Maxo sounds relieved. Way back when, armed with a freshly inked Def Jam deal, the smooth-talking LA-based MC thought he achieved his dreams. The relationship descended into a nightmare. Just months after his Def Jam farewell, Even God Has A Sense of Humor, he’s back with his most personal record to date, Debbie’s Son.
On the album, he sounds happy, invigorated, and refreshed. Perhaps this is an example of projecting biography onto the artwork, but the album sounds like a new beginning, even though sonically it’s a continuation of stellar efforts like Even God, LIL BIG MAN, and SMILE.
There’s something deeply spiritual about Debbie’s Son. Perhaps it’s the album art concocted by artist Fela Cutty, which features a beaming baby staring directly into the camera. Maybe it’s the title, reframing Maxo’s journey as a familial effort, a dedication to the sacrifice and strength of his mother. Or maybe it’s in the way Maxo raps, incisively examining his past and stripping any extra details, revealing a raw, unvarnished, entirely honest version of himself.
Before the album was released, Maxo offered some avant-garde insight into its themes. “Skin sheds to reveal a version of me yet seen. Trials, tribulations, realizations. Everything contributed to the human. An attempt to not become my reactions. An attempt to retract to my purest form. Who is Maxo ? When nothing else matters? Love sharing the same coin as hate. Can’t go backwards. Embracing what’s to come. New blessings. Can’t keep extending myself for what does not love me, for me. No more superficial friendships or conversations. Getting rid of everything just to see what’s genuinely here for me.” Debbie’s Son puts these questions into practice.
Opener “Juanita” is a reverse engineered collage, built around vocal samples emerging from the ether and subterranean bass vibrations. It’s a moment of confusion, that time before the skin sheds, as Maxo mentions in his note. From there, the sky clears, the smiling lil big man emerges, and he and Zelooperz start a psychedelic blunt session on “PlayDis!”
On “#3,” Maxo raps over loose jazz flourishes, free associating and ruminating on the dissolution of a relationship. Even on these heavily-weighted, deeply felt moments, Maxo sounds clear, like the first clean breath after a moment of panic. “I guess you learn, I guess life teaches you, huh?,” he spits, before imploring: “Just keep on living.”
Maxo adds dashes of abstraction to tracks throughout the project, never settling into any distinct idea for too long. It gives the album a sense of evolution and continuous movement, an inertia that powers the whole album. The title track finds Maxo dancing around a propulsive snare drum and vamped keyboard notes. He shows off his gruff, captivating singing voice, offering “Changing every piece of me, rearranging all the things, scattered memories, even what I don’t want to see.” He adds, “It’s all a part of me.”
It’s this notion that can be credited for Debbie’s Son’s existence. He persevered. He was dealt a bad hand—despite its brilliance, (did anyone encounter a modicum of promotion for Even God Has a Sense of Humor?) Now, he’s sitting around the campfire telling not only of survival but of the moments he almost gave up. It makes Debbie’s Son all the richer; that it may not have existed in weaker hands.