Max B aims to demonstrate a new side of his artistry on “Black and I’m Proud,” the first official single from his upcoming Negro Spirituals album.
“It’s about me really evolving as a person, evolving as an artist,” the incarcerated rapper tells Rolling Stone. “My music five or six years ago — even before when I used to make music — it was good, but it lacked the experience I have today. The concept fell into my lap: I’m gonna transform from the old Max B into a powerful new artist with a display of content that they aren’t used to. I’m trying to give the people some substance.” The title and hook of his latest release echo one of James Brown’s most famous singles, which became an anthem of empowerment during the 1960s.
Max B’s turn towards “substance” was encouraged by his mother. In “Black and I’m Proud,” he raps about her influence, while Paul Couture’s menacing beat rumbles beneath him: “Mama telling me, ‘baby, what you preachin’ is wrong’/They in love with your music, you should be teachin’ them [in] songs.”
But Max B has other concerns on his mind here as well. He doesn’t think too highly of the musical competition — “All this bullshit music, they don’t know when to stop.” And he takes aim at unnamed detractors, rapping, “the people believe it’s me that was draggin’ ’em down.”
“If I got an issue, a personal problem, sometimes I put it in my music to address it,” Max B tells Rolling Stone. “I was talking about people in general, people that’s not for what we’re trying to do, they’re trying to hold us back while we’re trying to elevate and pick our people up.”
Max B has been in prison since 2009, when he was sentenced to 75 years in prison, accused of being an accomplice to a robbery in New Jersey that ended in murder. (The rapper was not in the state at the time.) The conviction was later vacated in 2016, after a new legal team argued that Max’s original trial lawyer had a conflict of interest in the case, according to Associated Press. His sentence was subsequently reduced to 20 years.
This year he started to release new music: First the track “Hold On,” which nods to Sade, and then “Don’t Push Me,” which pays tribute to Grandmaster Flash and Ice Cube.