In the mid-to-late 90s, a new wave of music swelled, crested and smashed through popular music's sea wall, flooding our ears with a delicious sound that looked back to the 60s and 70s, even as it moved forward.
It was called, simply, neo-soul. But like most musical labels, this easily digestible moniker didn't do justice to the stylistic breadth represented by those who were painted by its brush. Even within the groups that came up in the industry together - most notably, Erykah Badu and D'Angelo, members of a loose, Questlove-led coalition called the Soulquarians - there were highly discernible differences.
Maxwell, another prominent founder of the genre, differed in that his work was generally considered to have a more mainstream appeal. From the beginning, slick, quiet storm-style production and uncomplicated, plainly amorous lyrics were prominent features of songs by the NYC native.
Essentially, Maxwell's work adhered the closest of any neo-soul artist to the tropes of the 80s and 90s R&B, tropes that the genre purported to remake or reject, but that music fans still couldn't (and can't) get enough of. And that's what you'll hear on Urban Hang Suite EPs, which contain remixes and alternate versions of past hits, B-sides, MTV Unplugged performances, radio edits, et al., taken from Maxwell's 1996 debut album of the same name.
Urban Hang Suite EPs functions, essentially, as a refresher course on Maxwell before the final album of his Night trilogy (the first two are 2009's BLACKsummers'night and 2016's blackSUMMERs'night) is released. And while that album's release date is unknown, one of its singles, Shame, is getting released as several different remixes on a separate EP.
For the die-hard fan, there's plenty to enjoy in the Urban Hang EPs. Not so much, though, for more casual listeners, who may find it difficult to muster enthusiasm for a deep dive into all this steamy, sexed-up Maxwellia.
The Shame EP, meanwhile, scarcely registers at all, regardless of your level of interest in the artist: it is the sort of music that seems destined to keep you company in an H&M fitting room, as forgettable and generic as the clothing you're trying on. Is it representative of the as-yet-unreleased album? We can't yet say.
One more question may occur to you while taking in this collection of EPs: "When is D'Angelo going to get his ass back in the studio?"
SHAME 508 RMX EP
Matt Fink lives and works in Brooklyn. Go to organgrind.com for more of his work.
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