BROOKLYN’S SAVIOR OF SOUL MUSIC

Brooklyn born and of Haitian-Puerto Rican descent, self-taught musician Maxwell began composing music at 17. He started performing the New York City club scene a year later, only to see his career take off at warp speed, signing with Columbia Records in 1994, then dropping his legendary debut album Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite two years later. The album put Maxwell on the map, earning praise from critics who lauded it for its fresh take on 70’s-inspired R&B—dubbed “neo soul”—an effort which helped to revive the entire genre. Heralded as the “savior of soul music,” the sing1er, songwriter, record producer, and actor has captivated music lovers for over two decades. He has released an additional 4 studio albums and is the recipient of 3 Grammy awards, 2 NAACP Image Awards, and 6 Soul Train Music Awards.

On the heels of his photo shoot with fellow Brooklynite Marc Baptiste, 4SEE takes you behind the scenes with Maxwell.

Photography MARC BAPTISTE
Interview CHRISTINE TOMAS

Thinking back on the artist you were when you first started, to the success of Urban Hang Suite, to blackSUMMERS’ night… where are you now? What has changed? What’s stayed the same? What’s next?
I’m coming back home. I feel my journey has led me from the roots of my first opportunity and now in the ever-changing playing field of the music business. It’s almost a time to reflect and create from past, present and future.
You’re known to pride yourself in taking your time. You once told Rolling Stone, “People do too much. Fame is a very precarious thing. I better really live something and write something.” That’s a great philosophy that’s refreshingly counter to today’s growing culture of impatience and instant gratification.

What got you to this point?
I look at artists like Sade and I can see the weight of her wisdom. I also—and to be brutally honest—suffer from creative anxiety. With so much out there, it’s hard to feel like you will make an impact, but I always felt that way and probably always will. I will not stop being creative, but my world experience is in God’s hands.

Maxwell by Marc Baptiste
Maxwell by Marc Baptiste

Let’s talk favorites: favorite thing about NY?
NYC is fast. You can’t sleep on time and on opportunity. It’s where all the world walked in to first know America.

Favorite things to wear?
I love being in jeans, t-shirt and jacket. It’s my go to. But a nice suit never hurts!

Favorite person or people at the moment?
My favorite people are my friends and family; those who know me and have been there to remind me not to forget who I was meant to be.

What’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at one of your concerts?
I split my pants on stage and had to walk out backwards while facing the crowd for a quick change. Another time, I spilled tea all over me in Zurich just before the curtain came up for the first song. Very funny, but hey! I work with it.

Maxwell by Marc Baptiste
Maxwell by Marc Baptiste

Tell me about a cause that’s important to you.
Education and healthcare for all, especially women all over the world, but especially in Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Why should others think about supporting that cause, and how can they help?
When you have knowledge—and I don’t mean gossip or Google—I mean knowledge of books that create imagination, then you have the keys to the future of your own creativity.

What are you listening to right now?
I’m listening to “NIGHT,” the last installment of the trilogy. And funny enough, to the demos that got me signed when I was 19!

Maxwell photographed by Marc Baptiste for 4SEE Magazine
Maxwell by Marc Baptiste

Last question: Tell me something about Marc Baptiste that only you would know.
If you know Marc, you know he is kind. The subjects who have been shot by him love him. He is loyal and he will help you fix anything you might have messed up while shooting with him.

About Marc Baptiste
Haitian-American Marc Baptiste brings a unique flair, sensuality and cinematic beauty to his images, making him one of the most in-demand photographers in Hollywood, fashion, and the music industry. Marc’s client list is a “who’s who” of A-listers, creatives and legends like Barack Obama, Pharrell Williams, Beyoncé, Yoko Ono, and Maxwell—a repeat subject of Marc. He has released 3 books celebrating the female form: Beautiful—Nudes by Marc Baptiste; Intimate; and Innocent. His love for Haiti is evident in his work and in his support of numerous Haitian charities, like Cine’ Institute and NOAH NY, a not-for-profit organization. Since 2012, Marc has traveled with NOAH NY to support their medical mission, which provides free medical care to thousands in Fort-Liberté, Haiti. Following the devastating 2010 earthquake, Marc partnered with Donna Karan’s Urban Zen on the “Hope, Help & Relief Haiti” initiative.

This article was for the BEAUTY issue // published in April 2018.