Southern Californian rapper Maxo surprised fans with the release of his third album, Even God Has A Sense Of Humor, on his birthday; unfortunately, as much a surprise as the album was for fans, it’s almost equally so with the quality of music getting delivered. Maxo has set a foundation for his Alternative, more so Experimental music, that saw him taking on these beats with consistently unique directions and vocal inflections. That isn’t to say Maxo’s new release isn’t any good. Frankly, we hear more of a soulful and slight boom-bap aesthetic lining the base production, giving Maxo easier, slimmer beats to flow over. It offers a sense of nostalgia to boast the lyrical fortitude fans have known him to have. That doesn’t get lost in Even God Has A Sense Of Humor; Maxo keeps listeners engaged with distinct flows and performances, adding depth to otherwise lackluster beats. It follows a consistent mapping while lacking a wow factor to keep us remembering the production alongside the performances, yet, as it closes, you get reminded why you first spun Maxo’s records.
Maxo never showed himself bereft of confidence, especially when rapping about profound issues that imbue him. He’s reflecting on depression, the weight of his success contrasting his desire to raise the playing field and letting his words have an imposing weight. His natural cadence and gripping delivery separate him from any typical release from Styles P or Snoop Doggs today, creating a split between relevancy, as sometimes new tales from the hood aren’t as poignant, even if the verses are potent with slick wordplay. Even God Has A Sense Of Humor comes with some noteworthy highs; some reel you in tight like the bait got taken with openmindedness(“48,” “Face of Stone,” and “Still”), and other times, the taste doesn’t linger enough to keep you hooked (“Both Handed” and “Nuri”). Maxo brings it through swift sparks that compact the song toward being resonant of modernization, but it never goes beyond being reasonably enjoyable. Fortunately, both ends get a spread of producers adjusted to quality jazzy-soul-influenced sounds that boast Maxo’s delivery.
It’s more surprising that the beats chosen for the project don’t fully encapsulate what Maxo’s producers can do beyond surface-layer percussion patterns. It becomes more noticeable at the peak of “Both Handed,” which has co-production from Karriem Riggins, showing me the divide between his drums and what others incorporate. Riggins painted a more established image with his work on the last few Common albums – with the Maxo album, there isn’t a balance between unique overtures, sometimes taking away from the great percussion patterns, but it’s never a detraction. It’s the same with others, like the production of “Free!.” It’s the opposite of the electronic notes of “Falls Down,” possessing some fascinating choices, elevating itself by embracing its highs and hitting it harder. Surrounding it is a frill of the drum-drunk boom-bap soul conjectures with interestingly good textures, but I’m not as constantly enthralled with his lyricism.
I’m not here to decry the production; it isn’t astute (sure), but it tiptoes a fine line that fits the aesthetic to its fullest, making it work for the musical direction taken. It’s more structured in nuance and nostalgia, giving us enough range that you can sense where Maxo’s going. It’s less lack of quality and less impressive as he doesn’t drive that experimental nature further. Karriem Riggins delivers quality beats that aren’t necessarily boring; however, when you’ve heard what he can do with the drums, you’ll understand how it can get underwhelming. It’s the same with the experimental beats, like “Who Gives Me Breath,” which doesn’t feel as inspired. It’s a fine bridge between electronica and hip-hop, focusing on mood, but doesn’t add new elements to the table. Maxo carries it with his verses. And at least we get a great beat from Madlib.
The superfluous rawness in his lyrics adds dimensions to the music, bolstering the hum-drum production and making it so you can find yourself latched on to his flows. From the mundane percussion on “Nuri” to the hollow simplicity of “onedayatatime,” there is only so much Maxo can do to elevate one’s attraction to the music. His writing is poignant and technically astute, and you hear through his detailed penmanship captivating you with great storytelling. One example of his songwriting that has stuck with me is the song “Free!.” On it, Maxo raps, “Tryna get why I’m stuck in the game/Can’t even rely on my/closest homies I’m dolo riding/It seems sometimes I’ll prolly die lonely/Tunnel vision, couple million on me,” bolstering sentiments which express positives and negatives that come with success. It’s unfortunate the beat isn’t as strung together with something memorable. It’s more typical boom-bap jazz. It’s heard frequently, and when you get down to it, the strength makes giving it a chance a worthwhile experience.
Maxo’s latest continues to express what is so listenable about him. He’s balancing levels, balancing styles to create an effervescently introspective experience. Like music resonant with the boom-bap/jazz/soul metamorphosis, the lyricism has a more engaging job as it weaves the listener through these refreshing beats. Some may not be adjunct to the sounds feeling limited in scope, but they bring a sense of balance. It does that for Maxo and makes sure to get it flowing, even if I wanted to see a little bit of a push for more eccentricity.