On the cover of Maxo Kream’s new album is a Two Face-esque photograph of Maxo and his father, the real Brandon Banks, also known as Emekwanem Ibemakanam Ogugua Biosah Sr. The splitting image of father and son, who share the same name, is pieced together with Scotch tape, representing a torn relationship that has come full circle.
The history of Maxo’s father being in-and-out of his life for criminal activity (specifically doing prison time for fraud charges) is documented throughout Brandon Banks, where he had to maneuver the world briefly without a father figure. The Houston hard-hitter describes those early experiences growing up to Billboard as bumping his head a few times to get back on the right path. Brandon Banks is a complete reflection of his past without glorifying the street life, serving as several life lessons for youngsters who feel directionless and need a guide in their lives too.
The central theme of Brandon Banks is Maxo’s father, who contributes on a variety of skits that begin with his disapproval of his son’s life choices – whether it be hustling on Spice Lane or wearing a bandana for his Crip affiliation – and end with his realization that Maxo’s hip-hop stardom isn’t a fluke. “Listen, my son … let me start by saying I am proud of you, man,” Maxo’s father says on “Dairy Ashford Bastard.” “You’re doing your music, you’re focused. But there’s a whole lot of things that you need to know about. As your father, I will always keep telling you the truth.” Time apart doesn’t change the fact that Biosah Sr. cares deeply about his son and how he matures as a man.
The father-son duo stopped by the Billboard offices to talk about their relationship, their differences and similarities and Maxo gaining his father’s support of his music after years of skepticism — as well as Maxo’s friendship with J. Cole (which nearly led to the latter appearing on Brandon Banks), and recording the next project after this.
You’ve talked about your albums being movies of your life. Brandon Banks is another movie, but this time you’re focusing on your relationship with you and your father. What did you inherit from him?
Maxo Kream: Everything. But the most important thing, I feel like I inherited my brains, my smarts. Don’t work harder, work smarter. Make 1 + 1 = 5. A lot of people can’t comprehend that.
Emekwanem Ibemakanam Ogugua Biosah Sr.: I can’t! [Laughs.]
Kream: It’s a special bloodline, special gene. You feel me?
What are some similarities between you two?
Kream: Shit, what you think?
Biosah Sr.: We look alike. That’s what everybody says. That’s No. 1. The physical features. And of course, he is a carbon copy of me. Even though he is not your original, but he is a carbon copy. The original means you can’t make two of me. But, indirectly, he is my second copy.
Kream: So I guess I am some Retro Jordans, huh?
Biosah Sr.: He is a chip off the old block. They say an apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. So that’s what it is. Another similarity is that he is taller than me.
Kream: I have three brothers, and one sister. I’m the second oldest. But I am the oldest amongst my father’s kids.
Not to play favorites, but why did you want to take Maxo under your wing?
Biosah Sr.: No, [it’s] the same thing. For him, for his other brothers and his sister, nothing different. But the only thing I am doing is I support him, just like I support the rest of them. Initially, I was against this music, rap thing. But when I saw that he was serious about it, he really knows what he’s doing. I said, as his father, I will support him. Success is success. It doesn’t really matter if you have a PhD or you’re a good musician or you’re a good entertainer. Ask Joe Jackson whether or not he supports Michael Jackson. [Laughs.]
When you were growing up, you idolized your dad. What were some of the things you idolized about him?
Kream: Just everything. More than anything, the money. The cars. The big lifestyle. The persona.
Can you remember a specific time?
Kream: The first time I drove a car. It was his car. It was an S500 back in the day. AMG.
How old were you?
Kream: How old was I? Like 12, 13 something like that? I didn’t go far! He’s like, "Hey! Don’t mess up my car! Brake!" By the time I got to the other street, I was already out of the car. I was like, "Damn."
How did you want to raise Maxo?
Biosah Sr.: I come from a background of education. My father was a civil engineer. My mother was a school teacher. My siblings all went to college and stuff like that. So it was just the way I was taught. He goes to school, get a degree. I wanted him to be in computer science. Or a professional like a doctor or lawyer where he determines his fate. So that’s the outlook I had for him. So he graduated high school, did good on his SAT, and went to college.
Then all of a sudden he’s telling me, ‘C’mon dad. Let’s go do this rap thing.’ I was so furious. I was more scared than furious because I was saying, ‘Hey, why would he want to do this?’ I really didn’t know that he would make it. Not that I doubted his capacity for hard work, but I was just thinking that there's a lot of competition. But if you just went to school, you become a doctor. Whatever. You have a skill that you can figure out off that.
Were you scared because it’s not a proven career path? There’s a lot of variables.
