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Maxwell is a Brooklyn based singer-songwriter and record producer, regarded as one of the most important figures in the 90s R&B movement. He is credited alongside Erykah Badu and D’Angelo for pioneering the genre Nu-soul, but has managed to define himself outside the scope of his contemporaries.
Maxwell was born Gerald Maxwell Rivera in Brooklyn, New York, US on 23 May 1973. He used his middle name as a stage moniker, hiding his full name from the public as a means to preserve his family’s privacy. When Maxwell was only 3 years old he lost his father in a plane crash. Needless to say the experience had a huge impact on the young child and left him clinging to the Christian faith for support. Still in his childhood Maxwell joined the choir of his Baptist church; however, he did not seriously pursue a career in music until he was 17.
Influenced by the likes of Prince, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, Maxwell started to write his own music (the first of his renderings were composed on a cheap Casio keyboard a friend gave him). During high school Maxwell’s classmates perceived him to be shy and awkward and it came as a surprise to them that he would venture into a career as a musician. Despite his peers expectations Maxwell excelled as a solo artist and was making circuits around New York City’s club scene in 1991. Maxwell’s early sound largely incorporated the sound of jheri curl soul, an offshoot of 80s R&B that focused on a balanced combination of computerized and live instrumentation.
Maxwell generated quite the buzz around New York and in 1994 he was signed to Columbia Records. That same year he worked with renowned guitarist Wah Wah and songwriter Leon Ware (collaborator of Marvin Gaye) to complete his studio debut “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite”. Though the album was completed in 1995 its release was delayed until 1996 as many execs doubted its potential to enter the mainstream. The album did not initially catch on with the general public; however, it exploded a couple of months after its release. It reached No. 8 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and No. 36 on the Billboard 200 ( it stayed on the latter for a total of 78 weeks). The album was also a huge critical achievement for Maxwell. It received a Grammy Nomination for Best R&B Album and was considered one of the year’s best albums by Rolling Stone, Time, and USA Today.
A year after the release of his debut Maxwell put out his EP “MTV Unplugged (Maxwell EP)”. This release consisted of some of Maxwell’s finest tracks to date, but also featured some curve ball covers like Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” (this cover would later appear on his album “Now”) and Nine Inch Nail’s catchy but asinine track “Closer”.
Maxwell released his highly anticipated sophomore release “Embrya” to mix criticism, but wide acceptance amongst fans. This album debuted at No.3 on the charts and went double platinum. One year later Maxwell released the most commercially successful song of his career “Fortunate”. Billboard magazine ranked it as the No.1 R&B hit of the year. Maxwell’s 2001 album “Now” marked a return to form and with the help of the massive hit “Lifetime” it entered the charts at No.1.
Maxwell disappeared from the music scene for 7 years; however, he made a reappearance at the 2008 BET Awards performing a cover of Al Green’s “Simply Beautiful”. In 2009 Maxwell released his long awaited follow up album “BLACKsummers’night” to universal critical acclaim. The album went on to win Maxwell two Grammy awards including Best R&B Album and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Pretty Wings”. Additionally the album was a commercial feat for Maxwell selling 316,000 copies in the first week and entering the Billboard 200 at No.1. Maxwell toured extensively throughout North America and Europe in support of this album.