Maxwell (born May 23, 1973), also known by his stage name Musze, is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and actor. Along with fellow musicians D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, Maxwell has been credited with helping to shape what has been termed the "neo soul" movement that rose to prominence during the late 1990s.
Maxwell was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a Haitian mother and a Puerto Rican father. His mother grew up in a devout Baptist household in Haiti. Maxwell's father died in a plane crash when Maxwell was three years old.
After receiving a low-cost Casio keyboard from a friend, the Brooklyn, New York-native began composing music at age 17. Already a fan of what he described as "jheri curl soul", which was the trademark of early 1980s R&B acts such as Patrice Rushen, S.O.S. Band and Rose Royce, Maxwell began to teach himself to play a variety of instruments. According to him, the R&B of the early 1980s contained "the perfect combination of computerized instrumentation with a live feel", and that the genre's dynamics later became lost due to the influence of hip hop on R&B. Despite facing ridicule from classmates for being shy and awkward, he progressed and continued to develop his musical abilities, and he also adopted the look of a more bohemian style outwardly in his clothing, growing long sideburns and letting his hair grow out wildly and combed in an extreme style, or sometimes putting his hair in long thin braids.
Initially influenced by early-1980s urban R&B, Maxwell progressed rapidly, and by 1991 he was performing on the New York City club scene. Maxwell was able to gain access to a 24-track recording studio and started to record songs for a demo tape, which he circulated among his friends. The demo engendered interest, and his official debut concert performance at Manhattan nightclub Nell's drew a crowd. During the next two years, Maxwell wrote and recorded over three hundred songs and played frequently at small venues throughout New York City. Maxwell's performances continued to draw interest and increase the buzz about him, and he was called "the next Prince" by a writer from Vibe magazine who attended one of his shows. After earning a considerable reputation, Maxwell signed a recording contract with Columbia Records in 1994. He adopted his middle name as a moniker out of respect for his family's privacy.
Maxwell began working with songwriter Leon Ware and noted guitarist Wah Wah Watson to record his debut Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite in the mid 1990s. Recording sessions for the album took place in 1994 and 1995 at Electric Lady Studios, RPM Studios, Sorcerer Studios and Chung King Studios in New York City, and at CRC Studios in Chicago, Illinois. After production for the album was completed in 1995, the finished product was presented to Columbia Records in Spring of that same year. However, it was shelved for nearly a year, due to issues with Columbia's management, the label's extensive reorganization and record executives' doubts of the album's commercial potential.
Initially, the album was slow to obtain commercial interest. On April 20, 1996, the album made its chart debut at number 38 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. From August to October 1996, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite experienced chart growth on both the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and Billboard 200, peaking at number eight on the former and at number 36 on the latter. It spent seventy-eight weeks on the Billboard 200 chart. It became a Top 30 hit in the United Kingdom. The album was later ranked as one of the year's top-10 best albums by Time, Rolling Stone and USA Today. and was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album at the 39th Grammy Awards, losing the award to The Tony Rich Project's Words.
The album spawned four singles. The first single released, "...Til the Cops Come Knockin'", debuted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks at number 87 in May 1996. Peaking at number 79, the single spent 12 weeks on the chart. The second single, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)", debuted on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks in August 1996 at number 11, eventually peaking number eight. It spent eighteen weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 36 on September 28, 1996. The third single, "Sumthin' Sumthin'", peaked at number 22 on the Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales. The album's fourth single, "Suitelady (The Proposal Jam)", entered the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay component chart in May 1997, peaking at number 64. (Maxwell contributed the song "Segurança (Security)" to the AIDS-benefit album Red Hot + Rio, produced by the Red Hot Organization.)
Despite only having released only one album, the music video television channel MTV saw his burgeoning popularity and asked him to tape an episode of the concert series MTV Unplugged in New York City. The show was taped live on June 15, 1997, and he performed his own songs as well as covers of songs by Kate Bush ("This Woman's Work") and Nine Inch Nails ("Closer"). (Unfortunately he clashed with his label about the release of a full album of his session, resulting in the release of only an extended play, or EP instead, containing seven songs.) The episode of MTV Unplugged first aired on the network on July 22, 1997".
Maxwell's second studio album, Embrya, was released in early 1998, and upon its release it was panned by contemporary music critics. The album received mixed criticism for its more "indulgent sound." With its internal focus and esoteric grooves, the album served as a departure for Maxwell, who did not regret risking his reputation with urban listeners for a more challenging record. The album experienced a critical backlash similar to that of other artists' work that broke their previous releases' successful formulas in favor of more compelling projects, now being termed "neo-soul." In 1999, it won the Soul Train Music Award for Best Male Soul/R&B Album. In a retrospective review for Allmusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote that Maxwell "overstuffs his songs with ideas that lead nowhere" and called Embrya "a bit of a sophomore stumble, albeit one with promising moments." Arion Berger, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), found the songs monotonous and called the album "unfocused and pretentious ... full of overwrought, underwritten songs with obscure, fancy titles revolving around a sort of sexual gnosticism."
Despite the negative press, the album sold more than one million copies and garnered Maxwell a new alternative fanbase, but confounded the traditional urban consumers. On May 26, 1999, the album was officially certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Embrya was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best R&B Album, losing to fellow neo-soul artist Erykah Badu's Baduizm (1997). Later in the year he released "Fortunate", a single written by R. Kelly and featured on the soundtrack for the 1999 film Life. The single peaked at number one on Billboard magazine's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles and Tracks chart. To date, the song is Maxwell's most successful single and was Billboard's number-one R&B single of 1999.
