Maxo is an up-and-coming rapper hailing from Los Angeles, and he carries his city and familial roots close to him. Growing up with Billy Higgins, Prince, YG, and Kendrick Lamar, Maxo grabs inspiration from all sorts of music while injecting his own stories and personality into his music. His lyrics are full of ventful, articulate lyricism over beats built upon obscure sounds and jazz-inspired melodies. Maxo’s philosophy towards music and art lets it come to him rather than seeking it out. He releases what feels right, and lets the art come back to him, full circle. Since 2015, he’s released 5 projects, including his recent release Debbie’s Son, and has worked with the likes of The Alchemist and Earl Sweatshirt. He recently performed at Tyler, the Creator’s Camp Flog Gnaw music festival, and is currently touring the U.S. and Canada on his “A Friend of Mine” tour. I got the chance to talk to Maxo about his life, music, his recording process, his tour, and an interesting story about meeting The Alchemist.
You’re from LA. How does where you’re from influence your sound or lyrics?
Maxo: Yessir, born and raised. I got different references. The East Coast is known for having woke-ass rappers. On the west coast we grew up with the ignorant shit but we wise and smart as shit. I feel like for me, just being able to have in one ear YG and in the other ear Kendrick in my youth influenced me. That’s similar hoods but different type of mentalities and balances. I feel blessed to be from the coast because it has made my references and influences more versatile. The West Coast has the Bay and LA, there’s just so much influence. The culture is contagious. It just helped me to be able to rap about some shit but also rap about all my complexities. It didn’t put a shield on how I should think.
I’m not from the West Coast but am a fan of West Coast rap. I was in high school when Drakeo the Ruler, 03 Greedo, and Shoreline Mafia were blowing up.
Maxo: You feel me, there’s that stuff but then there’s rappers like me. You got me and 03 Greedo, it’s so versatile out here. It’s really because LA is so big, you can go anywhere and get a different type of flavor. You can go to Long Beach, Compton, Inglewood, wherever the fuck. I’m from Ladera but I grew up in Pomona, it’s where Suga Free from.
How’d you get into making music?
Maxo: My brother used to rap, I kinda just picked up after him, from where he left off. I just got into it so I could reach for something to confide in, something to vent to. I think it found me to be honest. I ain’t really search for it. I ain’t start rapping till I was 20 years old. This whole path is a vine I’ve been following. From starting off just being in the studio watching my brother rap. You know how life be showing you things, I feel like music is one of them. It’s always been there, but the moment I started using it as a vessel for myself to communicate, it just opened things up.
Does your brother still rap?
Maxo: He writes but he doesn’t really rap anymore.
Who are your biggest inspirations and influences, both musically and personally?
Maxo: My mother for sure, Miles, my brother, Keishan, my uncle. A lot of Jazz musicians, Billy Higgins, Donny Hathaway, Quincy Jones. Prince as well, Michael Jackson, R. Kelly, I grew up on everything. My musical influences might not be the best people in the world but they have great songs. It really varies.
What’s your process for creating a body of work, whether that’s a single or an album?
Maxo: Usually I go in the studio wearing these special socks. They have the individual toes. I have those on with some green basketball shorts, a tank top, and an LA fitted on, and I just go in there and stand right in the middle of the studio in that outfit. I stand there for a few hours. Usually, I get some ginger tea, the studio assistant gets it for me while I stand there and I think about what I wanna rap about. As I’m standing up, I face my two big toes to each other. Usually, when I point my big toes at each other, some bars come to my head and they start formulating.
When did you first start working with The Alchemist? How did you meet him?
Maxo: One day I was walking, and I went to this 7-11. I went to get a drink, and you know when you reach in for a drink and you can kinda see the back? So I reach in and grab my drink, and when I moved it, Alchemist’s face is right there behind the drinks, and ever since then we’ve been cool.
Is that real?
Was he working at 7-11?
Maxo: Hell nah he was just in there. I don’t know why he was in there. I just went to grab a drink and he was there. I ain’t never seen him work a job.
What? I don’t know what I’d do in that situation.
Maxo: I just saw him and told him let’s go to the studio. Ever since then, we’ve been cool.
How is your journey as an independent artist?
Maxo: You know when the slaves got freed? It feels something like that.
