Legend has it that every five minutes, someone somewhere in the world asks R&B crooner Maxwell when his next album will drop.
If you follow the “Pretty Wings” singer on social media, you’ll know this statement isn’t far from the truth. He can’t seem to catch a break from well-meaning, hungry fans itching for that new new. And while there has been an influx of soul-stirring music in recent months from the likes of D’Angelo (after a 14-year hiatus), Prince, J.Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few, our hearts and ears still long to hear the latest from not only Maxwell, but these other legendary artists who like to take their precious time making music: Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Missy Elliot.
I’ll be the first to admit I still harbor a school-girl type of crush on Maxwell, so my unrequited love for the man may get in the way of sensibility. But he did make a few promises he couldn’t quite keep. After the 2009 release of his Grammy award-winning BLACKsummers’night album, Maxwell promised back-to-back albums, a trilogy, in fact. Six years later, fans are still waiting on pins and needles for the second album to be released. The only thing we’ve had to tide us over is his 2012 duet with Alicia Keys, “Fire We Make.” We’re happy for the crumbs but, damn, can we get a full on meal, please? Maxwell even said a duet album was in the works with Keys, but that too has yet to come to pass. Can you blame me for my thirstiness? This is the man who brought us classics like “Sumthin’ Sumthin,’” “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder),” “Fortunate,” and “This Woman’s Work.” This is a man who is ever humble and whose gratitude speaks volumes. I’m getting all verklempt. Let me move on.
I grew up in a household where three particular songstresses reigned supreme: Anita Baker, Phyllis Hyman, and Sade. And while I love all of them, Sade has always held a special place in my heart. Perhaps that’s because she also has a beautiful African name that people have trouble pronouncing (There’s no “r” in Sade, folks. Quit it already). The despair, the heartache, the highs, the lows. Sade sets a mood like no other artist can and understands romantic love in a way I have yet to experience. But she’s also on that 10-year plan. Her last album, Soldier of Love, was released in 2010, which means fans have (at least) five more years to wait before hearing another musical gem. That’s if she even feels like returning. On the Soldier of Love tour, Sade said on more than one occasion that it may be her last (which is unacceptable because I have yet to see her live). After releasing an album and touring the world, Sade loves to return to virtual obscurity. She is the queen of going off the grid and the ease with which she does this is part of her lore and mystique. Sade doesn’t give many interviews, and you know good and well that she’s not on social media. It’s clearly not about the fame with her; it’s all about the music. That’s what makes Sade even more respected, treasured and missed when she disappears off of the face of the earth.
Now, Lauryn Hill…where to begin? The Fugees hip-hop songstress was on top of the world with her debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She skillfully balanced love and heartbreak with freeing lyrics that reminded us of our greatness and our potential. Miseducation garnered Hill five Grammys, or maybe it was a billion (she was holding quite a few at the end of the night), and then she basically disappeared, only to reappear with her poorly received MTV Unplugged No. 2.0 album. It was followed up by a self-imposed exile fueled by limited engagements, showing up super late to shows, tax woes, and dissing sprees from critics, former group members, and so-called fans who claimed the singer went off the deep end. While we rightfully want more music from Ms. Hill, we can’t fault the woman for growing or switching up and trying on new styles, musically and creatively. Isn’t that what artists do best? Still, we long for her full on return and hope that maybe the best is yet to come.
When Missy Elliott burst onto the music scene, everything about her was bold and unapologetic, from her lyrics to her fashion sense, and her videos. Aside from her music, Elliott has helped launch and guide the careers of singers like Aaliyah, Nelly Furtado, Keyshia Cole and countless others. Let’s not forget that her surprise appearance during Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance stole the show. Perry fans wanted more from this “new” artist, and that goes to show you how long she has been out of the spotlight. In recent years, Elliott has been vocal about her autoimmune disorder, Graves’ disease, which at times kept her from even being able to hold a pen to write music. But Elliott says she’s anxious to return. I think her fans are more anxious to hear whatever goodness she has in store.
Despite desperately wanting these artists to come out with more music already, fans get it. We’re not privy to the intricacies of the music industry or the inner workings of these artists’ lives – the personal triumphs and devastating blows. We’re not there as they raise their children or spend precious time with their families. Nor do most of us know anything about the pressures of fame. So when fans get word of canceled concerts, delayed albums, or absolute silence from our favorite artists, we have to remember that they’re human too. They bleed, laugh and love just like we do. And just like us, they need to live their lives. (Everyone can’t be like Beyoncé, dropping albums all willy nilly.) But their music is the soundtrack to our daily lives; their voices timeless, classic and ever-inspiring. And no matter how many times we’ve heard their hits, once a song of theirs comes on the radio, it’s like coming home. Not many artists can evoke that sentiment. So if you’re reading this Maxwell, Sade, Lauryn Hill or Missy Elliott, we’re ready whenever you are.