Maxwell And The 20-Year Friendship That Defines His Sound

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Maxwell sat down in his studio to speak with NPR Music about his creative process.
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Since his 1996 album, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, launched him to stardom and helped define the 1990s school known as "neo soul," Maxwell has spent two decades faithfully crafting his own unique brand of R&B that explores emotional and spiritual needs alongside sensual ones. Followers have come to depend on his flawless falsetto, his skill for draping a song in perfectly-fitted production and that velvet voice's ability to sound so intimate it makes everything else drop away.

Over five albums, the latest of which, blackSUMMERS'night, came out in July, this singular artist has developed his sound with the help of a few crucial collaborations, including one that began with a question:

"What the hell is a Hod?"

That was Maxwell's response, more than 20 years ago, to getting a message from the songwriter and producer Hod David. Since that auspicious beginning, Maxwell and David have forged a creative partnership that is in nearly every note of Maxwell's songs, even if it's invisible to most casual fans. Noteworthy host Jason King visited the pair at David's studio in New York City to find out how the relationship has evolved.

"We really do love each other," the singer tells King. "And we'll tell each other, ... 'I love you, but this song sucks.' We knew each other before we were anything."

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