“Picture Me Rollin’” —Public Domain 3, 2008
The body of work that Wingate recorded as Max B varies wildly in tone and sound quality from release to release: the hallucinatory grime of the Coke Wave tapes with French Montana is a world apart from the crisp G-funk of Vigilante Season. And lyrically, the themes explored throughout his music adhere to many hip-hop templates — inebriation, crime, misogyny, money, and an aggressive stance toward anyone with doubt in his status as the greatest thing in New York City, if not the world.
What stands out musically is Wingate’s sense of melody, his willingness to experiment with complex harmonies on verses, his ability to take the rhythmic pattern of a sample and expand on it vocally.
“As far as his melodies … they were second to none as far as I was concerned,” says Roc Marciano, a critically acclaimed MC/producer from Hempstead, Long Island, on a recent phone call. “In my opinion, he was the street version of what Drake is — the fans can have Drake, but the streets have Max.”
As far as his melodies… they were second to none,” says Roc Marciano. “In my opinion, he was the street version of what Drake is—the fans can have Drake, but the streets have Max.
The talent is evidenced by the rapid-fire, monotone flow from “Lip Sang,” off the Public Domain 3 mixtape (2008), that unfolds into a soulful croon; by the jarringly dissonant start to a chorus that somehow resolves gently on “White Lines,” from Vigilante Season; by the playful reinterpretation of Estelle’s “American Boy” (called "American Slore") on 2008’s Wavie Crockett tape. The high notes he reaches on “Not Going Home,” from Coke Wave 2, teeter on the precipice of being out of tune but still form a maddeningly catchy hook.
“I feel like there’s nobody like him. One of the most talented people I’ve ever met in my life,” says Montana. “He’s not scared to try new things, like singing, harmonies, just enjoying himself — that was the most important part, just enjoying himself as he was making that music.”
“He had a sound that didn’t sound like anyone… being very melodic on everything, opening up the door to not necessarily being perfect on everything,” says New York producer Harry Fraud, whose beats have been used by everyone from French Montana (on Coke Wave 2’s legendary “New York Minute”) to Action Bronson to Earl Sweatshirt. “For instance, a classical singer would say, ‘He’s off-key here,’ but he wasn’t really concerned with that.”
“He was a musician. I used to always tell him, like, ‘You like Ray Charles,’” says a friend and New York PR representative who goes by the name Hoffaman. “He was more than just a rapper. He liked to hear the sounds — he doesn’t do the average music. He don’t want you to give him a beat and then he just go in — he’d want to build and create the song.”
“However his case turns out, I would like the brother to be remembered. I feel like Max was too good of an artist to be swept under the rug and have people not remember,” Marciano says. “When he got locked up, I was like, ‘Damn, we just lost our next big star.’ I don’t mean New York’s next star, I mean hip-hop’s next big star, because Max was bigger than New York.”