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Maxo Kream Punken Kream Clicc

With his last two projects, Maxo Kream established himself as one of rap’s best storytellers, his trap tales heavy with gory details and delivered as bursts of semiautomatic syllables. On Punken, the 27-year-old Houston artist opens up about the world that forged him, revealing the forces and decisions that turned a young knucklehead into someone facing five to 99 for organised crime.

As he has previously, Maxo sticks to the grimier side of Houston – “hookers, strippers, crackheads, robbers, trappers, all in public housin” – but he doesn’t stop there. On Punken, he lays out his entire family tree: a granny quick to use an extension cord or switch; a mother who worked her whole life to move her family out of the hood; a father who served time for “crackin’ cars for revenue;” a trapping brother who ended up with a bullet to the face; and – perhaps most tellingly – the “petty thief and junkie” uncle who stabbed a man in front of Maxo when he was just six years old. Thanks to his lyrical gifts, Maxo’s family members aren’t simple stereotypes – they’re real people, albeit the ones who left him to “become a grown man … overnight.”

Beyond this familial portrait, Punken is loaded with the same explicit and vivid lyrics about drug dealing and drug abusing, about shooting and screwing, that has defined his mixtape catalogue. While some of the lyrical tropes might be repetitive, Maxo keeps things fresh by linking with a wide array of producers and pulling back on the sinister menace to tell different stories. There are mid-tempo sex jams that revel in contradictions: Maxo ends up the fuckboy punchline on Astrodome Pt. 2 and turns Future’s “choose the dirty over you” lyric into an ethos on the syrupy Love Drugs. But there are also melancholy songs like Janky and ATW about street paranoia and supposed friends who will snitch “for a Coca-Cola and some cigarettes.”

On Punken, Maxo Kream trains the scope of his rifle on his past and mostly hits his mark. After naming his 2016 effort The Persona Tape, this one could be accurately titled The Personal Tape.