During his last visit to New York City in the early days of the pandemic, California rapper Maxo decided to undergo an artistic process called lifecasting. The brainchild of conceptual artist John Ahearn, the casting is more intensive than your average portrait: Seated in a recliner with breathing tubes in their noses, subjects are covered in a pasty, clay-like material made of alginate similar to type used when creating dental casts. The process requires 20 minutes of complete stillness; the sitter’s clothing is cut, forming part of the cast’s structure. Maxo went through this three separate times, left alone with thoughts of him as the alginate blotted out most of the light and sound around him. Afterward, he was left with three larger-than-life sculptures of himself: one in a football jersey with slicked-back braids and a long, tired face; one smiling in a white tank top and pulling a tight baseball cap over his head; and another in his trademark flannel, arms folded and face as stoic as a local landmark.
These three statues adorn the cover of Even God has a sense of humor Maxo’s second album for Def Jam, and reflects the dueling senses of melancholy and happiness at the core of his music. As a rapper, Maxo is direct and forthright, eschewing clever puns for storytelling and uplifting clarity. LITTLE BIG MAN, her Def Jam debut in 2019 explored the uncertainty, excitement and boredom of black life in her twenties. That record often evoked the self-reflection of flipping through a photo album: Focusing largely on making sense of the past, Maxo also on his own head to fully contemplate the future. Now that he’s closer to 30, he’s sifting through the embers of his misfortune while he keeps intact the life he’s built for himself. “I just try not to burn everything I touch,” he says at the end of “Free!”
Even God has a sense of humor he is driven by the urge to make sense of the dizzying way in which time ebbs and flows. The Dallas singer Liv.e’s hook on the serene “Both-Handed” epitomizes the spirit of the album: “What if the meaning doesn’t exist, baby… What if we never find out?” Maxo’s writing can go from hyper-specific to vague, sharpening and blurring focus as he sees fit. Take the early highlight “Nuri”: he briefly hovers over the memory of a trip to Senegal with her mother and ponders the advice of a family friend before indirectly mentioning failed dreams and lots of money. Whether clear or muddled, his delivery carries the verses almost as much as the words. On “48,” over Madlib’s pristine guitar and drum loops, the way he raps “I’m tryna fly, it’s like feet to the floor” evokes the image of Maxo with his chest puffed out, as if his foot were on the ground. he would have gotten stuck. a crack during takeoff. Later, in the brief “FUCKZU” interlude, Maxo croons softly to impart powerful messages with the electricity of whispered spells: “You got the power of a God/Nigga, fuck what they told you.”