Biosah Sr.: Right. It wasn’t as sure as just going to college. But that’s in my head. I know a lot of people with degrees that make $20,000, $28,000 a year and stuff like that. Call me old fashion. One track mind thinking. I was scared. And then, plus, what was behind it. Gang things and stuff like that. That really scared the hell outta me. For his safety. But he didn’t understand it. He thought I was just trying to block his dream or don’t want him to pursue his music career. But in the back of my mind when I lay down in bed, I was just [worried]. When I hear there’s a shooting on TV, I wondered and hoped it wasn’t, you know, him.
Maxo, you wanted to be a lot of things as a kid, so why did you settle on being a rapper?
Kream: I done had all kinds of jobs. You know what I’m saying? Not just in the streets. I worked at Food Town, Panera Bread, firecracker stand. Wal-Mart. For real. Like any means. If the aim is to get money, I am about it. Ain’t no shame in my game. Most n—as that get money in the streets, [they’re like] "I ain’t working no job. That’s for squares." Shit it is, but whatever, that’s gonna get me the money.
And then, I always had a fly mouth. I can always talk. I’m like a professional shit-talker. I might as well rap. Turn it into music. I went to college. I gave it a shot. But let’s say I went to college and got a degree. It is not guaranteed I would get a job. I know a lot of people with degrees that don’t got no job. They can’t make nothing shake. With the rap, I just gave it a shot. I just stayed with it and it happened overnight. What always kept me going is I knew that I was going to be here.
Everybody get to see my vision. When somebody ain’t see my vision, it make me go harder. Talked to my dad, we would get into it. But later he would call me…he just want me to do right, do good. He wanted me to have a real future. It ain’t no, "What’s going to be my Plan B if rap ain’t working?" I’m like, "This my Plan A, B, C, D, Z." You feel me? I’ll make it work.
You talk about your father a lot in the music. There are two instances when he was in-and-out of your life for criminal activity. The first time was when you were 12. What was going through your mind at the time?
Kream: Just really figuring out everything. Figuring out why my dad [got locked up]. What was he doing? What happened? Like shit like that. And then figuring that out. And then right after that, my older brother went too, and then my cousin Pooh. So I was just left out there. No father figure. My dad was my everything. [He] still is though, but I looked up to him. Shit, I had to go find my own way.
I bumped my head a couple times following my own people, doing the wrong shit. If I could start from scratch, I probably won’t change anything. I probably wouldn’t hop in a gang. It was a little misleading. I was searching for something ‘cause I wasn’t in little league football. I mean, I played, but I wasn’t into all of that like my little brother and them. I needed something to keep me [occupied]. That was when I was younger.
Then again, my senior year of high school. I was 17. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was just me and him at the house. We got the same name, so you know how that goes. That shit really pissed me off, you feel me? Even that kept me to go harder. That’s what made me stay in school. Every time I went to go see him, it was education, education, education. So that’s what kept me in school. Made me go to college. I ain’t gonna say I was doing it for him, it was for me — but mostly like, "Nah, I’m not about to upset my dad." All he wanted us to do was to graduate high school, get our college degrees, and be self-made. I ain’t got a college degree, but I am sure self-made.
You’ve lived a pretty crazy life before even turning 30. Why did you end up in the streets?
Kream: Man, I was around it. I was curious. He always kept me away from it. He kept me out the streets. I wasn’t raised to be like that. Nothing like that. That’s what I got into my own. It was really trying to get some money and falling into the wrong crowd. But the crowd is already around me. I had to go out of my way. It was right there. Just going to get exposed, bumping my head. Trials and tribulations. Trial and error. You feel me?
When did your dad return to your life?
Kream: I was already in college-type shit. I was already out of high school. I remember I picked him up from the halfway house, went to the chicken spot. #1 Chicken Rice & Seafood. It’s like off Almeda. Good-ass chicken.
He was in my life physically. But even when he was there, we talked all the time when I went to visit. I used to go see him and hide my tattoos. I didn’t want him to know that I had tattoos and shit like that. I remember growing up I couldn’t wear durags, I couldn’t have my ears pierced. None of that shit. And he came back, I got all that shit. [Laughs] But that’s a typical, Nigerian way.
Tell me about recording this album in the studio together. That must’ve been a big moment to record a major label album with your son.
Biosah Sr.: I always knew he was going to be successful in whatever he does. He was always telling me, "C’mon dad. Let’s go do this. There’s a lot of money in it. I know what I’m doing." I was considering doubt, but then I started listening to some of his music. I remember when you put out “LeBron South Beach.” How many years ago was that?
Biosah Sr.: Something like that. So I said, ‘Hm.’ I saw a little bit of his style in there. Then he came out with “Rigamortis,” right?
Kream: “Maxo spit like a dragon.” Yeah, that’s a Kendrick cover.
