When we hear or see that name, our interest is piqued, eager to experience euphoric grooves and mellifluous vocals. We adore him because he is a master at curating soundscapes of insatiable desire. And it’s been that way for the past 20 years.
When the Brooklyn bred singer/songwriter’s seminal debut, Urban Hang Suite dropped on April 2, 1996, the R&B game was solid, but the Neo-Soul movement—of which Maxwell is a pioneer—introduced a brave new world. Like a quiet storm, Urban Hang Suite initially went unnoticed, but eventually, it went platinum and earned a Grammy nomination, fulfilling its rightful place as a R&B classic.
Released on Columbia records, the album featured much of Maxwell’s creative genius in collaboration with producers who previously worked with industry legends such as, Marvin Gaye and Sade. Partially recorded at the acclaimed Electric Lady Studios, Urban Hang Suite is a love story with the essential elements of devotion and infatuation. The opening track, “The Urban Theme,” gives a glimpse into the blues, funk, jazz and soul that embodies this masterpiece. Maxwell assures you that you’re “Welcome” because he loves you “deep like a mother loves a child.”
On energetic joints like “Sumthin’ Sumthin,'” the aptly tilted, “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” and “Dancewitme,” he showcases his ability to switch from slow to uptempo. While he can get you up onto the dance floor, Maxwell’s specialty is his sultry ballads such as the album’s first single, “‘Til The Cops Come Knockin’.” His seductive, honey coated falsetto glides over the bluesy beat, promising to “Lock you up for days.” Sweet and tender as a baby’s whisper, Maxwell makes you surrender to him on “Whenever Wherever Whatever.”
When the break-up happens on, “Lonely,” he croons solemnly about missing his lady. But, Maxwell is more than ready to get that old thang back on the soothing, “Reunion,” as he sings, “Since last we loved, no one’s come near / No girl can ever compare.” The climax peaks and winds down on “Suitelady (The Proposal Jam);” the perfect tone is set as Maxwell pledges, “Ain’t no end to what this ring wants to begin with you … No man can tear asunder what my love can groove.” Closing with the sedate “The Suite Theme,” Urban Hang Suite makes you wish that it would go on without ending. True fans of this enigmatic genius know that if you’re patient and let the CD ride, a reprise drops a little after the 12:00 minute mark of “The Suite Theme.”
This MCA (man crush any day) remains humble about the Urban Hang Suite‘s impact, he explained to ESSENCE earlier this year, “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’m working with all of the same people on the new album that’s coming out this year.”
Back from a six year hiatus, our favorite Musze is planning to release the second part of his musical trilogy, blackSUMMERS’night, early summer. With his debut album celebrating it’s 20th anniversary tomorrow (April 2), take a dip down memory lane and check into the ‘Urban Hang Suite’ below.
–Words by Raquelle “Rocki” Harris