?

Shit! It gave me a lot of stories to tell and topics [to reference]. When people think, “Oh! He’s a Crip. He’s a blood. How can they [have voices]?” But, it does not go like that. Having these different aspects [musically] makes people, other than Crips and Bloods, relate to what I got going on.  

Do you feel these experiences built up your endurance for the music industry?

Yes, but this is who I am, regardless. Even if I wasn’t rapping, I’d still be Maxo C. So, I try to bring listeners into my world with everything. That is why I tell stories, from my childhood until now. If you listen to Punken, I am bringing you into my world. They can feel me 1000 percent.

What can your fans anticipate next?

More music, and more projects. I don’t know, stay tuned.

By Bianca Alysse Mercado for

Image: Billboard

About The Author

Bianca Alysse is a creatively driven Bronx-born writer and editor. Before becoming The Knockturnal‘s music editor she served as Latina‘s creative coordinator and was a contributor at Billboard. The Boricua scribe has a lengthy resume in the music industry and has penned for Universal Music Publishing Group, Epic Records, G.O.O.D. Music, Compound Entertainment, Artistry & Récords, and Arcade Creative Group. Her work has been seen on platforms like VIBE, mitú, TIDAL, Remezcla, and behind the scenes at New York Fashion Week. As an independent contractor, she has written for Sony Music Entertainment’s global business affairs department, Warner Music Group, and currently Roc Nation.

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