Revisiting ‘Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite’ Twenty-Five Years Later
Singer/songwriter Maxwell is celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his freshman album Urban Hang Suite this month and we could not be more excited for the artist. To be able to be celebrated twenty-five years later in a creative industry that is ever changing is a supreme honor and blessing.
Maxwell along with Prince, Beyoncé, and a few other artists receive a lot of love on this website, simply because I will always stand behind anyone who can be true to their calling and use “the gift” for the benefit of themselves and others. On this website, we stand for soul and that includes those creative releases that touch on a level deeper than commercial satisfaction.
There is a lot of fanfare surrounding the release of this Urban Hang Suite 25 including a remastered release of the album available on all digital music streaming outlets, currently.
This album will go down in history as one of the projects that began the genesis of the Neo-Soul movement back in the mid-1990s. An era where young artist revisited the soul music era from decades earlier. Neo-soul was homage to major acts like Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield, and a never-ending troupe of individuals who paved the way for the African American experience of romantic love songs and ballads.
This lush suite of songs tells the origin story of a romantic relationship, the downfall of the love affair, the reunion, and the eventual engagement of the happy couple.
The album stays faithful to the institution of soul music and is a nod to some of Maxwell’s musical influences such as Marvin Gaye and Prince. The album is mostly a tribute to one of Marvin Gaye’s most sensual and well-known albums to date, I Want You.
Like I Want You, Maxwell made use of storytelling, and some of Marvin’s personal friends – Leon Ware the writer behind I Want You and Wah, Wah Watson the famed Motown guitarist. What’s most surprising in all of this is that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of Urban on the birthday of the man himself, Marvin Gaye (April 2nd)! What an exciting and fate filled month this must be for Maxwell.
Walk with me as we relive the sumptuous composition that is Urban Hang Suite -track by track.
The Urban Theme – The Urban Theme, an intro of sorts, is the opening track on the Urban Hang Suite album. This nearly three-minute-long instrumental track shouts “Hello world, I have arrived! It is all Jazz, Funk, and vibes. Furthermore, the track establishes Maxwell as not only a singer, but a composer totally capable of handling complex arrangements.
It sets the tone that Urban will be a highly musical endeavor, not just a lot of “Ooo Baby, Baby” that was popular at the time. It also closely resembles the intros/jam sessions heard throughout Marvin’s I Want You project.
Welcome – On Welcome Maxwell turns southern hospitality into something a lot more intimately inviting. In the southern states of America, “Make yourself at home, because you’re welcome,” is an oft-said expression by little old ladies that perpetually wear housecoats and slippers. However, the artist turns the invitation over to his body – a hospitable host indeed.
In the album story arch, Maxwell and his partner are on a break, but he wants them to know they are not only welcome to his home, but also his body as well.
Borrowing heavily from I Want You theme wise, this song is a total tribute to Marvin’s Since I Had You in which Gaye begs, “Since we’re still friends (why don’t you give me some), let me make love to you again baby!”
The invitation in Welcome is a classic as Teddy Pendergrass’s Come and Go with Me (1979) and as fresh as Silk Sonic’s 2021 hit Leave the Door Open. Some things never change.
Sumthin’ Sumthin’ – If you weren’t alive during the era of the 90’s and have no idea what Sumthin’ Sumthin’ is (or a beeper for that matter) it is the same thing Maxwell was offering up in Welcome. The artist proves to be quite the amorous fellow during this recording session!
The real star of Sumthin’ is the bass. That driving bass is incredible and harkens back to that James Jamerson feel. Jamerson was a famed guitarist during the glory days of Hitsville, U.S.A. Hitsville of course is Motown, the label responsible to Marvin’s early musical success.
Also interesting to note, this track was co-written by Leon Ware, the pen behind you guessed it, I Want You.
If you really thing about the lyrics and compare them to Marvin, I think I would conclude that Sumthin’ Sumthin’ is kind of like the song I Want You. Both songs are about desiring someone and wanting them to desire you in the same way.
Sumthin’s Sumthin’ is still having an impact on the culture today. When I listen to Childish Gambino’s Redbone (2017) and he sings, “My peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool-Aid” I’m reminded of Maxwell’s Sumthin’ lyrics, “Honeydew, suga’ chocolate dumplin’.” These confection comparisons make me chuckle a little every time.
Dancewitme – The spelling of this track is a Prince move plain and simple. Prince was one of the first to introduce unique spelling and naming technique into music (i.e Die 4 U). The spelling inspiration might have been Prince, but the lyrics are all Marvin.
Dancewitme is exactly the words Marvin repeatedly chanted on the I Want You single After the Dance. Like Marvin in After the Dance, Maxwell wants to know if the dance moves from the person he’s had his eyes on At the Party (pun intended, if you know then you know) translates into something a bit more erotic in the bedroom.
Accession (Don’t Ever Wonder) – This song stands alone. Of course, there are influences somewhere in there, but this song to me feels more “Maxwell” if that makes sense at all.
It’s effortless, airy, authentic, and somehow churchy and spiritual.
It’s not Marvin, it’s Max and it’s moving. It feels more transcendent than regular romance offerings , like a sneaky gospel song. Kind of like how Prince at face value appears to be singing about love and then out of nowhere it is a whole anthem about God (i.e Anna Stesia).
