Despite being in prison for over decade, Max B has become not just a cause célèbre for his rap peers, but an influential figure whose melodic style predated the current wave of singing MCs.
“I’m not trying to sing, I’m just trying to be vulnerable,” he tells Complex over the phone. “I’m trying to put my soul on there for you. I’m trying to give you me.”
Though his musical output has been limited as he serves the last few years of a recently reduced sentence stemming from conspiracy charges, 2019 has been a banner year for Max Biggavelli. He teamed with longtime friend and collaborator French Montana on the breezy Coke Wave 4 mixtape, and even dropped his own solo project, House Money, on December 6.
Max is expected to come home sometime in 2021, and will be reemerging into a rap world that, consciously or not, has molded to his image. Addressing a recent conversation in the rap world, sparked by a New York Times article, about Drake’s credit for a new generation of rappers who sing, Max B says, “I think Drake is a version of me on a mainstream level. We do what we do, and we both do it well. He do what he do, and I do what I do.”
When Max B does return, there will be a big wave of support behind the Wave God, who says he’s making music that will live up to the attention. “I’m at my zenith,” he points out, speaking about the music he’s been releasing lately. “I gave y’all all this real shit. Now, I’m taking you into my imagination. We’re riding unicorns and shit.”
Complex spoke with Max B over the phone about his latest release, his thoughts on the new generation of rappers, and being the Drake of the streets. The interview, lightly edited and condensed for clarity, is below.
Why did you decide to name the new project House Money?
My partner and I were talking, and basically saying, “Ain’t nothing to lose with this project.” I was a little worried if they’d love it or not, but it turned out that everything worked out right. They’re waiting on me, man. That’s why I called it House Money; we can’t lose, it’s a win-win. I’m just blessed to be able to put something out right now. That’s a blessing right there. But the first chance I get to really give them that album, it’s going to be curtains closed. I’m real musical. I’m not getting respected for my musical gifts, so now I’ve got to do the unthinkable, and come with some whole other sh*t.
You’ve been pretty prolific in 2019 between House Money and Coke Wave 4 with French Montana. Why was this the right team to reassert yourself in music?
This is what God allowed for me, this was the timing. I’m not on my time no more; I’m on the big man’s time. So whatever he presented to me, and whatever opportunity I had, that’s what I took. I never stopped working. I’ve always been writing and working on my craft. I came up with a concept and a title, Negro Spirituals. The music was allowing me to free my mind, so I called it Negro Spirituals. And then it’s like Ragu sauce, it’s all in there.
You included the track “Super Bad” with French on both Coke Wave 4 and House Money. What made you want to double dip with that record specifically?
I just wanted to do something different. Shout out to Paul Couture; he produced “Super Bad.” I just wanted to come with something hard. We needed something different. We just always want to add some stuff to the game that I felt we’d been missing over the years. I felt underappreciated. I wanted to come with something hard, something rough, a nice headbanger. That was it. I wanted y’all to bang your motherfucking heads against the steering wheel while you were driving.
How did you decide on the right collaborators for House Money?
I just wanted to keep it authentic. I wanted to keep it New York. Not that I would put a bunch of New York dudes on my joints just because, but I know all the dudes from New York. A Boogie, that’s family, that’s my nephew. A$AP Ferg, that’s my nephew. Wiz [Khalifa], that’s the bro. East is the bro. These is all my bros. ’Kiss is family. I went back home to where I could get it done at.
“I’m not getting respected for my musical gifts, so now I’ve got to do the unthinkable, and come with some whole other sh*t.”
You mentioned Paul Couture, who produced a lot of House Money. What has working with Paul done for you artistically?
He’s a musical genius. He got that thing sounding right. I felt like it was time for me to elevate my sound and get more into the science of music, as far as my wordplay goes. I feel like that’s what Paul and me tapped into. We’re scientists with this shit. We’re going more from a science perspective. My music now, I’m breaking it down. I’m calling them concepts; I’m not calling them songs. Paul gave me a perspective where I could come from a science perspective with it, where I could give y’all music where you can really understand what I’m doing. That’s the element Paul brought to this business. He brought the scientific stratosphere out of my bars.
That idea of “concepts” vs. “songs” is interesting. Have you changed your songwriting approach as a result of that?
It feels like I changed everything. My whole style kind of evolved. It feels like I’ve found a loophole in my own music. I’m at my zenith, I think, so whatever comes out now, that’s what it is. You can imagine what [the music] will be like when I’m where I need to be. This is just a taste. I’ve got some good stuff for y’all.
