Maxwell loves yo stankin' draws

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I think I know who’s on the phone. It’s Fame, the punk sex symbol with the eccentric style and the astounding voice. I don’t like Fame. He can sang like he spits honey. Women greet Fame with their panties at their pumps, jumpin’ up and down with their fists clenched against their breasts, and teethmarks in their bottom lips. Fame does this to them. That’s why I don’t like Fame, ’cause Fame got it goin’ on, and he knows it.

But Fame ain’t on the other line.

"Kah-ry?," Maxwell asks from a California hotel. "Is that how I say it? ’Cause I have a friend named Khary. He’s gonna be happy to know there’s another one."

He’s congenial to the point where his smile can be heard through the receiver. Upon thanking him for taking time to talk, his response immediately kills any remaining notions that he might be Fame. "You kidding? Detroit is my heart, yo! Y’all just be treatin’ me right! Everybody gets ready, in their Sunday best. Last time I came out, I did a radio thing over there, and I just couldn’t believe the turnout. It was mind-blowing."

Twenty-six-year-old sangin’-ass Maxwell counts Detroit among his favorite towns. But what’s really impressive is the realization that his oft-promoted humility is authentic. To his fans, he is open and honest. "I don’t really look at it like a ‘me’ thing," he says. "I look at it like a ‘we’ thing. They built the house I live in. I couldn’t do anything if people didn’t go out and get things. God gave me the gift to make the music, and you guys have given me the opportunity to present it."

Maxwell waxes philosophical about his love for Detroit, and with good reason. His August 26 and 27 concerts sold out in two days apiece. His current single, "Fortunate," cleaned up the residue of his controversial sophomore album, Embrya. But Motown fans – where the Embrya tour should have launched but those dates were canceled – may want more than just a good show. Rumors about the cancellation have gone unchecked and unanswered. People want an explanation.

"It’s interesting you should go into that," he says. "I take full responsibility for every lie that’s said. But people call in sick every day, and that’s what I did. And it was a hard decision to make, because I didn’t want to upset or let people down.

"The set was done. Fifty percent of the show was together. It was, like, a huge cost for me to not do it. But it was a decision I had to make. Someone needed me, and I needed to be there. With all the respect in the world, I don’t have to explain that."

It’s this level of candor with which Maxwell writes and sings. His lyrics are meant to be provocative, if not always clear. He purposefully weaves mysterious threads through his music so that he comes across at once cloaked and clear. The mystique of it all pushes him above regular "soul singer" status. It makes women ask those cutesy, petty questions about him. What kind of cologne does he wear? What does he eat? How late does he sleep? What would he name his children? Nice-nice questions – When brushing his teeth, does he move in a circular motion, or straight up and down? – that they would ask of a potential husband. But Maxwell is good for blowing away the mysterious with simple, even cornball, sentiment.

"I like that Backstreet Boys song. ‘I Want It That Way.’ That song is the shit! I’m sorry. I don’t know anybody — when that shit comes on – they end up frontin’. They know they be jammin’ that shit. You know you jammin’ that shit! It’s just, like, a perfect pop song."

To the citizens hailed as this man’s "heart," there is a final plea. And, as a writer, I’m not welcomed to be a part of this one. "The thing that I’ve learned about the media," he starts, "is that 60 to 70 percent of whoever you’re watching on TV is a creation. A global creation, like a combined creative force. People can’t know you on all your other levels. People don’t know that I throw my garbage out. They’re only gonna know your most extreme levels – love, pain – ’cause that’s all you talk about in your music."

But there are other things, like wanting a family, and appreciating the job at the movie theater before the career in music. "The biggest thing I’ve learned is seeking the unconditional love. Because, at the end of the day, you’re loved conditionally. If a record sounds good, then I’m the man. If not, then I’m wack. It’s always based on something, never on the bottom line – ‘I’m with you.’ I’m not seeking it in the public, but I do have patience."

So be still, his beating heart.

Khary Kimani Turner writes about music for the Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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