Emekwanem Biosah, a Houston rapper dubbed Maxo Kream, showcases a life of brutish violence, dark deeds and unapologetic ruthlessness over the course of a roughly 40-minute-long album that sets the tone for future projects. Listeners can expect a stone-cold seriousness and anti-hero likeability from Maxo as well as a handful of tracks worth revisiting.
Punken is Kream’s first project since he was arrested in 2016 for drug and money laundering. He doesn’t shy away from peeling back the layers into how long his violent drug-fueled lifestyle has been his norm, especially in this album. What’s most impressive, aside from his lyrical content and ability to stand out as a legitimate MC, is his apt realism for the cards he has been dealt. When Kream isn’t criticizing his less respected SoundCloud peers who ride the wave of unsophisticated trap, he is displaying a series of dark revelations — like substance abuse being his guilty pleasure. These revelations are Kream’s way of acknowledging his habits rather than apologizing for them.
The foundation Kream builds his project on is the theme of practicality behind his actions. “Roaches” and “Grannies” are strong examples of a vulnerable Maxo Kream who has no appreciation for the environment of his upbringing or thankfulness for those who helped mold him. It’s obvious that Kream had to grow up quickly and without hesitation, as shown in verses from “Grannies.”
The track “Bussdown” is one of the album’s weakest points due to its unoriginality and lackluster production quality. With a beat you can’t help but think was made by a novice engineer using FL Studio, Kream’s performance seems dumbed down and lacks the very wordplay he claims is missing from rap music across the board. With throwaway verses like “I pass the gas like I farted,” the three-minute track does little to impress. Thankfully, the melodic “Pop Another” provides a quick rebound from the air ball that is “Bussdown” with an unexpected, catchy beat. Maxo Kream sits more attune with artists like Tee Grizzley, Rich the Kid and even Kevin Gates. The overall product of Punken is much welcomed, and I suggest anyone looking for a solid rap album to listen to the entire project. It will be interesting to see how Biosah’s current court cases will influence his future projects, as well as his freedom.
Kream’s overall performance contains a lot of impressive lyricism alongside a booming voice that carves a sense of ferocity into the album. With a consistent, rapid flow and rhythmical hooks, Maxo hits enough of the right marks to win me over as a fan. Punken provide an impressive, though far from perfect, debut album.
Final Grade: B-