Biosah Sr.: So that’s when I started believing that he got the talent. Still [had] my doubts and stuff like that. But he was very serious. Astute. Going to the studio and all that. So, for a while, there was a gap. But the next thing, he signed with the label and he was getting ready to release [an album]. So I said, "You know what? I think I need to support him now. 100 percent." He has paid his dues.
Then another thing I knew he was going to be successful. He was always a hard worker. Going to all those tours to the universities and the frat houses. They know him well. I thought they would never know him. In every corner, in Iowa. Those small country farm towns and stuff like that. So I said, "Great." I wasn’t aware that he was working that hard. But when I started finding out, you know what I’m saying?
You had to show support. Tell me about recording the skits on the album. Your father goes from telling you to take off your bandana to saying he supports everything you do.
Kream: Look, storyline. It’s gonna be after you. He was like, "I sit there, I draw it up." I was like, "Nah, you gonna come in here and you gonna talk shit on these skits and we gonna put it together." Just be you. ‘Cause like I said, I’m funny. I got funny interviews. I’m entertaining. Shit, where do you think I get it from? Him, you know? Yeah, show your character. Show your personality. And from there, we gonna piece the story together.
Was it hard guiding him to do that?
Kream: Easy. He’s a natural.
Biosah Sr.: If I knew he had this much talent and there was this much money, I would've been a music producer and writer a long time ago myself, to tell you the truth. He’s getting me around to that. I’m no spring chicken. If I am gonna do anything, I need to hurry up. [Laughs.]
On Brandon Banks, you talk about Spice Ln. and Dairy Ashford Rd. What are the significance of those streets?
Kream: Spice Lane. My uncle and my cousin, they from there. R.I.P. my Uncle Bo. My cousin Pooh. That’s also when I was getting it in the streets, like getting my money? That was the street — Spice Lane.
Biosah Sr.: But what made the street crazy was after Hurricane Katrina, when they had all those Louisiana people coming to town.
Kream: Oh yeah.
Biosah Sr.: Maxo, he ran loose because it was a lot of negative influence around. All those Louisiana people — nothing against Louisiana — but the crowd that came was just bad. [Laughs.]
What about “Murder Blocc”?
Kream: Oh, that’s Forum Park. We called it Murder Blocc. That’s what my Crips reside from. The street. Also, on Spice Lane, my dad had a store called E & J. E. Max and Jackie.
Biosah Sr.: Oh, that was a long time ago.
Kream: Long time ago. Back in the day.
Biosah Sr.: It was an ethnic food store. Grocery store. We sold specialty food from around the world. Spice Lane. You was real young then.
Kream: I know. I got a good memory.
Biosah Sr.: He was younger. How old were you then?
Kream: I had to be young.
Biosah Sr.: Like 3 or 4?
Kream: 3 or 4.
Biosah Sr.: But Spice Lane was directly behind the store.
Kream: It was directly behind the store. Really it was Beechnut and Wilcrest. But Spice Lane right there. You coming from Wilcrest side to Spice Lane, you come from the Beechnut side to Cinnamon. So Cinnamon and Spice. It sounds sweet, but it ain’t sweet though. Don’t go there.
You preach about being authentic in your music. Why do you think other artists aren’t doing this?
Kream: ‘Cause other artists aren’t really who they are… I don’t want to put this one artist out, but I was in the studio with him. He was like, "Yeah, I don’t know my dad. I don’t know…" I’m like, "You lying like a motherfucker." We just had dinner with your dad.
I be like — I want to show them both sides. Everybody want to glorify the streets. Me, I’m not glorifying it. I’ll tell you what happens when you jump in them. I stay in the suburbs too, a lot. I just want to show people that it’s cool to be with your dad, it’s cool to have a relationship with your dad. To show other young men like having shit that it’s good to be a father to raise your kids. ‘Cause shit, you don’t know what they’ll be. They could be a Maxo Kream or LeBron. You never know.
Biosah Sr.: I remember, he used to ask his dad, ‘So, what do I write about?’ I told him to just tell a story that everybody can relate to. Tell your story. It’s easier and much simpler. People will gravitate toward you than trying to be fake. I think they have a Lamborghini airplane in some of those rap videos, which is not true, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] So I told him, don’t be fake. Just be real. Just be yourself. Tell a story that you know about. Keep it simple. I remember, I used to always tell you that ‘the true knowledge of creativity is to make simple things, simpler. 'That’s how it goes.'
Kream: Every time.
Biosah Sr.: I used to tell him that a lot, so he picked it up. And he used it.
Kream: He basically taught me no cap.
This a very family-oriented album. You got Josh Kream on a song called “Brothers.”