This is one instance I would love for the artist to just come out and tell us what his intentions were with this track. What was his initial inspiration?
The genius part about this song is that as he is singing about Ascension, he is a ascending and descending up and down the musical scale.
What I can tell you about this song is that it moves a crowd at the concert and the cookout like nothing else. It’s magic, that’s it, that’s the tweet.
. . . Til the Cops Come Knockin’ – Maxwell is in the mood for love again and this time things get so out of control the police might intervene. The cool thing about this song is that it says exactly what needs to be said without getting too risqué. The ladies get Brook Benton level baritone mixed with the usual falsetto. And in general, there is a lot of creative things going on.
First we must discuss the literary devices going on here. One is double entendre when the artist unabashedly claims, “Last lover, came and went, didn’t even hug and kiss and caress you.”
Secondly, we have Biblical illusion. When Maxwell croons, “I want to know you.” he is alluding to scripture. In the Bible, if a man ‘knows’ someone -usually his wife- it means that the pair had an intimate encounter ( i.e. Genesis 4:1).
Then the artist goes even deeper into his creative bag by using the actual instrumentation to relay the story. At the being of song, we hear something that sounds like the striking of a match. The study tap of the drums sounds like slight rapping at the door.
Then there’s a moment where there is a break in the song that tricks the audience into believing the track is over, however the music picks back up and starts again. This little break and reset indicates that there really will be no stopping the lovers, that is ‘til the cops come knockin’.
Whenever, Wherever, Whatever – This alliterative title is one of the most vulnerable, softest, purest things my ears have ever heard next to Michael Jackson’s She’s Out of My life.
Like She’s Out of My Life, Whenever it is very simple instrumentally, but briming full of complex emotions and ethereal talent.
This song expresses the utter sorrow of loving someone with all four chambers of your heart, but knowing without a shadow of doubt that this is goodbye. An ode to unrequited love, and ode to heartbreak, and ode to loving someone selflessly.
The offering of your body not sexually like in Welcome, but sacrificially. It brings back an image of Jesus at the Last Supper talking to his disciple on the night before his crucifixion, “This is my body that is broken for you” (1 Corinthians 11: 24). In a similar way, Maxwell says:
Take my heart and my love, take of me what you want. . . .And if there’s a thing that you need, for you and your blood I will bleed.
In the mimicked word of Michael Jackson by Eddie Murphy in the stand-up comedy special Delirious (1983) “Tito, get some tissue.”
Lonely’s the Only Company (I & II) – The initial shock of Whenever has passed and now Maxwell is living the torments of everyday without his love. The artist has lost trust in humanity and lonely has been personified as company – a very smart literary move.
This song reminds me of a little tune I wrote when I was being bullied in my childhood. So though I know it is about the ending of a romantic relationship, Lonely feels like it is suited to help heal any kind of human isolation.
The crying saxophone and the overall blue delivery of this song makes it believable and relatable.
Reunion – What joy! The couple have somehow reconciled and celebration is at hand. This song has always reminded me of Peaches and Herb’s soulful 70’s hit Reunited, I wonder if it was an influence to the artist? After all, Reunited is a classic Soul banger.
Suitelady (The Proposal Jam) – With the reunification of the happy couple, Mr. Maxwell is thinking marriage. As a writer, it’s always the lyrics for me! There’s some wonderful things going on here lyrical.
When the artist sings “There’s no end to what this ring wants to begin with you,” he was DEEP in his -poetic bag. Traditionally, the wedding ring is a circle and the circle is symbolic of how the love and the commitment of marriage is everlasting. So basically, he is promising his Suitelady love without cessation
Yet again, we have my favorite – Biblical allusion. One lyric proclaims, “No man can tear asunder what my love can do.” This text is scriptural. In the Bible, Jesus said this of marriage:
. . . and for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. (Matthew 19: 5 -6)
Then throughout the song the artist plays on the homophone “suite” as in musical composition and “sweet” as in pleasing and delightful. This is a guy who really paid attention in English class.
And lastly, if we are to still consider the I Want You album, then Suitelady is best paired with Come Live With Me Angel. Where Maxwell is proposing holy matrimony, Marvin just wants to shack up for the summer. Laugh, it’s a joke!
The Suit Theme – The Suite Theme is just a slowed down version of the opening track of Urban Hang Suite, but still a completely different vibe. Maxwell is muttering all kinds of sweet nothings on this track.
However and most desperately, he keeps pleading his Suitelady to ‘hang a little while longer”.
I think on a deeper level the singer was begging his audience to stay around a little longer and watch his progression as an artist. And when he is imploring profusely, “Hang a little longer, Darling,” who could say no?
And guess what? We didn’t refuse the offer because look at us all, twenty-five years later, still under the incomparable spell of the sumptuous symphony that is Urban Hang Suite.
Check out the remastered tracks of Urban Hang Suite on all digital streaming platforms, available for your unbridled enjoyment now. No need to worry about the tape dragging or the CD scratching this time around.
Bonus . . . . Til The Cops Come Knockin’ (reprise) – Someone please go check on those crazy kids in Room 508, it’s been twenty-five years !!!!! I hope they didn’t dehydrate!!!!!