Published Jul 22, 2019Maxo Kream will sound like a true student of the game during your first listen to Brandon Banks, the Houston MC's major label debut. Back-half highlight "Brenda" is a strong sequel to Tupac Shakur's "Brenda's Got a Baby," its lyrics replete with characters who love to listen to that '90s hit, but fail to avoid living out its pitfalls of poverty and familial dysfunction.
Opening track "Meet Again," meanwhile, has echoes of Nas's "One Love," as Kream's lyrics become a one-sided conversation with an incarcerated friend. These aren't just indications of Kream's good taste in music — unlike, say, overrated Compton MC the Game, this Houston hotshot isn't just name-dropping and regurgitating his favourite elders' themes, but instead spitting fitting homages and building on their work.
"Brenda" isn't one young single mother's story, for instance, but that of an entire marginalized family, as muffled key notes and percolating percussion ratchet up the tension. And the funky, bouncing message to a locked up friend of "Meet Again" features gut-wrenching details about his solitary confinement, along with panoramic examinations of the pipeline between the pen and Kream's neighbourhood.
Aside from paying apt tribute to his forbears, it quickly becomes apparent that Kream wants to mine a new vein. While plenty of MCs only sneeringly spit about their negligent or absent fathers for an instant, Kream zeroes in on his strained ties with his dad. "Bissonnet" begins with a skit where his wayward father scolds young Kream for wearing gang-affiliated threads. That scene gives way to ominous string samples, as Kream details how having his pops around wasn't as much of a blessing as his throngs of friends abandoned by their fathers might believe. In fact, the prison industrial complex and systemically racist sentencing kept Kream senior behind bars for so long that the rapper confesses to to feeling "like a bastard."
More moving still: "Dairy Ashford Bastard," on which Kream details his and dad's transgressions and crimes over yearning church organ notes and cracking high hat loops. From there, he lavishes his old man with lyrical gratitude and forgiveness.
Even the bangers on Brandon Banks are thoughtful. Prime example: the triumphant get-rich anthem "8 Figures," which takes a dark lyrical turn to match the menacing undercurrent of its sauntering trap instrumental, as Kream spits viscerally about his dad's lucrative scam that got him "shot him in the hand." The rapper also elevates what could've been a standard trap parable, "Pray 2 the Dope," into an angsty and anxious tale about a dealer running low on his supply, as the instrumental's horn squirms like a starved serpent.
What's more, Kream is skilled enough to hold his own with guest rapper Megan Thee Stallion. On "She Live," the pair of rising stars have palpable chemistry while trading lustful lines over strutting percussion. Stallion comes out on top, however, spitting showstoppers like "'Cause I'm freaky and I'm loyal, he love it, so I get spoiled / Work that tongue just like a serpent, I'm makin' his toes coil."
All that thematic ambition, along with the minimalist yet catchy instrumentals and Kream's unfussy, but deceptively thoughtful lyrics, make Brandon Banks the breakout debut of the summer. His pops should be proud. (Big Persona / 88 Classic / RCA)