Who, What, When Where, Why: The world almost didn’t hear Maxwell’s groundbreaking first album. He was signed to Columbia Records but his music sat on a shelf for a full year because of label drama. Finally, on April 2, 1996 Urban Hang Suite hit the public.
Word On The Street Was..: Although one music critic called him “the next Prince” because of his amazing falsetto and emotional delivery, his album was actually a slow burn. The reaction to his first single, “Til The Cops Come Knockin” was lukewarm.
The Highlight Reel: His next two singles, “Ascension” and “Sumthin Sumthin” (which also appeared on the movie soundtrack for Love Jones) hit hard—and helped Maxwell’s first album get certified gold.
The Usual (Or Unusual) Suspects: Maxwell held his own on Urban Hang Suite, he’s credited on every single song as writer, producer—or both.
BackTalk from... Faith Evans: “His sexy falsetto was unique and pleasant ear candy in the midst of the hardcore hip-hop and R&B era."
Drop This Gem: Urban Hang Suite is actually a concept album, the songs tell a story in sequential order about a love affair.
These Days: Maxwell has always been something of an enigma. He doesn’t do many interviews and seems to record only when the feeling really strikes. For the best Maxwell fix, check out his MTV Unplugged performance, particularly his cover of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work.
Grand Scheme: Maxwell firmly maintains his position as a critical part of the late 90s neo-soul movement, nestled between D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. His first album was a triumph, blending heartbreaking lyrics with top-notch production and true musicianship, (he taught himself how to play piano and guitar). He didn’t become the next Prince. Instead, he became the one and only Maxwell. Which is even better.
(Photo: Margaret C. Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)