Max B was only on the music scene for a brief four-year period in the late 2000s, but he had a meteoric impact.
In 1997, one year after the passing of Tupac and the same year as the killing of Notorious B.I.G., Max B went to jail, and would serve an eight year sentence on robbery charges.
When he emerged in 2005, he began recording with fellow Harlemites the Diplomats, giving a grungy mystique to Cam'ron's Jay-Z diss "You Gotta Love It" and becoming a member of Jim Jones's ByrdGang, with local luminaries Stack Bundles and Mel Matrix.
Soon after writing Jones's super-awesome megasmash "We Fly High (Ballin')," Max embarked on a solo career—one that gained momentum, oddy, after a falling-out with Jones. (This is described in detail in today's exclusive feature story.) He created "The Wave"—a catchphrase, a movement, and a distinct aesthetic of catchy, melodic, lo-fi rap music—and released a flurry of mixtapes and singles. He built buzz by hopping on unexpected instrumentals and reinventing them in his own distinctive style, as well as recording originals, delivering his gorgeous, melodic hooks with a laid-back nonchalance.
We could easily have made this a list of 50 more songs—apologies to "Eye for an Eye," "Situations," "Live Comfortable," and many, many more—packed with rapid-fire lyrics that alternated between humor and humanity, and delivered with effortless, gritty panache. Strangely, sadly (we think) Max remains a largely unknown entity to the world beyond hardcore rap heads. An undersung folk hero.
So without further ado, here is the newbie's introduction to the Wavy One: The 25 Best Max B Songs.
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25. Jim Jones f/ Max B "G's Up" (2005)
24. Max B "De La Soul" (2007)
23. Max B f/ French Montana & Dame Grease "Goon Music (We Run NY)" (2008)
Album: Goon Music 1.5: The Doomship
Producer: Dame Grease
One of the producers most closely associated with Max B's rise was Dame Grease, who first made his name producing a significant portion of DMX's debut It's Dark and Hell is Hot, an earlier example of a mainstream-unfriendly performer crossing over in a major way. Grease's tracks for Max also epitomized this apparent contradiction: they had a dilapidated, grungy, underground atmosphere, but retained an open, everyman's accessibility.
In this case, Sting's glossy, erudite "Englishman in New York" was swiped and turned into a gritty NY rap anthem. (Considering that song's role in reggae music—think Shinehead's "Jamaican in New York"—this isn't as strange as it might seem at first; Max's approach to mixtapes often had a dancehall-like omnivorousness in repurposing pop music history.) In this case, Branford Marsalis' saxophone and Sting's sped-up vocals framed French Montana, Dame Grease, and Max B's dusty vocals, culminating in French's Newports-and-Henny chorus: "And you can smell it in my breath when I talk/Goon music, we run New York." —David Drake
22. Max B "Paperwork" (2008)
21. Max B "Sexy Love"
Album: Million Dollar Baby 2
Producer: 9th Wonder/Matthew Knowles
Max would repurpose songs from across the spectrum, treating iconic West Coast anthems like "Can't C Me" (for "Smoking") to soul classics ("I Warned You") as rhythm tracks that existed purely for his benefit. One of his strengths was to find an off-beat or slept-on production for this. Consider his flip of Jermaine Dupri album cut "Hate Blood" or his incredible take on Tony Yayo's "Curious." Perhaps his most well-known effort in this lane was "Sexy Love," a borderline-ironic R&B track in the vein of Biggie's "Playa Hater" which transformed a 9th Wonder-produced Destiny's Child album track into a completely new song and fan favorite. —David Drake
20. Max B "Tattoos on Her Ass" (2008)
Album: Vigilante Season
Producer: Dame Grease
"Tattoos on Her Ass" is in the Max B pantheon not just for its unique Dame Grease production, with its hammering, double-time distortion, or its unforgettable chorus ("How'd Jimmy let the game slip through his hands?"). This was the moment when it became apparent that Max had his sights set high. He wasn't just dissing Jones and bragging about sexual encounters with the rapper's girlfriend ("Chrissy touched it in Miami, while you was doing tracks"), but also sent shots at hip-hop's reigning king at the time, Lil Wayne ("Played with biscuits as a boy, and never tried to shoot myself.") And the beery, slurred delivery gave his high-profile trolling a gleeful tone. —David Drake
19. Max B f/ Al Pac "She Touched It" (2008)
Album: Million Dollar Baby 2.5: Da Appetizer
As has been noted by many prominent Biblical historians, there are eerie parallels between the stories of Judas and Jesus and Jim Jones and Max B—right down to Max and Jesus both sharing identical manes of flowing black hair. It would be a watertight comparison if Jesus had gone on to record a song boasting that Judas' wife had performed oral sex on him behind her husband's back, like Max claimed Jones' wife/future Love & Hip Hop star Chrissy Lampkin had done during one of Byrdgang's trips to Miami.
There are numerous disses towards Jones and Lampkin in the Biggavelz oeuvre, but "She Touched It In Miami" stands as the most stinging due to Max's repurposing of the hook from Jones' "Summer Wit' Miami" single. (A song which Max claims to have composed and ghostwritten.) It's likely due to material like this that Jones still bristles with contempt whenever someone asks him about Max B to this day. —Marty Macready
18. Max B "Cops Come Runnin'" (2008)
17. Max B f/ Styles P & Mel Matrix "Hawaii 5-0" (2007)
16. Max B "Blow Me A Dub (Remix)" (2008)
Album: Public Domain 3
Producer: Young Los
Top 3 reasons why the "Blow Me A Dub (Remix)" bodies the original:
1. The original only has one majorly memorable lyric with the "come catch the birdy/I'm Tom Brady, you a Testaverde" line, whereas the remix is a smorgasbord of Biggavelz quotables from the "contemplating about my trip to the Bahamas as I spin through my condo in my Calvin Klein pajamas" to the "comfort/cum squirts/gun work" rhyme pattern to the bit where he refers to himself as "the waveman" and paints himself as a modern day Gotham superhero.
