To the legions of R&B listeners during the mid-'90s, Maxwell presented a new option: the tenderness of true romance, instead of the fleeting joy of sex. With his debut album, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, Maxwell united the psycho-sexual funk of Prince with Marvin Gaye's idea of the romance concept album. Born in Brooklyn in 1973 of West Indian-Puerto Rican heritage, Maxwell first began playing music at the age of 17 when a friend gave him a battered Casio keyboard. He started to compose music, and soon became a staple on the New York club circuit. Signed to Columbia in 1994, Maxwell recorded his debut album that same year, with accompaniment from guitarist Wah Wah Watson, saxophonist Stuart Matthewman and songwriter Leon Ware — who had previously collaborated on Gaye's thematic classic I Want You. A series of label shake-ups prevented the album's release for almost two years, but Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite finally appeared in March 1996. Though the album wasn't successful upon its release, second single "Ascension (Never Wonder)" made the Top 40 late that year, pushing the album into gold territory. Embrya followed in 1998, and Maxwell scored again with the hit "Fortunate" from the Life soundtrack.