MAXO: I’LL MAKE IT HAPPEN
photography by dana washington
Maxo is one of those same-time type people. There’s a duality in his art and general conversation—a bifurcation. He’s at once open and shut off, eager to share but hard to reach. This is, of course, irresistible. It doesn’t hurt that his output thus far has been a sanguine and stupendous outpouring of intimate burners, a quiet storm of rage pushed down and processed. His new single “Time” is a crash course in Maxo, a summation of the desire and distance woven throughout his catalogue. We talked about his upcoming album, food and death. This interview by Tolliver.
Your first project After Hours is really dreamlike, super lo-fi. Lyrically it’s very straight forward—there are drug references and sex references. Do you think your life has come into sharper focus since putting it out?
Maxo: Yeah—with all these I was in a completely different space. I was going through a lot just with my brother and shit, family shit. With Smile … there’s growth in every project, I’m in a different space in every project. With After Hours, I was new to this whole shit. Those were my first songs ever. My shit has grown a lot—it had to grow.
It sounds like you’re just living life, basically.
Maxo: Bro, that’s why it’s difficult for me to talk about shit sometimes ‘cause it’s like I don’t even be knowing. You feel me? I just live my and life and I also happen to make music. That’s just how I document it.
I think that’s one of the reasons people are drawn to your music. It feels very confessional—very in the moment. I can feel that you’re just there documenting what’s happening in life and not necessarily thinking about recording an album. When you’re recording are you thinking ‘This is gonna be part of a project’ or are you just recording music?
Maxo: I prefer to record in projects. All this shit is visual to me as well. I’ll see how it looks before even hearing how it sounds. That’s why I’m super into artwork—sometimes I’ll have the artwork before the songs.
Your videos have such clear aesthetic choices. Very low-key. All of it really ties together nicely, even in a live video I saw recently.
Maxo: Was it just me freestyling?
Maxo: Yeah—I know what you’re talking about.
Even that performance ties into the mood of your music videos. How would you describe that mood? Who inspires you?
Maxo: I’m inspired just by people I grew up around. Even with the ‘Gold Man’ video or a lot of my videos, it’s nothing that I don’t do. It’s just regular shit. I don’t know if you peeped the ‘Gold Man’ video, but that’s just the park I be at. ‘Cause we shot it on a super 8, it felt a certain way, but I just be chilling there, smoking there with the homies and shit. The feeling to a lot of my shit is just very human. My music is very transparent. Everything on the table is just me. And that shit could fluctuate.
It seems like you make music just for you.
Maxo: Yeah, bro.
Are you recording to get demons out?
Maxo: The whole reason I started this music was for therapeutic reasons—to actually heal from actual trauma. My goal with this shit is just to keep it that way.
I notice you talk about Black death a lot—it seems to be a theme. I feel like as a country a couple years ago we were really pushing on it, but now we’re not even talking about it anymore. Do you worry that the country isn’t focusing on it anymore?
Maxo: Man, I don’t even think about it like that. I just think like my mom has three Black sons and I have a sixteen-year-old brother. I remember when Trayvon Martin died we were looking at the TV and my older brother was crying because a nigga that look like us really got killed with no justice served. And then that’s just the shit that makes it to the TV, you feel me? I feel like as a Black man I have to speak on that. I’m not from the hood myself, but you don’t gotta go far to see a nigga fall victim to the system. Like cousins. That’s just regular. But I also feel like that’s not getting the attention it needs, and the fact that that shit isn’t even new, it’s just on camera … I don’t even know, man. We were getting lynched. I feel obligated to speak on that ‘cause that shit affects me. I’m nervous when the police pull me over. That’s just life.
In ‘Time’ you talk about wanting to help your friends, but at the same time you want to be left alone. How will you go about keeping that solitude as you get more and more popular?
Maxo: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I just know that as I get older I’m just starting to be more aware of who I give my energy to and the intentions of people. I don’t know as shit grows how imma stay tucked off just for my sanity, but I’ll make it happen. On that song, there are people that I want to help out, but there are also people that mentally aren’t even trying to get help. You feel me? But people come around on their own time. That song is really about me taking back my time, and just seeing how shit really works. My uncle played in the NFL for fifteen years, and I saw how people were acting around him. Just like … weird shit, bro. And just being young and my mom telling me stories about it and shit. I just know that everything up to this point has taught me what I need to know to be ready for the next stage. So I can just take that.
I know you work closely with Lastnamedavid. Are you hands-on with production?
Maxo: I’m super hands-on with all that shit, just with everything creative. But Lastnamedavid, that’s my mans. He knows my oldest brother who use to rap. I think they were planning on getting up but I dont think they ever got up. And I met him randomly through the other homie who produced ‘After Hours.’ And then we were just like, ‘We should cook.’ I saw him at a show, at a little beat show, and I was like, ‘Bro, we should get up.’ That was before Smile, obviously. From there we made like seven songs—however many were on Smile—and we just put that out. He’s from my same area, so I’ve known him for a minute.
He’s from Ladera?
Maxo: Naw ‘cause I don’t even stay in Ladera anymore, I stay over toward the IE, like towards West Covina, La Verne, Claremont area. He stays in Echo Park now but I met him in Rancho. I met him when I went to college for a year—a J.C. I met him when I was up there. Not at the school but when I was going there.
I wrote down five categories, hoping you’d tell me which has better this or that. Between Ladera and the I.E., which has better food?
Maxo: Bro, the city fa sho, just because it’s more cultures meshed. You can go on Pico and get Ethiopian food, you can get Jamaican food, there’s just more options. But out here? I’m on the cusp of the last city of L.A. County. But the closer you get to the Inland Empire … that shit the boonies, bro. It’s weird white people over there.
I think I know your answer to the rest of these.
Maxo: Yeah, you feel me? The city better. Soon as I get my bread right, we back in that bitch.
How do you spend your time? Are you a loner? Are you working a lot?
Maxo: I’ve grown to appreciate solitude a lot, but low-key lately that shit’s been unhealthy. I need people. But recently I’ve been outside a lot. I’ve been kickin with niggas I grew up with like my family, my cousins and shit. I’m on FaceTime with my shorty.
Real simple. I don’t really do too much, bro. I be chillin for the most part. Just keeping it simple—tryna stay out the way.
I was just talking to someone about this. She was saying, ‘Yeah we need space to learn to love ourselves, but at the same time you go crazy if you don’t have other people.’
Maxo: Facts. That’s the truth. But it’s a thin line, bro. Because you could be kicking it with the wrong niggas and your shit could be completely left. I’ve been in that situation, too, where I have to regather my shit. I guess that’s what I’m going through right now. Just reclaiming my energy.
MAXO’S “TIME” IS OUT NOW. VISIT MAXO AT SMILEFORMAXO.COM.