Maxwell is readying an album with teenage-era songs

NEW YORK (AP) — Maxwell has been celebrated and admired for forging his own path and going against the popular music grain ever since he set the R&B world on fire with his 1996 debut album, “Urban Hang Suite.” And while fans are awaiting the release of his upcoming studio album, “blacksummers’NIGHT,” Maxwell revealed he’s working on a follow-up project that will include songs from his teenage years.

“I just have to finish the (“blacksummers’night”) trilogy part, and then we’re going to move into some stuff that happened before I was even 17,” the “OFF” singer said. “(It will also include) lots of songs from the 90s that never got on the albums…it’s a different time — I’m so grateful.” (The other albums in the trilogy are BLACKsummers’night and BlackSUMMERS’night.)

But “blacksummersNIGHT” is up next, and it will be his first album since 2016. (He didn’t give a release date.) Though hesitant to give details about the album that will follow it, the excitement on his face while talking about giving the world songs from his musical infancy couldn’t be hidden.

R&B singer Maxwell poses for a portrait in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, to promote his Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite Cruise, a four-night Norwegian Pearl ocean voyage that will take place February 10-14. (AP Photo/Gary Gerard Hamilton)

“The next one (with early songs) is stuff that I used to do when I was 16, 15, when I had pretty much barely any equipment. And it’s interesting to see your first steps — well, I wouldn’t say first steps. I would say crawling.”

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The three-time Grammy winner revealed the news to The Associated Press while promoting his Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite Cruise, a four-night Norwegian Pearl ocean voyage that will take place Feb. 10-14, 2024. The cruise will make stops at Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau in the Bahamas.

“It’s wild — I’m doing a cruise, bro! I guess you turn 50 and that’s when you start doing cruises,” the 2021 Soul Train Legend award recipient said while laughing.

Not only will he have two performances, but Grammy winners Robert Glasper and Ledisi will also hit the stage during the voyage, as well as Musiq Soulchild, Leela James, Sabrina Claudio and Gallant. Maxwell said the theme of the Valentine’s week cruise will be romance, a throughline “NIGHT” will also carry.

“It’s (NIGHT’s) a journey into true intimacy. It’s a journey into vulnerability, and it just ties up the Trilogy in a way that represents eroticism in a very mature way. Because I see a lot of eroticism happening, but I don’t necessarily feel like those people make me feel like they’re sexy — they make me feel like they’re sex objects,” explained Maxwell, who said the album was written between 2002 until now and has been partially delayed due to the unexpected death of his longtime engineer, Mike Pela. “If you want to write lyrics that are very graphic…do what you want to do. I don’t do that — I believe in romance.”

Passion and seduction have been synonymous with the Brooklyn native ever since the sex symbol label was thrust upon him after the release of “Urban Hang Suite.” A pioneer of the ’90s neo-soul movement with contemporaries like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Jill Scott, he crafted feel-good, two-step hits like “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” “Sumthin’ Sumthin’,” and “Matrimony: Maybe You” and soulful ballads like “Fortunate,” “Whenever Wherever Whatever,” Pretty Wings” and his popular rendition of the Kate Bush classic, “This Woman’s Work.”

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Always seemingly ignoring what was crowding the music charts, the artist has consistently focused on what his own ears gravitated toward. Known for his keen writing ability, Maxwell has crafted timeless songs by staying true to his art.

“I try to stay away from things that confuse people about what I do… I do see, in watching all of the current artists, that there’s so much shock and awe…There’s a lot of clickbait music,” the “Lifetime” crooner said. “I’m grateful that I wrote enough songs that it doesn’t really matter if I have an album tomorrow or the next day…the goal was get to a point where you do not need to keep being relevant for people for them to care about you, because it’s unsustainable.”

While Maxwell makes it clear that his personal Ten Commandments would include not judging the art others make, he says there can be a price to pay for the type of art created.

“What do you do when the music doesn’t last? And your kids are 15 or 30, and you’ve got to go on stage and sing lyrics that really make absolutely no sense to who you are in the given moment?” the 50-year-old questioned. “As artists mature, they forget that the choices that they make creatively have to withstand time because time is gangster. And what you look like 20 years ago is not what you’re going to look like (in the present) — I don’t care how much plastic surgery you get, we’re all getting old.”

Maxwell serenaded sold-out crowds last month at Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl and is preparing for a four-show stint at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center next week with the National Symphony Orchestra. He says he’s still taken aback when he learns fellow celebrities and everyday fans have loved his music. He’s thankful for the inclusivity and diversity of his audience, but he’s most proud that his music is championed by Black culture.

“I love that…I’m in Black homes, that when I look out (in the audience), I see myself,” Maxwell said. “When you see people who look like you out there, and I’m talking about people who went to the show on a first date and are now married and they’re showing me their kids, I mean, it’s just like, wow,” adding that he’s “extremely blessed to have had this incredible journey.”

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