Now, Maxwell's third album, was released on August 14, 2001 on Columbia Records in the United States. Following the lukewarm radio success of his previous album, Maxwell has stated he felt more comfortable with his artistic direction in the creation of his new album, which does not exhibit his previous work's conceptual style. The album sold over 296,000 units in the U.S. in the first week, according to SoundScan, to earn him his first-ever number one album. The second single off the album, "This Woman's Work", a live staple of Maxwell's, charted at number 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number 16 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Once again, despite some criticism towards Maxwell's songwriting, La Weekly stated "Now is a disappointment in the wake of 1996’s Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite and its 1998 follow-up, Embrya." Now received generally positive reviews from music critics, based on an aggregate score of 78/100 from Metacritic. The album also served as Maxwell's last release before quietly entering a self-imposed an almost seven-year hiatus from performing, and no tour was planned to support the album.
Recording sessions for a new album took place during 2007 to 2009 at Chung King Studios, Bowery Digital, and Platinum Sound Recording Studios in New York City. The album was produced entirely by Maxwell and musician Hod David. The album was to serve as the first part of his scheduled trilogy of albums.
During this time, and after seven years of not performing, he appeared as a surprise musical guest on the 2008 BET Awards, where he performed the song "Simply Beautiful" in a tribute to soul singer Al Green, shocking fans and the audience alike with his ability to still perform well, but also with his new look, his trademark dreadlocks and pork-chop sideburns gone, replaced with a more relaxed and mature look.
The album BLACKsummers'night was released on July 7, 2009 and received universal acclaim from music critics. Commercially the album was a success, debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart in July 2009, with first-week sales of 316,000 copies, serving as Maxwell's highest first-week sales.
The album produced four singles. The lead single "Pretty Wings" debuted at number one on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, ultimately spending 47 weeks on the chart. It also spent 18 weeks and peaked at number 33 on the Hot 100 and at number 12 on its Radio Songs component chart. The second single, "Bad Habits", peaked at number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, spending 46 weeks on the chart. It peaked at number 71 on the Hot 100, at number 38 on the Radio Songs chart, and at number 16 on the Hot Dance Club Songs chart. The third single "Cold" spent one week at number 62 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album's fourth single "Fistful of Tears" spent 24 weeks on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, peaking at number 11. It charted at number 94 on the Hot 100 and at number 63 on the Radio Songs chart. Maxwell received six nominations for the 2010 Grammy Awards, winning "Best R&B Album" for BLACKsummers'night and "Best Male R&B Vocal Performance" for "Pretty Wings." "Pretty Wings" was nominated for the "Song of the Year" which was written by Maxwell under his publishing moniker Musze.
On April 17, 2012, Maxwell announced that he and his eleven-piece band would embark on a six-day tour, MaxwellTwoNight -M2N tour 2012 – two nights in three cities, scheduled for the cities of Los Angeles, California – Staples Center (July 20 and July 21); Atlanta, Georgia – Phillips Arena (July 27 and July 28); and Newark, New Jersey – the Prudential Center (August 3 and August 4). Maxwell was to perform his discography in its entirety. The first day of the tour Maxwell was to perform songs from his first album Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite and second album Embrya. The second day of the tour Maxwell was to perform from his third and fourth albums Now and BLACKsummer'snight, respectively. Maxwell was to debut never-performed songs from his BLACKsummer'snight trilogy. lt was also announced that proceeds from the M2N tour merchandise would support the "Obama-Biden 2012" re-election campaign. However, the tour was canceled due to vocal hemorrhaging.
After two years of occasionally performing and planning, he disclosed during an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in May 2014 that he had been working on his fifth studio album for "the past three years" and has been recording in Miami. On December 18, 2014, Maxwell announced on the social media site Twitter the second installment of his trilogy blackSUMMERS'night would be arriving sometime in winter 2015.
On April 7, 2016, Maxwell released his first solo single in 6 years titled "Lake by the Ocean", and also revealed his long-awaited fifth album blackSUMMERS'night. He performed it on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on May 5, 2016. It was his first television performance in seven years.
The full-length album was released on July 1, 2016.
Along with fellow musicians D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, Maxwell has been credited with helping to shape the "neo soul" movement that rose to prominence during the late 1990s. Along with D'Angelo's Brown Sugar (1995) and Badu's Baduizm (1997), Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite has been recognized by writers for beginning neo soul's popularity and helping the genre obtain commercial visibility. However, in contrast to D'Angelo, Maxwell was more conventional in his approach on his debut album.
In commenting on the "new soul revival" in music, Maxwell told Entertainment Weekly in 1997 that "everything out there musically was inspired or influenced by something from the past. It's not about creating some super-fresh new thing. If it doesn't lend itself to your history, how is it going to extend to your future? That's what's really brilliant about looking into children's eyes—you can see their parents in them." The Washington Post called him "the Marvin Gaye of the '90s". Its columnist wrote that Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite "heralded the arrival of a top-of-the-class graduate of the old school of soul, one who could sing about romantic aspiration and tribulation with heart-wrenching emotion. It was as if the aesthetic that Gaye ascribed to — 'music that has feeling, hope and meaning – all the things people are looking for' — had been rediscovered after a long, hedonistic interlude."
Maxwell's role in writing and producing the album exhibited a level of artistic control by an R&B artist that was uncommon in the recording industry at the time. On his emergence with Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, writer Carol Brennan cited him, along with the Fugees, D'Angelo and Tony Rich, as neo soul musicians that "exhibited the identifying characteristics of this new breed of R&B artists: lyrics that give voice to intense personal expression, creative control over the music, and a unexpectedly successful debut."
• Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996)
• Embrya (1998)
• Now (2001)
• BLACKsummers'night (2009)
• blackSUMMERS'night (2016)
Sources: Last.fm, Wikipedia
Maxwell in the news
|Songs by Maxwell|