“This ain’t my first rodeo.”
“The moment Max got out of his car — his personality was so big, man. Time froze,” says Next of the first time he met Wingate. “When he got out of the car and started laughing … I was like, right away, this guy’s a star.”
This impression is one cited by many who know Wingate, and it is one that he lives up to as he bounces into the visiting room at New Jersey State Prison. “What’s good, people? Oh, I didn’t know y’all was white guys,” he cracks, the first of many jokes he’ll make over the course of an hour, punctuated by his trademark cackle. It’s a day after his 35th birthday, which happened to fall on the same day that French Montana released Excuse My French, and Wingate is obviously proud both of his former colleague and the relevance he still enjoys in the rap world.
When I came home you couldn’t tell me I’d be back in prison. I had it all figured out. I didn’t, but I thought I did. And bad things just happened, man. Sometimes you can’t foresee what’s gonna unfold, sometimes things just unfold in a way that’s uncontrollable... and next thing you know, you’re in a situation that you can’t get yourself out of.
He speaks of doing his time “positive,” which at the moment involves taking a correspondence course for a paralegal degree, a new experience for a man who, in his own words, was making “forty to fifty G’s a month, independently” off music after making bail in 2007. “I ain’t never really had to challenge myself, everything used to come easy to me,” he says. “The first couple courses is business and stuff. I found that to be more interesting than the paralegal course … [but the] book’s gettin’ thicker, it’s gettin’ tougher.”
Do you feel like your experience in prison is different this time?
Yeah, it’s much different. Back then I was younger. There was a point in my life where I thought, you know, when I came home you couldn’t tell me I’d be back in prison. I had it all figured out. I didn’t, but I thought I did. And bad things just happened, man. Sometimes you can’t, you can’t foresee what’s gonna unfold, sometimes things just unfold in a way that’s uncontrollable... and next thing you know, you’re in a situation that you can’t get yourself out of.
I got things goin’ on, but, you know, every day is a fight for survival in here. This place ain’t no game. Everybody think just ‘cause you in prison, like, you know, it’s cool, or I got street credibility. There’s nothin’ in here.
What do you mean?
It’s just nothin’ here. It’s a downer, no positive—nothin’ in here. Only thing you get out of being here maybe, maybe, is like, time to yourself, peace of mind, and even then, that’s interrupted by things around you, cause you got a bunch of other guys in here, you know they probably got their own problems, everybody got their own situation. And you got the officers—they come in, even though they goin’ home at night, they doin time too. There’s never a minute you can sit down, like, ‘Alright.’ (sighs) Naw, it’s always something, thinking about something, or trying to plan, or put something together, or worry about something. It’s a negative spot.
People give you a hard time because of who you are?
No, absolutely not. I'm who I am—like, you know, I'm Max B, but … these guys know me. Like I said, this ain’t my first rodeo, so before I was a rapper, you know—I came up in the street. I was in the hood—I'm from Lenox Ave. So I been around these type of guys all my life. My brothers, they all gangsters and stuff like that. I just was fortunate that I knew I found something I could do really well, and I just put it to usage.
Can you work on music here? Can you listen to music here?
[Sighs] There’s no music to listen to. It’s like, you got radio, local radio stations and stuff like that, but I listen to old stuff that’s more soothing. I don’t really listen to the local rap stations. I listen every now and then. My boy Frenchie, he doin’ his thing, so I listen when he come on, but... everybody else—pffft.
You don’t hear any stuff you like?
Not really, naw. I don’t know, maybe it’s me, maybe I'm old-fashioned or something, I think it’s like, all the new music got a certain sound to it. It’s like, you can tell it’s like, 2013. How can I explain? It’s got like a robotic, auto-tuney sound — not just rappers. All new artists got it. It’s like you can tell that this is a new artist, like she’s young, or he’s young, to where, if you listen to like, Anita Baker, it’s just timeless and it’s smooth, and it’s like, you know that’s Anita, and you know that was back in the 80s sometime, and it’s gonna be good from now, til like, 2050.
But people can’t send you beats or anything like that? Do you have anything to listen to it on?
No, we don’t got no computers… no CDs, no computers. The computer is like, for law library purposes—nothing online, no e-mail, like in federal corrections. It’s like, resources are very limited, next to none. This is prison, so everything here is like — I know you seen Shawshank Redemption, right? That’s more — yeah, like that. Real Old Testament prison, real old-school, real... [thumps table].
