Maxwell expected a lot of things would happen before the release of his latest album “blackSUMMERS’night”: he’d do live appearances here and there, talk to a lot of press and, of course, go on tour to promote the album. (He’ll be at Red Hat Friday night, by the way, along with North Carolina native Fantasia Barrino) But it’s very likely that the last thing he ever thought would happen is that he would become a meme.
The cocked head and look of befuddlement he gave during last month’s BET Awards while “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson was onstage doing a bit, spread like wildfire on the Interwebs.
“I didn’t think that that would happen,” says the Brooklyn-born Maxwell, 43, on the phone from Oklahoma City. “First of all, Taraji P. Henson is one of the best – a really good friend of mine. I’m a huge fan of her work. I think she’s probably one of the most extraordinary actresses out there. And I don’t go to award shows, so I forget that cameras are everywhere. So, I was just intently listening but, you know, sometimes you take the facial expression and you can make it become anything you want it to become in this world of memes.”
Maxwell’s expression is right up there with Michael Jordan’s “crying face” in the growing hall of fame of Internet memes. “It’s kind of hilarious to me that the greatest basketball player of all time is pretty much typified to the new generation of basketball lovers, or the new generation of kids, as the ‘Crying Jordan’ face,” he says. “I don’t take myself seriously, and it’s kind of refreshing to be kind of included in something kind of hilarious like that.”
As an official veteran of the music game, it’s understandable why Maxwell wouldn’t be sweating over a silly meme. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of his debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.” It was a release that got him a spot in the late ’90s, neo-soul movement, along with D’Angelo and Erykah Badu. Maxwell says it’s purely coincidental that the release of “SUMMERS” landed on the same year as “Suite”’s 20th anniversary.
“(My team and I) had gotten to that epiphany, so to speak, of, ‘OK, we got it! I know what it is! I know what I want it to sound like!’” he says on how he made the ambient, dance-heavy grooves on “SUMMERS.” “A lot of songs that we have on this album we’ve had for a while. But I’m always looking for the spark of experience to really breathe life into the song.”
Maxwell is known to take his sweet, sweet time with his music. When he announced in 2007 (six years after the release of his last album, 2001’s “Now”) that he would be releasing the “blacksummers’night” trilogy, he said the albums would be released over the course of three years. But “BLACKsummers’night” was released in 2009 and the follow-up came out earlier this month. So, what was with the holdup, bruh?
“I can tell you now that, because of the time that it took in-between, a lot of the songs were altered, were changed,” he says. “They transformed in ways that I didn’t expect them to. And it’s interesting because, even though ‘NIGHT’ is complete – a lot of the stuff is done. It’s just that I’m like, OK, when we’re ready to release it, at the time of release, what about the present day can I apply to the material that I have been writing over the last 14 years? And do I need a new song?
“You know, those types of questions crossed my mind. And I can say to you that ‘NIGHT’ will definitely talk more about – it’ll be what it was gonna be. But, because of the space between the first and the two, there are elements about my experiences there that are now bleeding into the third installment, as we speak.”
Even though he’s says “NIGHT” is all wrapped up, let’s hope it won’t take another long time for Maxwell to release it – or else people will start using that meme of his to express their disappointment about the delay.
Who: Maxwell, with Fantasia and Ro James
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Red Hat Amphitheater, 500 S. McDowell St., Raleigh
Details: 919-996-8800 or redhatamphitheater.com