It is a rare occurrence, but have you ever walked down the street in a new city and felt an overwhelming sense of unease and mistrust? The feeling may be difficult to pinpoint - its origin remains nebulous - but somewhere in the caverns of your gut, the wariness burns. Your surroundings are somewhat familiar; after all, a city is a city, a street is a street. Nonetheless, something just doesn’t feel correct.
That is how it feels to listen to Maxo’s new LP, Debbie’s Son, released on September 28, 2023. From the haunting, shadowy vocals on the instrumental opening track, "Juanita" to the unsettling cover art, the album invokes more questions than answers. The Ladera Heights, California rapper is appreciated for his introspective lyricism and avant-garde production as demonstrated on his past albums, SMILE, LIL BIG MAN, and Every God Has A Sense Of Humor. One of my personal favorite tracks is "2 for $10," where Maxo delves into the suspicion in his relationships along with a search for clarity in his own self-perception. On Another. "LAnd" Maxo contemplates his place in the world both physically and spiritually as he attempts to overcome melancholy and unease in an ever-changing world. "What Are You Looking For?" follows with a similarly probing theme but with a greater sense of empowerment as he raps “palate cleansed but you uneased, still mask the wounds you know that bleed." Maxo realizes that he is damaged and is searching for a solution to heal his wounds, but repairing himself is not a linear process. The song, "#3," continues Maxo coming to terms with a troubled relationship; Maxo realizes that both parties are flawed and mutually holds himself and his past partner accountable for their mistakes.
"Eyes On Me" is another favorite track of mine with a gorgeous saxophone tune, rhythmic drums, and soulful vocals. The schematic and catchy hook makes the theme of yearning for reciprocal love easy to follow. The title track, Debbie’s Son, continues the premise of seeking love through uncertainty while juxtaposing hopeful lyrics and melodies with disturbing wailing, heavy breathing, and unsettling piano keys. Debbie’s Son then transitions seamlessly into Boomerang with immediate rapping as Maxo reminisces about overcoming adversity to power himself through existing concerns. The chorus of “Sometimes it seems like I want the old me back!” accentuates a wistfulness for his past strengths as doubts about overcoming his contemporary travails creep in. The final track, FYM, demonstrates Maxo’s realization that many of his compatriots only enjoy spending time with him due to his success. This track left me a bit disappointed as it strayed away from the prior purifying introspection and into a reactionary rant rooted in distrust and paranoia.
Overall, as alluded to in the introduction, Debbie’s Son, is a fascinating album that caters to a shared human experience of mistrust during tremulous times. There are familiar themes of love, overcoming conflict, and seeking resolution that most listeners can relate to. Although, like the walk down the unfamiliar street - made alluring by familiar themes represented by stores, restaurants, and entertaining places that we are somewhat familiar with – Maxo’s street is not our familiar street. Similarly, Maxo is descriptive enough to keep the listener engaged with familiar sounds but not quite immersive enough in his lyricism, beat selection, or creative content to create a soundscape that would be wholly unique or personal. Debbie’s Son is certainly an album that warrants a few listens, and some songs may make it into your rotation, but lacks the complexity or individuality to keep a listener returning for multiple front-to-back listens.