Do you have a poster of Rita Hayworth on the wall?
Naw, no Rita Hayworth — the only difference between this and Shawshank Redemption is, you dig through one of these holes in the wall, you gonna end up in someone else’s cell. (laughs) You know what I'm sayin’? (points at Department of Corrections press officer) He know — that’s why he over there smilin’. (laughs) Ain’t no sheetrock in here, this is all steel and concrete. You wanna get out, you gotta do it diplomatically. Same way you got in, that’s how you get out.
Do you have a plan for that? Stuff you’re working on? Is getting the degree part of that?
No, that got nothin to do with that. The degree is just something I wanted to do for me personally. I just wanted to challenge myself academically. I never been really a school kid, I always got kicked out of my schools, I was disruptive. And I never liked that about myself — I never was able to challenge myself academically. The farthest I got was my GED. I thought that was like a college diploma right there.
We workin’ on gettin’ out, man. I got some things in the works. I didn’t really want to talk too much about the case, or my means of gettin’ out. I don’t want to make any promises to people, but, every moment that goes by here, I'm working on getting out. I'm still positive — I believe I'm gonna get out. It might take a couple years, but I have the right resources.
How was it that you got into music?
It probably came from, you know, my brother, rest in peace, my brother Eric... when I was staying with my grandmother back in like '87ish, '88, he used to go in and out of town… he was into music real heavy. And the last time he left he left me a big sack of cassette tapes. And on these tapes, were, everything, all the DJs — this was back when cassette tapes were like 120 minutes, and Kid Capri and Starchild and Brucie B used to make all the mixtapes. And they used to put all the old music together, all the Frankie Beverly and Maze, and Luther Vandross—all the great artists, they used to mix them up and blend beats and put ‘em together. And I loved my brother, I idolized my brother, so I wanted to listen to what he was listening to. And he used to say, ‘Yo, watch my tapes till I come back, don’t let nothing happen to them.’ And I just held on to them and I learned the music, and just studied and I always listened to the music. It was him that turned me on to like, N.W.A. and stuff like that, and I listened to the music, even though my grandmoms, she was real, very religious—rest her soul, God bless her soul—she was real religious, so I wasn’t really allowed to listen to that type of music in the house. So I would put it to my ear real low and learned to go outside to listen to it, and I started gettin’ in trouble.
That’s where it really came from, just experience. My mother and them, they would be in the room getting high and partying, and the parties I would have at my house resembled the parties that my mother had. Might have been a different drug of choice but, we used to stay up three or four days, partying, we got women in there, we in there doin’ everything my moms and them used to be doin’. And they used to listen to music, and it all stuck with me. So as I grew up and I started making music, all that music just started coming out of me. So that’s why a lot of inspiration comes from around my area, around my hood. That’s why I'm always—when I'm out, I was always in the area, cause a lot of ideas and inspiration I take from my area and what I do every day. I might say something funny, and if everybody laugh I might take what they said and make a record out of it.
Even all the harmonies, too?
I just don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t something I was doing when I was 5 years old, you know? Some people great at the guitar, they great at swimming, they great at sports, they been playin’… tennis, Serena was playing since she was seven. I wasn’t doing rap music, I just started when I was 19 or something like that, 20.
But it’s more than the music. I think you gotta be all-around. I think you gotta have a personality. It think you gotta have imagination. I think you gotta have a certain look, to even come into the game. It’s so oversaturated with guys comin’ in, everybody just follow a certain trend. It’s all about originality. Them the people that soar: originality, people with personality, people that everybody love, their character. People buy into your music, they buying into your lifestyle, what you’re saying. So, if you full of shit? Who wants to buy music from somebody’s that’s full of shit? That’s the music on in your ears and your brain your soul, and every day—your lifestyle, you’re using that music.
Before you went away the first time, was there a Max B? Or did that come after your first bid?
No, that was just a name I came up with… that was just something I created, it was all part of the character. That was my persona. There’s an art to this, I believe. I really believe there’s an art to this, I swear. And when you comin’ in this game, you gotta put a character together, what you gonna do. You can either give ‘em you, you know, or you can live in your character. Me, I been away so long, and not been in the ghetto so long, that by the time—when I became Max B, I didn’t know how to switch off Max B. I was always Max B. That’s who I grew into—Max B. Charly was like… [laughs]
When did that start?
