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In contrast to his Urban Hang Suite, Maxwell's following studio albums received comparably modest reviews from music critics. Despite selling one million copies, his second album Embrya (1998) received mixed criticism and experienced a critical backlash similar to that of other neo soul artists' work that broke their previous releases' successful formulas. Maxwell's third album Now (2001) became a platinum-seller and served as a return to the more straightforward romantic atmosphere of Urban Hang Suite. Following an eight-year sabbatical, Maxwell resurfaced with his fourth studio album BLACKsummers'night (2009), which was originally slated for 2004, serving as the first release of a trilogy of albums by Maxwell. The album received general acclaim from music critics.

Along with musicians D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, Maxwell has been credited with helping to shape the "neo soul" movement that rose to prominence during the late 1990s. Along with D'Angelo's Brown Sugar (1995) and Badu's Baduizm (1997), Urban Hang Suite has been recognized by writers for beginning neo soul's popularity and helping the genre obtain commercial visibility. Maxwell has received numerous accolades in twelve Grammy nominations with two wins.

Maxwell began working with songwriter Leon Ware and noted guitarist Wah Wah Watson to record his debut Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite in the early 1990s. When the album was finished Columbia had doubts about its potential and shelved it for two years. The album was finally issued in 1996.
Heavily inspired by the sound of classic soul music, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite did not catch on with audiences until the release of its second single, "Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)", which became a hit. Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite sold over 2,000,000 copies, earning 2X platinum status, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
On June 15, 1997, Maxwell taped an episode of the MTV concert series MTV Unplugged in New York City, performing his own songs as well as covers of songs by Kate Bush ("This Woman's Work) and Nine Inch Nails ("Closer")]. Maxwell clashed with his label about the release of an album of his unplugged session, so only an EP containing seven songs was released for sale.


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