Review: Maxo – Lil Big Man (Def Jam, Mar 15)

Getting pulled into the woozy, half-asleep world of Lil Big Man is pretty much the easiest thing in the world. From the opening cut “Time” the LA newcomer Maxo commands his arsenal of shuffling hi-hats, buried vocal samples, and dreamy keyboards with a buttery, infectious flow that draws charisma from both the ease at which it’s delivered and the sense that Maxo actually believes the things he’s saying, an all-too-uncommon quality in recent hip-hop I’ve heard. The production is handled almost entirely by lastnamedavid and Swarvy (Due Rent, Swarvy’s collaborative tape with rapper lojii, who also appears on Lil Big Man, was my pick for hip-hop release of the year in 2017), its eclectic instrumental palette borrowing liberally from soul and jazz to craft lush beds for Maxo’s bars. The percussion is rhythmic in a wobbly, tumbling way, consistently groovy yet seemingly never strict or metronomic, a calm and detached approach that couldn’t complement Maxo’s delivery better. The young wordsmith’s focus is mostly directed inward, at war with himself and success on “No Love” and meditating on uncertainty with “Lucky,” his earnest musings ornamented with interlocking rhyme schemes and abstract imagery. Though the production is possibly the more immediate appeal of Lil Big Man, further listens readily endear Maxo and his words, the rapper subverting any need to ‘prove himself’ on his label debut and instead just saying what he wants—or needs—to say.