Kream: That’s the young mogul. That’s my baby brother. He came to me like, "Bro, I wanna rap." I look at him like, "Man, get the fuck outta here." He like, "Bro, I wanna rap." I’m like, "Yeah? All right." So I was in the studio. As soon as I was done with my turn, I probably got 12 hours of time. Probably used eight. As soon as I was done, I’m like, "All right, use this time.’ Came into the next session and heard this n—a. I’m like, "Bro, you wrote this?" He like, "Write? I don’t write. Old-ass n—a. I don’t write.' He got it natural. The level my little brother spitting at, where he at now? It took me three years to get to in writing.
I know he smart. My younger brother Josh…I think I am the smartest Biosah out of all. But I feel like he my competition. He is very smart, very bright. You know what’s crazy? The same way my dad feel about me, I really feel like he could go to school, get a degree. He still gonna do that though. But his story different than mine. He ain’t Maxo. He ain’t do half the shit I did. But he got a different story.
How old is he?
Kream: He 23. And I’m 29.
After going through so much at a young age, how does it feel now to be here talking about your album, your new fame, and success?
Kream: It feels good especially ‘cause this rap shit hard. You could throw a rock out the window right now, you might hit three rappers. [Laughs] With one rock. Not everybody can get to where I am at, so I am blessed. I might sound like a fresh name to a lot of people like "Damn, he just blow up out of nowhere." Hell nah. I be like, "Shit, I haven’t done shit yet. I still got a lot to do." I accomplished something, but I’m like, "I ain’t satisfied. Fuck that shit."
J. Cole came to your album release party at the 40/40 club. What’s your relationship like with you and Cole?
Kream: Man, I met J. Cole at the BET Awards. I see all kinds of rappers. I’m like, "Yeah, all right. Cap ass rapper. Cap ass rapper. You hella cap." You see a group of cap ass rappers. And then I see J. Cole. I’m like, "Damn, J. Cole at the BET Awards." My manager, Toby, was like, "Man, bro, you should go speak to him." I’m like, "Man, J. Cole probably don’t know what the fuck I got going on." I walked up to him. Before I walked up to him, you know Cole very humble. He went like, ‘Maxo?’ I ain’t starstruck behind no n—a. I’m like, "Damn Cole know who the fuck I am?" Take my number down.
The next day he pulled up in the studio. He supposed to be on this album. But we sitting there vibing. I had some storytelling shit for him. But he want to hop on that shit talking about AK-47s and this and that. I had to realize that he wanted to hop into my world. So from there, we didn’t even get to work on music. We started conversing, talking. He had to go. We were gonna talk for like six hours. Just convo, you feel me? He like, "Shit, come on tour with me." I’m so last minute I forgot he told me. I waited until the last six dates. Hopped on tour with him, Young Thug, EarthGang, Jaden Smith. Just vibed out. Going to the studio. Since then, it’s been a real-life friendship. J. Cole a real n—a.
You posted on Instagram that he helped you pick out tracks.
Kream: Hell yeah. He helped me pick out a lot of tracks. Him and Hov, actually. Jay-Z. Facts. Like he did the whole tracklist. Me and Hov went through it. Hov actually brought songs, he was going through my shit. He was going through unreleased shit. He went and picked out this one song, boom. Then I threw Ferg on it, he loved it. I had to add it onto the album. So the song with A$AP Ferg—
— Wasn’t going to be on there, but Hov picked it. Got on there.
Kream: Yeah. It was a specific line that was like, "Sliding with the stick like its hockey, bitch." He sent it to me in quotes. I’m like, "Jay-Z quoted my shit? It’s over with!" You feel me?
You said J. Cole tried to get on this album but didn’t work out. But you ended up on Revenge of the Dreamers III.
Kream: Facts. Shout out J.I.D. They fooled me. J.I.D. sent me a song like, "Yeah man, hop on this song. Be on my album." I was like, "All right man. I need a song with Cole, but all right. C’mon J.I.D." J.I.D. talented too. Love J.I.D. I get the song back and it got me, FatManKey, and J. Cole on it. I’m like, "Shit. This shit tight."
Were you at those Dreamville sessions in Atlanta?
Kream: Yeah, I was there. But I was mostly in there talking. I’m a student of the game. Everybody there was real serious about their craft. Even in school, I was a class clown. I was in there joking around, going from studio to studio talking shit. Fucking with everybody. Shit like that. I actually got on ["Oh Wow…Swerve"] after.
Are we gonna see more songs with you and Cole in the future?
Kream: You’re fucking right. You can bet your bottom dollar, buddy. And it better be on Billboard, No. 1.
After Brandon Banks, you got a new movie to write. A new story to tell. Do you have any idea what you’re going to do with it yet?
Kream: I am three songs into it. It was three songs on Brandon Banks where I was like, ‘Nah, I’m gonna save this for this tape.’ So I am already three songs in.