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EXCLUSIVE: Maxwell Answers Burning Questions About His New Album and Why It's Six Years in the Making

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Maxwell
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Can you believe April will mark the 20th anniversary of the release of Maxwell’s epic first album, Urban Hang Suite? His fans will never forget. Just like that, a star was born, yet since then, he has released just three more albums—all of which were critically acclaimed. You’re reading this because you are one of the millions of Maxwell fans who have been patiently (or not-so patiently) anticipating the release of part two of the Grammy-winning artist’s three-part musical trilogy. Well, Maxwell has good news: The wait is almost over. Six years after the release of part one, BLACKsummers’night, which quickly solidified itself as one of the greatest R&B records of our time, the consummate perfectionist is finally ready to debut his next masterpiece, blackSUMMERS’night.

Just hold tight a little longer. The album is nearly complete—we’ve already had a first listen—and headed your way in early summer. As Maxwell gears up to head home to Brooklyn for a Valentine’s Day weekend performance with Nas, he’s more excited than ever before about the record he has created. Behold, the answers you’ve been waiting on.

This year marks 20 years since Urban Hang Suite. Wow!
I can't believe that 20 years after doing something that I started when I was 21, would even mean anything, or even stand the test of time to the point where I would have an interview and it would be a mentioning point. It's exciting for me to know that we made those choices back then, and they still kind of live in the hearts of people to this day. What's really great about it is that I work with all of the same people, and I'm working with all of the same people on the new album that's coming out this year. It's always been a family type of thing, and I think that that's what, maybe, has made it special. I never veered off and decided to go super pop and say, “Okay, I want to get on pop radio, I'm just going to go work with that producer, and I'm going to flip my style so that I can really make that big money and be everywhere on TV.” I just stayed with my crew, and here we are…We're writing this new album. It feels, to me, even better than what we did twenty years ago.

As an artist, you’ve always been authentic and true to your musical roots.
I appreciate the sentiment. We're a little stubborn in that regard. I look at people like Marvin Gaye, and obviously Sade, and Sam Cook, and they just live by a certain code, like a creed. They just work off of soul, and they also needed to live their experiences in order to write their experiences, as opposed to having them given to them by third party people…I'm not against working with people, or being inspired by someone else's song, it just needs to fall in line with what I'm trying to leave behind as a legacy.

So, blackSUMMMER’snight is coming?!
I'm so hyped about the new album coming out, which is so exciting for me, because it's fresh and it's different, but it is what I do. It doesn't make you feel like, oh, yeah, that's going to come out in 1996. You're not going to feel that. At least I hope you don't. (Laughs.)

We’ve been patiently waiting for this album.
People are like, "Why does it take so long? Why does it take so long?" Because there's always a part of me that's like, "Nah." You know? I know I started the record, but have I lived enough of what I need to live to view it with the emotion that it needs, and then release it? I can sometimes feel like it's okay to wait. It's like ... It's not that I just want to torture people, because I know there are a few people, like, "When's the album coming?" They see me posting things, and living, and they're like, "What the hell is this about? Why are you running around, flying to Africa on safari? Where's the album?" They don't realize that living my life is what makes what they may get what it's going to be sounding like. They think it's ... some factory or something. It never worked like that for me.

So living your life if part of your process?
It's like, if I don't go out there and get my heart broken, or get into situations, enjoy happiness, or whatever, just so that I can have that experience, then there's really this hollow sort of thing that is released that may affect you, may touch you, but may not really grip you.

Meaning you’ve had years of material for blackSUMMERS’night?
I'm at the point with the album where it's just like ... With the passing of my cousin, and my grandmother passing away ... Me turning 40, and being 42 now, and having a whole sort of new milestone in my life, where a lot of my mind is grown up, and I'm thinking in terms of the next 10 years, and what I'm going to try to do for the next ten years, which is something I never really ... I mean, I did it, but I'm not doing it as much as I do now. I'm just hyped. We have two and a half years of just consistent, around the world, going everywhere, traveling, doing shows…It's funny, because I remember reading Marvin Gaye's biography when I was, like, seventeen years old, Divided Soul. He always said something that really stuck with me. He said, "You can rush to fail, or you can take your time to succeed." I'm happy that I haven't exhausted people's visions to the point where they'll never want to listen to me.

Your heart is really in the music.
I'm just grateful to people because just for them to understand [that] there's no malicious intent in staying away. It's really because I care about what I do so much. I care about myself, and the way that I need to have ... to live, in order to save the music. Because I've seen it time and time again with artists who throw themselves into work, work, work, work, work, work, and they don't even remember who they are. They're like ... another city, another state, another song, another this, and by the time they look up…they're not around, because then they go crazy. They didn't have a childhood; they didn't do anything.

We had a chance to hear the first single, “Lake By The Ocean,” which is do dope. Everyone is so pumped for this album. What else can we tell the fans?
Yeah, well, there's a song called, "Hostage." We have this song called "Orphan," that's pretty much opening the album—it sort of talks about who I am and how my life has been. There's a very orphan quality to my experience. It's very up-tempo. We have this song called "Three," that's super funky, like ... I don't know how to describe it, because I'm not really a big toot my own horn type of person, but there's some good things there. There's a song called "Lost" that I did with Stuart Matthewman, and another one called "Listen Here." It's so exciting. The thing, to me, is that I'm always sort of in a way, like a lock, like clicking. It takes a long time before I have to realize that what used to be a rock is now a statue. Sometimes people have to tap me on my shoulder and say, "Look, dude, that's a sculpture. You did it. Walk away. Put the thing down. Put the chisel down."

We’ll be in the audience on Valentine’s Day when you perform in NYC with Nas.
I'm excited. I can't believe I'm from Brooklyn, New York, and I'm finally playing the Barclay, and I'm playing it with the King of Queens.

So many exciting things to come.
There are even more exciting things. My connection with this new movie that Nate Parker's just released, Birth Of A Nation, that just broke the record at Sundance. I'm doing the soundtrack for that. It's an inspired soundtrack, and I'm super excited about that.

Catch Maxwell, Nas and Emeli Sande at Barclays Center on Valentine's Day.