Do you think major record labels have a place in Hip-Hop?
Maxo: It depends on who’s running the major record labels. Some of these old people need to die so things can change. I feel like once you make so much money, certain people disconnect and stop caring, it only becomes money. I feel like all major labels should have a catering business, on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, some turkey. The old folks are crazy.
Your album covers, especially those of your past three albums, are pretty abstract. What’s the vision behind these covers? How do they relate to their respective albums?
Maxo: The last cover, on Debbie’s Son, that’s just a picture my mom took of me in the tub. I had my friend Polo Cudi from Long Beach paint it, he airbrushed it. That’s a real painting too, I have it. As for the statue on Even God Has a Sense of Humor, those were put in place to signify three different emotions from one person, being myself. It was a simple thing. With that cover, it more so became something as I was doing. As I’m sitting in the cast, I’m having epiphanies, full circle moments. As you create something, it starts to make itself and then it teaches you. All my covers are drawn from my life, it’s all original.
How was performing at Camp Flog Gnaw?
Maxo: That shit was crazy, it was tight. I can’t even explain it. For someone like me, I already see myself doing some headline shit for it. Flog Gnaw is the only festival I really wanna do! From just being someone who was seeing it from a distance and couldn’t afford a ticket to being booked and paid for it and getting my whole family for free, that was the best shit ever. I fuck with Tyler for that. I fuck with Tyler cause of how the festival felt. We’re all artists playing music, ain’t no obvious hierarchy. He tries really hard to go against the politics so it’s about the actual plot. It doesn’t matter how much bread you’re grossing. Obviously, people are gonna make money and people wanna make money but we were all there playing music, no hierarchy.
How’s the tour going so far?
Maxo: I fuck with tour but I also hate it. I wanna grow past existing in these spaces of the venue. That’s really my goal, even with this art show I’m working on called “Keep On Livin”. I’m a rapper to some, but I don’t feel like existing in the spaces they put us in to display our music. I want to expand and exist in different spaces. I fuck with tour cause you get to feel everything. Some people talk about how a song made them cry during the performance, you just feel it. Baltimore was super fun, Brooklyn was super fun, today we in Montreal, tomorrow Toronto. But on a simpler scale, aside from music, just being able to travel and move around and do music. Even if we’re not at the goal point, I’m so grateful to be able to embark on this journey, this isn’t regular. Sometimes artists are spoiled, cause it gets regular, but you could be working at Ross. There’s nothing wrong with Ross, I love Ross, but they can’t be taking crazy blessings for granted.
On your song “Face of Stone”, a Bandoneon is playing throughout the track. That’s a really unique instrument. Is there a specific reason that the instrument was chosen?
Maxo: My man Karieem Riggins the one! I didn’t make that beat, I just helped arrange it. Karieem is as sharp as can be with the sonics. When I picked that beat it just stood out to me. It’s an in between part that grabs attention. I like obscure sounds that grab attention, it doesn’t even have to be a pleasant thing. You know, we’re black, we African! We feel different sounds.
Who are your favorite current artists?
Maxo: I like Baby Africa, go listen to her. I like 454 and Cleo Soul a lot. I try not to like him, not like that, but I have to be won over by artists. She’s been dropping some heat since I’ve heard of her, there’s been at least two songs off her shit I like a lot.
Do you think you’ll collab with 454?
Maxo: Hell yeah! We talk about it all the time. We just need to be in the same spot same time cause I’m not good with the Gmail collabs unless it’s like Madlib or someone like that.
Maxo: On some random shit, Little Simz. She’s also one of my favorite current artists. She’s current but she’s been going crazy for a long time. She’s still a current artist cause she hasn’t gotten her recognition. She’s getting it right now, but off the dome, she’s my dream collab.
Do you have a path that you’ve thought out or are you just taking things as they come?
Maxo: In my head, I’m kinda in the middle of a ten-year plan. It gets shaky cause I’m learning in real time, but I always gotta be strategic out here, I can’t be out here loose. Myself won’t even let myself be like that, even when I want to. Even when I’m like “Fuck this shit I don’t wanna do this shit anymore!” I always get up and just tell myself “Nah we gotta stick to the program. I can’t play with my life, I don’t have time to take shit as it comes.