ESSENCE Fest Headliner Maxwell Dishes on Having 'No Swag' and the Haircut That Had Fans Crying

Photo by Christian Hansen
The neo-soul man—one of our headliners at ESSENCE Festival, held June 30-July 3 in New Orleans—reflects on the "bold move" to cut his Afro and his latest comeback.

He’s one of the smoothest crooners in R&B, so you might think that Maxwell was a born ladies’ man. But growing up, he didn’t always have game with the girls. “There was really no swag,” says Maxwell, who will be one of the headliners at ESSENCE Festival, June 30-July 3 in New Orleans. “ I was a guy with glasses. I was pretty much a nerd in school. I kept to myself. My music was my superhero suit.”

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After his 1996 debut, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite, he became famous not only for his neo-soul sounds but for his blown-out Afro. But before returning to music with 2009’s BLACKsummers’night, Max made the decision to let go of the ’fro: “I’m looking at these old photos of Sam Cooke and Harry Belafonte, and then I was dating someone [who]  was like, ‘You know what? You should just cut your hair off.’ I was like, ‘Really? Okay.’ She goes, ‘Make sure you go to the right barber. Make sure they line you up, fade you, do all that right.’ It was a bold move.”
The cut wounded some of Maxwell’s fans deep. “I got a lot of people saying, ‘I cried when you cut your hair,’” recalls the singer, who will turn 43 on Monday. “But for me to have done that and come out with BLACKsummers’night and for that not to matter was the biggest hug from the universe. It was like, ‘You are not just what you look like. You are not a gimmick.’”

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With a new single, “Lake by the Ocean,” and his upcoming blackSUMMERS’night album—which drops July 1, the day of his ESSENCE Festival performance—Maxwell is rocking his “superhero suit”  again. “We have to transition ourselves to this newer version of what we did before, and we can’t give people this formula,” he says, adding that his comeback had to wait until “I had the emotional currency inside of myself to deliver the performances that would make you go, ‘He is not lying right now!’”
Don’t miss Maxwell and a star-studded lineup at the 2016 ESSENCE Festival. Buy your tickets now!

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