At the time he stepped out of the public eye, the R&B singer had released three studio albums: 1996's Grammy-nominated "Urban Hang Suite," which sold 1.8 million copies; 1998's "Embrya" (1.2 million); and 2001's chart-topping "Now" (1.8 million). He also recorded an "MTV Unplugged" session, which was released in 1997 as a seven-song EP (742,000).
But in 2002, after wrapping up the "Now" tour, Maxwell pulled the plug on his public life. Maxwell says he didn't mean to stay away this long -- he first announced his hiatus as a short break -- and he never stopped making music.
He began living a "pedestrian life, and I liked being regular. It was kind of a recalibration of the system as life experiences caught up with me," he says. "Up to that point I'd been on the road and didn't have a chance to really live. But I write about real-life experiences, so it just felt like I had to sit back and let these experiences happen and inspire me all over again."
About the trilogy, Maxwell says that "'BLACK' is darker. It has a bluesier side and features more despondent records. It speaks plenty to love lost."
"BlackSUMMER'Snight," eyed for release in 2010, has more of a gospel feel. "It's lighter. It's gospel music for the common person that wouldn't naturally get involved with that type of music. Hopefully they'll get down with it now," he says.
And, finally, "Blacksummer'sNIGHT," with an anticipated 2011 release, is "straight-up slow jam records."
The first single from "BLACK," the lullaby-like "Pretty Wings," is currently No. 11 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
"I want my music to last forever. I never want my music to be dated," he says of the single. "'Pretty Wings' falls into that. I met this girl who I still respect very much, and although it didn't work out, I got lots of inspiration from it. This track speaks of my time with her."
He describes the second single, the regretful, horn-driven midtempo number "Bad Habits," as "the saltiest and most aggressive record I've ever done."