Maxo Kream took the rap world by storm with his 2018 debut album PUNKEN, and when he put out his major label debut Brandon Banks the following year, he channelled the same charm as his debut but the impact was lessened. It’s a good album, but it didn’t cause the same stir that its predecessor did. Maxo took more time to work on his next album, and when he prefaced it with “Big Persona” — a stop-you-in-your-tracks single featuring Tyler, the Creator (fully in Tyler, the Rapper mode) — it seemed like he had something bigger in store this time around. His third album, Weight of the World, is now here, and it makes good on the promise of “Big Persona.” Other standout guest verses come from A$AP Rocky and Freddie Gibbs, artists who — like Tyler — share a vision with Maxo. These are artists that understand the power of a good hook, but who also care a lot about rapping and storytelling in a way that doesn’t always have the radio in mind. (The album also helps put rising Houston rapper Monaleo on the map, thanks to her killer verse on “Crip Channel.”) Weight of the World occupies that appealing middle ground between mainstream and underground; it’s welcoming, accessible music, but Maxo is a rapper’s rapper, and he’s got a lot to say. It’s too soon to say if the album will have the same staying power as PUNKEN, but these songs feel bigger than both of his previous albums. They have intricately crafted production, and they sound like more time when into them. It’s unmistakably Maxo Kream, but it’s not a retread of his early work. It opens up the doors to a whole new chapter of his evolution.
Weight of the World is out now via Big Persona/88 Classic/RCA Records. Stream it and watch the new video for “Cripstian” below…
25 Early 2000s Rap Albums That Hold Up Today
Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)
Deltron 3030 – Deltron 3030 (2000)
Lil’ Kim – The Notorious K.I.M. (2000)
OutKast – Stankonia (2000)
Ludacris – Back for the First Time (2000)
Eve – Scorpion (2001)
Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein (2001)
Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001)
Jay-Z made a name for himself rapping alongside Jaz-O and then Big Daddy Kane in the late '80s and early '90s, but took his time when it came to making his own album. And while he was watching and waiting, the young Queensbridge rapper Nas released his 1994 debut album Illmatic, an instant-classic that received a now-legendary score of five mics from The Source and changed rap forever. Jay took obvious notes from Illmatic (and sampled a line from it) when he finally released his own debut album, 1996's Reasonable Doubt. Gone was the fast-rapping Jay-Z of the Jaz-O days and in his place was an artist with a smoother, grittier style who told real-life stories of life on the streets in Brooklyn over some of the finest production of the era (courtesy of Ski, Clark Kent, Illmatic contributor DJ Premier, and others). Jay-Z intended for Reasonable Doubt to be a classic, and it was, but it wasn't the instantly-game-changing album that Illmatic was and it couldn't compete with the flashy, pop-crossover "Jiggy Era" that Puff Daddy started to lead after Biggie's tragic death. So Jay-Z went in an increasingly pop direction, and by the time of his 1998 single "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," he wasn't just competing with the "Jiggy Era," he was starting to take over.
Going pop in the late '90s and early 2000s also meant getting dissed by other rappers, among them Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Nas, whose feud with Jay-Z was about to boil over as Jay-Z geared up for his best album since Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint. Months before its release, Jay made Hot 97 Summer Jam history by debuting "Takeover," a diss track aimed at Prodigy and Nas, during his set, alongside a childhood photo of Prodigy in dance clothes on the big screen. The finished version of "Takeover" ended up on The Blueprint, and the studio version proved it to be not just a brutal diss track but also a genuinely great song, and one of many on The Blueprint. Jay-Z didn't stop being "pop" on The Blueprint -- it still had the radio-friendly "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)," the sentimental balladry of "Song Cry," and other "pop" moments -- but he figured out how to put the accessibility of the "Jiggy Era," the grit of the streets, and the album-oriented structure of Reasonable Doubt into one whole masterpiece of an album. Production came largely from Just Blaze and Kanye West (plus Bink, Timbaland, Eminem, and others), and together they established a rich, soulful production style that would dominate rap for years. There's perhaps never been a better example of the classic Kanye sound than "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)." Jay's ear for beats on The Blueprint was matched by his most consistently great rapping since Reasonable Doubt, and still some of the very best rapping of his career. Unlike his previous guest-filled albums, Jay carried the album almost entirely by himself, and he never lost steam. The only guest appearance came from Eminem on "Renegade," and look, Nas is right, Em out-rapped Jay on the track, but Jay still packed some of his finest rhyme schemes into that song.
Aesop Rock – Labor Days (2001)
Nas – Stillmatic (2001)
El-P – Fantastic Damage (2002)
Eminem – The Eminem Show (2002)
If we're picking one album per artist, a lot of people would go with 2000's near-perfect The Marshall Mathers LP for Eminem, but if pressed, I always go with The Eminem Show because it feels like the grand finale to the classic Eminem era. The Marshall Mathers LP is just as essential, but Eminem as we came to know him doesn't exist without The Eminem Show.
An artist who almost always knew how to title an album, Marshall Mathers introduced the world to his massively offensive alter-ego Slim Shady on 1999's The Slim Shady LP, he introduced us to the man behind the madness on The Marshall Mathers LP, and he took a look at the impact Eminem the artist had on the world with The Eminem Show. (He also admitted the show was over with 2004's Encore, and then made a series of failed comeback attempts with Relapse, Recovery, The Marshall Mathers LP 2, and Revival, before finally abandoning this trend on the still-just-okay-sounding Kamikaze and Music to Be Murdered By.) Eminem catapulted to the forefront of rap because of white privilege but also became a scapegoat for everything white suburban conservatives hated about rap, and there's perhaps no better response to all of it than "White America," the first proper song on The Eminem Show. And then there's "Sing for the Moment." The Marshall Mathers LP gave us "Stan," a Dido-sampling ballad about the real-life dangers of toxic fandom and the importance of mental health, and The Eminem Show gave us "Sing for the Moment," an Aerosmith-sampling ballad about the importance of rap music to young kids amidst backlash from the media, the government, and scared parents. You might argue that song ruined white rap forever (and also unfortunately convinced Eminem he needed more and more ballads on later albums), but it also spoke directly to and validated the feelings of a lot of kids who needed to hear it. The Eminem Show also attacked George W. Bush ("Square Dance"), took on personal issues like the toll fame takes on a person ("Say Goodbye Hollywood") and fatherhood ("Hailie's Song"), and also reminded the world Eminem was still better than most people at making straight-up rap songs ("Business"). One of three songs on The Eminem Show produced by the man who made Eminem a star, Dr. Dre, "Business" found Eminem packing so many career-best punchlines over a top-tier Dre beat, reminding us that -- when you put all the baggage associated with Eminem aside -- he was truly one of the greats at the pure art of rapping.