Embrya, the second studio album from Maxwell, is a recording that embodies the complexity of a remarkable artist. Stylistically connected to Urban Hang Suite, his debut album, Embrya features Maxwell's smooth, sensual vocals riding on warm keyboards and honeyed strings, funky bass lines and strong grooves. While firmly rooted in the timeless foundation of soulful rhythm & blues, Embryo also shows Maxwell looking ahead, with idealized lyrics and detailed production pointing to the future.
Maxwell, originally his middle name and now his first, is a tribute to the two namesakes (his father and godfather) who were taken from earth when he was very young. "Everything I was comes after that because everything I am now is because of them," he says. "I'm becoming the motivation they sparked in me at an early age to reach for the things unseen." Along with this commemoration comes his undeniable female influence that embodies his every work to date.
Urban Hang Suite, released in 1996, introduced the unique sound of then 22-year-old Maxwell, who as a shy teenager had written some 300 songs in his bedroom in East New York, Brooklyn. A fresh sound that stood apart from standard R&B fare and hard hip-hop beats, the album attracted a growing audience, garnered several radio hits -- including "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)," "Whenever Wherever Whatever" and "Till the Cops Come Knocking." The album is now double platinum worldwide. In 1997 Maxwell toured internationally and released Maxwell Unplugged, an EP of his MTV performance that featured songs from the first album and a couple of innovative covers, including Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" and a gospel-styled rendition of Trent Reznor's "Closer."
With Embrya, Maxwell further defines his continually growing artistry. With each song, he creates a symphony of sounds, layering instrument upon instrument as a rich bed for his smoky, sultry voice, Throughout the album, Maxwell explores a range of moods, from the pathos of ballads ("DrownDeep: Hula," "Know These Things: Shouldn't You") to Latin-tinged grooves ("Submerge," "Gravity: Pushing to Pull,") to smooth soul ("Everwanting: To Want You to Want," "Luxury: Cococure") to deep funk ("Arroz Con Pollo," "I'm You; You Are Me and We Are You"). Writing in his album notes, Maxwell explains the term he created for the title of the album, calling it "an approaching growing transition thought to be contained but destined for broader perception." Discussing the idea, he says, "I think time will elaborate on that more than I can explain in this moment. It represents a birthing of myself, of a whole other person, but at this point I'm in that period of change, that moment of limbo where I'm going to be that thing but I'm not there yet."
Applying that concept to the recording of the album, Maxwell says, "A friend, after living with Embrya, said that if Urban Hang Suite was one room, then Embrya is many chambers, many different rooms." The entry to those rooms is found in "Gestation: Mythas," a poetic fantasy loosely base d on Maxwell's life that is included in the album notes but was not put to music. "That text is a short story that's my own way of expressing what I've been through in my life," he says.This album isd efinitely about 'within,' about my outlook on the inner thing I'm desiring. And most of it is truly a love letter to God. A lot of the lyrics may seem very sexual, know the line 'Lay on top of me' in 'Everwanting' may mean another thing to other people. But to me it's like saying to God, 'you can be here. You can take control, and I'm always wanting you to want to."'