If there was a demi god of music, an individual who possesses the power to put out tracks that appeal by and large to a swathe of music fans and critics who would you pick?
While you mull that question over, here at Nation Of Billions we decided to profile that demi-god from Brooklyn – the man who creates the sweetest ambrosia: Maxwell – the man with more sexual potency than ten balding men on country brewed ginseng.
Gerald Maxwell Riviera has been literally absorbing, igniting and riveting music critics and music fans for over twenty years with his mercurial, enigmatic self. For sure he is the barometer many up and coming (and established) artists use to measure their own careers; “am I engaging the audience“, “is that track affecting the audience in the right way,” “am I singing as well as I can be“?
He is a demi-god of huge stature bestriding the genres of soul and neo-soul like Poseidon – the man can do no wrong. Ok perhaps I push it a little too far. It is true at times Maxwell has been on the receiving end of some particularly vitriolic criticism for projects that have been seen as ‘pretentious’ and excluding my natural bias, some of the criticism to aspects of projects may have be seen as valid – after all even the ‘best’ make mistakes it’s part of that all important learning curve.
Most interestingly, he has achieved this success without necessarily fitting the tried and tested formula for success – certainly now. He seems to shun fame, shuns the intrusive all seeing and at times Machiavellian press (music and entertainment) and in many respects he is maddeningly secretive. He is globally known yet paradoxically unknown remaining as private as Jason Bourne with an acute paranoia after a particularly heavy crack session, ‘who’s there?!’ ‘We’ know Maxwell only through his music and I expect in some ways that is the way it should be. At a time when artists are required and sometimes court the ability to let ‘everyone’ know even the last time they had a satisfying orgasm – Maxwell keeps it ’realer’ than most.
Now 42, Maxwell’s journey into the highest echelons of the music fraternity started with a debut album called Maxwell’s ‘Urban Hang Suite’ (1996) released on the mighty Colombia Records. It is twenty years since that seminal and defining album which proudly announced that the half Haitian and half Puerto-Rican Gerald was about to become a tsunami of musical creativity.
Prior to that defining album, Maxwell (or MUSZE as he is sometimes known) had built a beautifully strong and loyal fan base the traditional way; hitting the live music circuit and taking people on magnificent neo-soul journeys with his distinctive falsetto voice. Signing to Colombia was obviously a massive feather in the cap but it was of course the amazing tracks featured on said debut that launched his 20 year musical history.
Working with the legendary Leon Ware who was behind hits for names like ; Quincy Jones and the timeless Marvin Gaye – the duo were able to create tracks that remain solid like the foundations of Everest. ‘Sumthin Sumthin‘ (1995) and ‘Ascension‘ (Don’t You Ever Wonder)’ 1996, being the second and third singles off that album – classics for their understated powerful sexual energy and their classic jazz, funk enthused like sounds. But it was his debut single that had legions of women wishing to be locked up and loved for days by this man ‘Til The Cops Come Knocking’.
Following that debut Maxwell then abruptly and perhaps unwisely but certainly understandably changed things up with his second album ‘Embrya’ (1998). It featured co-production from Stuart Mathhewman who was instrumental in the career of the biggest female name from the UK (yes even bigger than Adele I would say for influence) Sade. The album was literally soaked in the Sade-esque sound but the album was at the time beaten black and blue by critics. Note subsequent reaction to the album has been a whole lot more favourable. It was the fact that he decided to take such a different stance that maybe threw people.
His third album ‘Now’ (2001) saw a return to those vibes of the debut album. Maxwell literally dropped a grenade on the scene and said proudly – ‘I am Maxwell and this is what I does’ and we all acquiesced. ‘Get To Know You’ (2001) and ‘Lifetime’ (2001) are big but purely on the emotive power, got to say I have always found ‘This Woman’s Work’ (2001) to be one of my favourites from that album. Maxwell evidently covered the song in his MTV Unplugged performance and made it his. I hasten to add that the original work by Kate Bush is equally amazing and supreme.
As breaks go, Maxwell went Dynamo on the music scene. 8 years later he announced his return with a short thirty second snippet of a track called ‘Pretty Wings‘ (2009) and the obligatory; wave upon wave of interest by fans and press, the rumour mongers, women all of a sudden suffering with hot flushes when the name Maxwell is mentioned and men suddenly becoming acutely self-conscious and jealous; ‘he’s not that good looking’.
It was as we soon learnt the beginning of what was to be, after such a long time away, the genesis of his fourth album and the first part of a trilogy of albums. When ‘BLACKsummers’night‘ the album dropped it was safe to say that Maxwell cemented his global status – earning awards and acclaim despite taking a break that could have killed off many careers. It featured co-production from Hod Williams who had worked with names like; Eric ‘don’t let me near your woman’ Benet, Sonny and Cher and evidently Maxwell on his ‘Now’ album.
So as is now usual we have had to wait 7 years for Maxwell but damn this mans work is worth the wait. The minute ‘Lake By The Ocean‘ (2016) was put out as a teaser, we all got suitably worked up again. Risking sounding like an unctuous plebeian I got to say the teaser sounds totally awesome – incidentally Hod Williams features again co-writing and producing the coming single. If I were to place an easy bet we’re about to savour the next instalment of ‘BlackSUMMERS’night’.
Maxwell ultimately has always forged his own path and evidently carried his musical self in the manner that he sees fit and that has been his distinguishing factor, one that remains contemporary. Signed to a major he has firmly held the reins to his career – no wild stallions charging to success only to find that they were in fact being corralled.
Touted as a ‘Marvin Gaye’ type artist with his first album, at the time that was obviously way too early and probably daunting but with twenty years behind him while he is still not Marvin Gaye he is most definitely Maxwell heading towards legendary status.
As we anticipate the unveiling of the 2nd part of his trilogy, only a class act like Maxwell would have the confidence to chart his path in advance and set himself up for a trilogy which will seal the deal on a ‘Blacksummers’NIGHT’. We may yet be in for another 7 year wait for before Maxwell unveils the last part of the trilogy, but till then we’ll be looking forward to having a ‘BlackSUMMERS’night’ to keep us warm.
Maxwell is hosting a Live Facebook Q&A on April 7th at 10:30PM EST and premiering the new single ‘Lake By The Ocean’ in full. The time has finally returned for you to go get your questions over to Maxwell on Facebook now!