When I was in prison [the first time] I used to look in the mirror, and I knew there was no way I was going back to that street corner. There was no way I was gonna be nothin’—I already knew. That’s when I became in the character. I just knew within myself. I just knew that Max B was the brand, it was this name, it had flair. That’s who I was, since like, 2000.
So when you came out the first time, how did you get involved in music?
I didn’t know nothing. I was just arrogant, I was young. I still was wet behind the ears, and I was on parole, so I really couldn’t really do nothing. I never even been in the studio, but I knew something. I just knew — you know. My man took me in the studio, it was like a little $15 an hour, little booth, I went in there and laid over some vocals over an instrumental. And he looked at me, he was like [raises eyebrows] — I looked at him, I was like, ‘Yeah, I told you.’ He was like, “Yeah, we gotta do more.”
So we started goin’ to his brother’s house, but his brother — even though I wasn’t in studios, I knew the sound was off, I was like, something wrong, he was using reverb, so I was like, “we gotta get in a real place.” So I was supposed to meet up with Cam and do some stuff and got to the real studio and get some stuff, but—I was on parole violation, I had a warrant out for my arrest, and I got arrested for like, pissin’ on the curb. So I went back in for 10 months. Which I felt, which I think was needed, ‘cause I wasn’t ready. I still was on parole, I needed to be all in with this thing. Living with my mother, sleeping on the couch, small apartment, I couldn’t have girls over, so that was a distraction. I did eight years — I want some girls! That was a distraction. Parole coming to my house, I'm staying out late after curfew, that’s a distraction. Everything was a distraction.
It was a beautiful thing when [ByrdGang] first started. We was a good team. Everybody was on the same page. Music was gettin’ done. We could have been the next G-Unit, we could have been the next D-block. We had a nice sound, we was great together. And I stood out.
So I was like, ‘You know what—let me do this 10 months. Get everything off my back, and I'm gonna come home right. I’ll be—go all in with this thing.’ and before I went, I made some contacts. I met with Cam—Cam’ron, who I grew up with, but that wasn’t my contact. The contact was with Mike Bruno, and [pause] Jim Jones.
I did the ten months. I came up with another name: Biggavelli. Which, I just—my head really got big. You know you got an idea, an invention, and you know it’s gonna be a success, and you just know, only you know that you have it? That’s what I thought I had, so I was real arrogant with it. When I came home—[snaps fingers] I met up with Jim and Bruno. I came home in January. By March I was working in the studio with these guys, by May that year, 2005, we were shooting videos. We was on MTV. By that summer, I had a six-figure advance. So I was like—everything happened quick.
So I started working on records. I did "Confront Ya Babe," I did "Baby Girl," I did "G’s Up." That was the album right there—we was puttin’ it together right there on the spot. [Jim] was like, "Yo, this gonna be on the records. These gonna be albums right there." So I told Jim, "Yo, we need a new sound. Y’all got the typical Dipset sound." I was like, "Naw, we can’t do that. We gotta go real New York with this thing, like, this new flavor I got right here." So once I got everyone on board, we was takin’ off. ByrdGang was takin’ off.
What kind of flavor are you talking about? What do you mean, "this new New York thing"?
I just had a new sound like nobody was used to. And my work ethic was uncontrollable. That’s the first thing that they gravitated to: my work ethic. My leadership in the studio. Once I learned what I could do, I became more arrogant. Jim started giving me the green light—when he wasn’t there I was in charge. So it was like, "I'm gonna do what I want in that course of time." I recorded over 200 something records with Jim. I tucked some away, cause you know, if you leave me around the safe I'm gonna take some off the top for me. It’s only right. I'm the guy. He’s never there, I'm putting in all the work. So I said, "Just for insurance, I'm gonna take a few of these just for me, just in case." I winded up using them—I had to—as ammunition. But we’re gettin’ to that, when the war started or whatever.
It was a beautiful thing when we first started. We was a good team. Everybody was on the same page. Music was gettin’ done. We could have been the next G-Unit, we could have been the next D-Block. We had a nice sound, we was great together. And I stood out—I stood myself out. Just because—I'm not gonna ride somebody’s coattails. "One day, when we finish this, and you make your millions, I wanna make me some millions." You know what I'm saying? That’s how that went. Personalities, egos clashed. I guess maybe at some point he was feeling threatened by my presence—animosity started. People started disrespecting each other. When you amongst men, men gonna disrespect each other. Just like guys in here disrespect each other. There’s gonna be a fight, somebody’s gonna get hurt. That’s all that happened. Money, disrespect—they don’t mix.