2. Max B is one of the few rappers in recent memory who can rap about weed and make it sound as glamorous and sexy as chinking glasses with supermodels on Diddy's yacht in St. Tropez, rather than an activity you do sitting alone on your couch in your underwear watching Rugrats re-runs.
3. For the 5 past years, the word remix has become shorthand for "popular song which Birdman/Diddy/Fabolous/Weezy/Drake/Red Cafe/Young Jeezy/2 Chainz/Chris Brown/French Montana/Pusha-T then add uninspired studio scrap verses to." The "Blow Me A Dub" remix is special because it's an entirely different song to the original (new beat, lyrics, and hook) which leaves the previous version in the dust.
15. Max B f/ Mel Matrix & Stack Bundles "Refreshing" (2006)
14. Max B "P*rno Muzik" (2009)
13. Max B "Deez My Streets" (2006)
12. Max B f/ Mack Mustard "Dead Solver" (2009)
11. Max B "Lip Sang" (2008)
10. Max B "Quarantine" (2009)
9. Max B "Flash Dance" (2007)
8. Pete Rock f/ Jim Jones & Max B "We Roll" (2008)
Album: NY's Finest
Producer: Pete Rock
Pete Rock is on record as claiming Max B was one of his favorite rappers of the last decade. So it's no great stretch to suggest that he put "We Roll" together specifically for the Wavy one. Indeed, the fit is perfect. The sample of Kool & The Gang's "You Don't Have To Change" is as distinctive, fluid and unusual as Max's verse and nearly-unintelligable-but-still-insanely-catchy hook. It's one of those songs you can't imagine was made for anyone else, even though Jim Jones and Pete Rock himself also both laid verses.
Historically, it's an important piece of the Max B story too, since it was the first time anyone other than Dipset weed-carrier fanboys and NY mixtape aficionados were exposed to his dulcet tones. And any song which can make grumpy boom-bap dinosaur dudes (ahem) mumble-rap the "watch your frame pop outta the sunroof like a cinnamon bagel" line to themselves is a no-brainer for any inclusion on any and every Biggavelz list. —Marty Macready
7. Max B f/ French Montana "Stake Sause" (2009)
6. Max B "Drop That Top" (2007)
5. Max B f/ Mack Mustard "All My Life" (2009)
4. Max B "Picture Me Rollin'" (2008)
Album: Public Domain 3: Domain Pain
Producer: Young Los
You'd expect "Picture Me Rollin'" to be Max B's token Tupac beatjack: Either decent mixtape filler (a la his "Death Around The Corner" homage with French Montana) or a dope interpolation in his own style like "Smoking." This is precisely why you should never judge a Biggavelz track by its title, because "Picture Me Rollin'" is actually an original Young Los production, and generally considered the highlight of Public Domain 3: Domain Pain. Never has Max B's youth-icon-with-an-old-soul steez been more apparent than the "Picture Me Rollin'" video, where his Kool-Moe-Dee-circa-The-Treacherous-Three-Kangol-504-flatcap inspired a new generation of Harlem youngsters to start copping them:
3. Max B "Why You Do That?" (2007)
2. Max B "I Never Wanna Go Back" (2009)
1. Max B "Where Do I Go (BBQ Music)" (2008)
Album: Bloomberg Series: No Beefin'
Producer: Dame Grease
In the late 2000s, a major changing-of-the-guard was taking place in hip-hop: A new generation of hip-hop rookies (think Drake, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole, Gucci Mane) were emergent. The era of the superproducer had ended; the new stars found success by adapting to an era where rappers had to be songwriters, too (Drake) or adapt to a new, schizophrenic rap/dance-pop reality (Nicki Minaj). Max B, firmly a full-on songwriter in the most traditional sense, was in the former camp. His Wave was beginning to crest, his relevance increasing by the day. Even if, behind the scenes, those days were numbered.
Despite his young and growing grassroots street following, Max was, in many ways, an old soul. The old-school R&B influences seeped through his music. This was most evident on "Where Do I Go?," a warm, lightly-propulsive, existential reverie produced by Dame Grease. Max channelled Cherelle and Alexander O'Neal for the chorus, his interrogative title giving their song of devotion a wistful sunset ambiance.
All of the ingredients of Max's peculiar magic were here. The song has the feel of encroaching sobriety and lingering intoxication, bleary and melodic. There's a full minute of crooning before Max even starts rapping. The song's tone is bittersweet, almost melancholic vibe seems uniquely suited for the tragedy that would soon befall him. He addresses his real-life drama, venting with a casual insoucience. "Niggas try to take me but a nigga bailed out/1.5, the biggest bail-out," Max says at one point, a reference to the $1.5 million dollar bail he obtained by selling the rights to his publishing.
For many, the unbothered reserve of Max's delivery might make it hard to connect with him; certainly, the armor most rappers adapt can make them seem like one-dimensional action figures to those looking in from the outside. And all too often, they really are one-dimensional. But Max's genius came through his songcraft; he was able to suffuse his songs with a nuanced emotional context.
Max's words might speak to particular situations and circumstances, but they would give you little in terms of his emotional state. Instead, Max B was an actor on a stage of his own creation. His matter-of-fact statements about his conflicts with Jones, trouble with the law, and his mother's drug addiction are granted stark power, not through the particular lyrical details, but because the emotional truth of his music hid between rapper and song, a method of implying much deeper emotions through subtle understatement on an unforgettable musical canvas. —David Drake