Sade did it. It's been nine years since she released "Lover's Rock," which sold 3.9 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

D'Angelo did it. It's been the same amount of time since he put out his platinum-selling set "Voodoo." Lauryn Hill did it. "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill"—six-times platinum—came out 11 years ago. A vanishing act has become practically de rigueur for R&B musicians of a certain caliber (although Sade and D'Angelo are supposed to release albums this fall). Many make a mega-hit album or two, collect Grammy Awards and critical accolades—and then disappear. Now, after being on hiatus from the music scene since 2002, Maxwell—born Maxwell Rivera—is stepping back on the public stage. On July 7, the Brooklyn native will release his long-awaited, often-delayed fourth studio album, "BLACKsummer'snight," the first installment of a trilogy, on Columbia Records. Maxwell first announced the trilogy in 2005, saying the releases would be full of heart-pounding melodies and true-to-life love stories. "The time away gave me a better appreciation of things, so I took the time I needed to live to make this album something of substance," he says. "People tend to be so hell bent on remaining famous that you become desensitized to the music industry to some level. But my passion is making music and promoting and supporting great musicians."

At the time he stepped out of the public eye, the R&B singer had released three albums: 1996's "Urban Hang Suite," which sold 1.8 million copies; 1998's "Embrya," which sold 1.2 million; and 2001's "Now," with 1.8 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan. He had been nominated for a Grammy for "Suite"; recorded an "MTV Unplugged" session, which was later released as a seven-song EP (742,000); peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart with "Fortunate," a single off "Embrya," which became that chart's No. 1 single of 1999; and reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with "Now."

But in 2002, after wrapping up the "Now" tour, Maxwell pulled the plug on his public life. 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."

And while times, technology and music have all changed, the reception Maxwell received during his first public appearances make it seem as though he never left. On a drizzly Saturday night in June, Maxwell performed a seven-song set at the gala award ceremony of the 23rd annual conference of the 100 Black Men organization. Women of all ages could barely keep their composure; one even pulled on his leg and stuck her hand out to greet him.

"Fellas," Maxwell joked between songs, "if y'all can't get it together with your lady after you leave this show tonight, you better join the priesthood right quick."

Click here for a preview of Maxwell's album as well as his comeback strategy.