Music Career of Neo Soul Pioneer Maxwell

A Biography of the Talented Neo Soul Artist

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Gerald Maxwell Rivera, commonly known by his stage name Maxwell, is an American R&B singer and songwriter. He is among a number of artists who were influential in helping to create the "neo soul" musical sound in the late 1990s.

Neo Soul

Maxwell has been credited for spearheading the "neo soul" movement with fellow soul artists Erykah Badu and D'Angelo. The artist's first release, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, is a prime example of the neo-soul sound that hooked listeners to the genre and garnered commercial appeal.

Early Life Influences

Maxwell was born on May 23, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. He is of Puerto Rican and Haitian descent. His father died in a plane crash when Maxwell was 3 years old. The incident affected him, and he became deeply religious as a result.

As a child he sang in his Baptist church's choir, but he didn't become serious about music until he was 17. He started writing his own songs using an inexpensive Casio keyboard he received from a friend. He was inspired by '80s R&B acts like Patrice Rushen, The S.O.S. Band and Rose Boyce.

Early Career

By 1991 Maxwell was performing on the New York City club circuit. He waited tables and saved his tips to record a demo. Over the next few years he wrote and recorded more than 300 songs and continued playing at venues around the city. He had created enough of a buzz that he was signed by Columbia Records in 1994 and immediately began working on his debut album.

He adopted the stage name Maxwell, his middle name, out of respect for his family's privacy. He has been known to be very private.

After a year-long delay due to management issues at Columbia, "Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite" was released in 1996 and debuted at No. 38 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The concept album follows a romance from the first encounter to last. Interest gradually built up over time and it peaked at No. 8. The album also achieved No. 36 on the Billboard 200 and stayed on the chart for 78 weeks. Time, Rolling Stone and USA Today ranked it one of the year's best albums, and it also earned Maxwell a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album.


With a successful album under his belt, Maxwell was asked to tape a show for an episode of "MTV Unplugged," an honor usually reserved for well-established musicians. The show was recorded in June 1997. Maxwell performed his own songs, as well as covers of the Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work." He released a seven-song "MTV Unplugged" EP that year.

After "Unplugged," Maxwell issued his highly panned album, "Embrya," in 1998. Maxwell was experimenting with his sound, as were a few other artists at the time, to furthered the R&B subgenre "neo soul." Despite heavy criticism, it sold more than 1 million copies. He followed up with "Now" in 2001, which became his first No. 1 album. Reviews were generally positive.


After the release of "Now," Maxwell embarked on a nearly seven-year hiatus during which he spent no time making music. After seven years off the grid, Maxwell made a surprise reappearance when he performed at the 2008 BET Awards, singing "Simply Beautiful" as a tribute to soul legend Al Green. The singer's signature dreadlocks and sideburns were gone, and he had adopted a more mature look.

Later Career

Maxwell released "BLACKsummers'night" in 2009. The album was lauded by critics and it was a commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It was bolstered by the singles "Pretty Wings" and "Bad Habits." In 2010, Maxwell was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including "Song of the Year. "BLACKsummers'night" earned Maxwell his first Grammy Awards, one for Best R&B Album and one for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Pretty Wings."

He later revealed that "BLACKsummers'night" would evolve into a trilogy. In July 2016, Maxwell released a sequel album, similarly titled, "blackSUMMERS'night," which charted at number three on the Billboard 200 while garnering widespread acclaim from critics. The song "Lake by the Ocean" was released as the album's lead single.

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