Roc Marciano once said, “The fans can have Drake, but the streets have Max.” What do you think of that?
I’m trying to give y’all something that you can really appreciate for the years to come. It’s so special, what we’re building. I think it’s special what I’ve done and what I’ve contributed. My songs are always passionate and I’m always vulnerable. I don’t need Auto-Tune. My voice is beautiful. And I just make great, real music, man. I speak the truth and my shit is real. Just build with me and when y’all float with me, just go with my imagination. Watch where I’m taking you; we’re going into my imagination now. I gave y’all all this real shit. Now, I’m taking you into my imagination. We’re riding unicorns and shit.
They don’t make ’em like The Don no more. I hope when these guys talk about the great ones in this game—they don’t even have to put me in the top 10—I want them to say, “This kid was in his own class. He’s an existentialist. He’s in his own world with the music, and there’s nothing he can’t do musically or melodically.” I turned my life into a melody. I can turn my whole life story into one big song and just go crazy.
There was a New York Times article that caused a lot of debate online crediting Drake for bringing singing to hip-hop. How much credit do you think he deserves for that?
Look, Drake is wonderful. He’s terrifically talented. I think Drake is a version of me on a mainstream level. We do what we do, and we both do it well. He do what he do, and I do what I do. I drop my shit, my shit is hard, I come with some whole other texture. But as far as the recognition, as far as the singing, I really don’t call it that. I’m dealing more with vulnerability. I’m dealing more with vulnerability when I do my hooks. I’m not trying to sing, I’m just trying to be vulnerable. I’m trying to put my soul on there for you, I’m trying to give you me.
My shit is like a choir. You pick out the typical person from a choir, and they can’t sing, right? But if you put all their voices together, they sound beautiful. I put my voice together, and I come up with this sound that I learned how to manipulate that’s next to none. It stays with you, man. It just does. That’s why I think my music has survived so long, because when you go back to my music and you hear it, it’s really me.
“I think Drake is a version of me on a mainstream level.”
Your music manages to both be melodic and gritty, which isn’t the easiest balance to strike.
I think a lot of these guys ruin it when they use a lot of effects on their voices, especially if they don’t need to. At times, it can make everything watered down. Everybody is looking for that winning record, and they’re putting all this stuff on there. It takes the texture out sometimes. Some people are great with it, and some people don’t even need it, but I never felt the need to use it. I don’t like using it. I understand the labels or the radio need it for clarity purposes and mixdown purposes. But me, my shit is raw, it’s real life.
In your recent interview with No Jumper, you said that a lot of the artists coming into rap now have more knowledge than your generation did. Why do you think that’s the case?
It’s the access to information that they have. The technology allows an extra step. I think my era is maybe the last era of music where you needed a great demo to get your stuff in the door. Remember them days where you needed a good demo? Now, you need a million followers. They don’t care about the music. The way these guys are getting in, the way they’re doing the game, they’re killing it right now. That’s why I’m rocking with these young boys. I’ve been gone a long time, so if they show me love, I show them love.
It’s refreshing to talk to a veteran artist who’s open to working with younger folks.
This is the beauty of Max B, of the Don Biggavelli. There’s a generation around my age, in their late 30s or early 40s, where a lot of them stopped liking doing music. I’m going to bring them back to the shit, make ’em appreciate and love it again, and I’m going to blend them in with the young boys, and we’re going to make it alright.
Your sentence being reduced was huge news. How has your impending release affected the way you’re thinking about your musical career?
I don’t question my purpose no more. I know what I’m here for. I’ll tell you this: I’m not even trying to make hits. I’m just putting my story out there and I’m just trying to make you feel good. I’m the people pleaser. That music I left y’all, that shit lasted 10 years. Y’all are still listening to it. This one right here, what I’m about to do, for the next 40 years, we’ll be banging this Max Biggavelli shit.
You’ve become something of a mythical figure over the last decade, and I’m wondering if there are any misconceptions about yourself that you would like to address?
I think there’s a big misconception based on my case and my situation: that maybe I’m some type of liability or I’m a street thug. I made some mistakes when I was young, and I got caught up in some stuff. Unfortunately I’m here, but that doesn’t define me as a person. What defines me as a person, I believe, is the perseverance I’ve shown in all this. All these amazing things I’ve accomplished over the years, while still unable to [be physically present]. I’m still able to do what I do. I think that itself is another reason why I called my album House Money. This is all house money, man. This is all good stuff we’re doing. It’s good energy that we’re taking and betting it back. That’s all we’re doing, baby. I’m a changed man.