At the age of 44, neo-soul star Maxwell seems too young to be bridging many generation gaps. But that’s exactly what this Brooklyn-born vocal dynamo is doing, as his audiences attest at each stop on his current concert tour.
“I call out the decades each night onstage - ‘50s. ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s - and I hear screams for each one,” said the singer, whose full name is Gerald Maxwell Rivera. “It’s crazy to think so many generations can be there together.”
Maxwell performs Friday at Valley View Casino Center, with Common and Ledisi. The key to his multi-generational appeal, he believes, comes down to quality control and not settling for anything less than his best.
“I always go back to the same thing,” he said, speaking from a recent tour stop in Toledo, Ohio. “And it’s: ‘Can I do these songs when I’m 60 or 70? Will it mean something? Will I be in my proper element and look and come off as someone who is sound in judgement about who he is and what his niche is?’
”... It’s not about who’s winning right now (with radio airplay and record sales), it’s about what your choices are. The people winning right now will not be winning tomorrow. We’ve seen it (fleeting popularity) many times. That’s what’s so interesting about it. How do you keep going. How can you be Sinatra, so to speak?”
Maxwell, with Common and Ledisi
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District
Maxwell’s artistically daring and critically acclaimed debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite,” came out in 1996. It made him a star, thanks to his undeniable vocal and songwriting skills, and his ability to look to the future while being firmly grounded in the rich musical heritage that came before him.
“It’s funny that, even in my early days in music, I had that mentality,” he said. “I think it’s because I was working with people so much older than me, who had so much music knowledge and were so aware of the past as much as the present.
“Now, all these years later in 2017, you walk around and feel a certain love and respect for a generation of (younger) listeners who shouldn’t be listening to you. You see them at your concerts, and think: ‘What are they doing here?’
“I guess there’s something about the music that is appealing to them. Maybe their parents played it for them. I’m just grateful to make music people can connect with and enjoy right now. I’m getting these different generations and they know the music. I can’t really take credit for it; I was just making something I liked.”
Maxwell’s most recent album, “blackSUMMERS’night,” came out in 2016. It is the second in a planned trilogy that began with 2009’s “BLACKsummers’night,” which was his fourth consecutive album to sell a million or more copies.
It entered the national Billboard 200 sales charts at No. 1, simultaneously topping the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts.
Maxwell discussed the long gestation period between the two albums in a 2014 Union-Tribune interview, saying: “Yeah, I’m absolutely an over-thinker. I’m very perfection-oriented.”
Will the final album in his trilogy take another seven years?
“It will definitely be coming out sooner than people think,” he replied.
“I’m kind of done with the ‘blacksummers’NIGHT’ concept. Not that I don’t like it, but I want a fresh new perspective and whole new themes to tackle. Because most of the music from this trilogy has evolved over the past 14 years of my life - and I’ve become 44 and I think differently now - it’s like looking at old pictures of yourself.
“I just make music with the intention of wanting to be creatively satisfied. And, hopefully, people will catch up and like it. There’s always an intent behind why I’m doing something. It’s not just that I want to make another record or be a ‘star.’ It’s truly not about celebrity for me.
“I feel that the idea of being an artist is important, the idea of saying what you feel, even if it’s not what people want to hear.”
Maxwell spoke for an hour about an array of topics. Here is what he had to say about ...
Meeting Prince: “One of the greatest artists who ever walked the earth is Prince; I’m highly influenced by him. I’ll never forget when I met him - I was 21 or 22 - and he’d heard about my music. I was trembling when I met him; I’d seen him on TV for years, and here he was. I told him he was a god. And he said: ‘No, no, no. God is god’.”
Music online: “There’s no regulation or responsibility to anyone who services all these platforms for the content they use. It’s like a body with no soul. You need the soul to make the body move.”
Racism: “I’ve experienced it as a person of color - a black man, whatever you think I am - but I understand all of it. And I’ve experienced racism from black people because my mother is from Haiti.”
Social media: “I think that the mob is fickle. ...We have to take into consideration that we’re dealing with computers and you never know if it’s coming from the person (purportedly) writing it. There are pages (in my name) that are not associated with me. There are ways to make computers say and do things in my name that are not (from) me. That’s why you see so many artists pull back from social media.”
The diminishing value of music: “People wonder why music is not as good as it was (before). Why should it be? It’s not celebrated, or honored, or rewarded like it used to be. People take the creative things for granted in this digital age, because it’s so instantaneous to them.”