True Story: The Saga Of Max B

Last week, it was announced that cult Harlem rapper Max B’s court appeal had been rejected, and his sentence of 75 years in prison for murder conspiracy and robbery charges upheld. At a moment virtually spelling the end of his career, Max B obsessive Slackk unravels the details of the dramatic story and assesses the Biggaveli legacy.

All references to court testimony throughout the article are derived from the official court papers as preserved in the New Jersey law archive. These are available online here.

It was September 2006 when it happened, in a Holiday Inn in New Jersey. The room was rented out to Allen Plowden, who was at that moment duct-taped to a chair. There were two people in the room besides Plowden – Gina Conway and Kelvin Leerdam. Plowden was staying at the hotel with his business partner David Taylor, who had a room further down the hall. Witnesses later said that Plowden and Taylor had been seen in Harlem a few days before the robbery: brand new cars, money everywhere.

Plowden, taped up and at gunpoint, had told the two that he wasn’t holding the money – his partner was. They got Plowden to call Taylor to the room. Within a matter of minutes, Taylor was dead. Conway later stated that Leerdam shot him, just once, and he and Conway fled the scene. Plowden, having struggled free, alerted the front desk to the murder.

Within a week, they had been arrested, as had a third man – Charly Wingate, aka rapper Max B. It wasn’t the first time Max had been arrested. He’d been in prison from 1997 on a robbery charge, first degree. He was 19 when he went in. Conway was Max’s ex-girlfriend and Leerdam his stepbrother. To the police, the connections to Max stacked up quickly.

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In January 2005, Max was released from his first incarceration. Within months, he was working with another Harlem local, Jim Jones of The Diplomats/Dipset fame. Guesting on the lead single “Baby Girl” from Jones’s second album, Harlem: Diary Of A Summer, Max was on a radio hit and shouting Dipset on the chorus. He’s all over the album, in fact – guesting on three of tracks, songwriting credits on others.

Max B “West Coast Freestyle 2”

It’s through Jones, however indirectly, that Gina Conway met Max. Living in North Carolina, Conway had ended up backstage at a Diplomats booking – though key members of Dipset, Cam’ron and Juelz Santana, had no-showed. But Jones was there with Max, and that’s who Conway found herself with. She’d been living with a man there for almost ten years but within a month she was in New York, living with Max in Harlem. While Max was working on the first of his many, many mixtapes, Conway was working in a local strip club. The arrangement didn’t last long – Conway was back in North Carolina within a couple of months and Max was still in the studio.

Though they later disintegrated acrimoniously, at this point Dipset were moving strong. Through his affiliation with Jones, Max had been writing hooks for Dipset tracks and, by some accounts, ghost-writing a lot of Jones’s verses. At the time, Cam’ron was embroiled in a public beef with Jay-Z, and Max ended up on the dis track.

Cam’ron ft Max B “ You Got To Love It”

Seizing upon his own much-grown profile and Max’s prolific workrate, Jones signed Max to his ByrdGang label and paired him up with Stack Bundles, another loose Dipset affiliate. Initially intended to be an extension of the Dipset/Diplomats brand, the label eventually fell apart as tensions between Cam’ron and Jones grew. To begin with, though, there was some really strong output – the MOB mixtapes in particular. Really though, the strongest part of ByrdGang was the chemistry between Max and Stack Bundles. There are a lot of really good tracks with the two of them on, and Bundles is on a couple of beats with Max on Max’s Public Domain series of mixtapes, including Million Dollar Baby Radio.

(NB – Stack was murdered outside his home in June 2007. I’d recommend this tape of Max & Stack tracks, put together posthumously – Best Of Bundles 3 – though the whole series is a good tribute, I think.)

Max B ft Stack Bundles “Situations”

Around this time, a couple of months after she’d up and left for her hometown in North Carolina, Max had been back in touch with Gina Conway and persuaded her to come back to New York. At this point, though, Max was living with another woman who was pregnant with his child. Gina ended up living with Max’s brother Mike and went back to stripping. It was then that Gina found Allen Plowden and the money that came with him.

According to Gina’s testimony, Plowden had approached Gina on the street after Max had failed to show up: brand new white Mercedes, bags of money in the back. They met a couple of times and Plowden showered money on her – shopping sprees, champagne. They ended up in Plowden’s room at the Holiday Inn and, one way or another, Conway ended up with his keycard in her purse as she headed back to Harlem.

Max B ft Jim Jones “We Be On Our Shit”

During the trial in court, Conway testified that it was at this point that Max began to orchestrate the situation that led to the death of Plowden’s partner, David Taylor. Plowden had told Conway that he was going clubbing after they’d parted ways, and she stated that Max saw this as a perfect opportunity to arrange a robbery. Accompanied by Leerdam, she headed for the hotel with the idea to abscond with Plowden’s money before he got back from the club.

When they got there, they found Plowden in the room with another woman, Giselle Nieves. The pair restrained Plowden and Nieves, and Conway began to ransack the room, filling up a bag with money stashed around the room, jewellery and Plowden’s clothes from the wardrobe. Conway testified that, unable to locate a sufficient amount of money, they forced Plowden to call his partner in his room down the hall and come and see him. After a brief struggle, Taylor was dead.

The key part of Max’s defence hinged on what followed. Upon returning to New York, Conway took her share of the money and clothes and headed not to Max but to work – she’d been hanging around with a bouncer from the club named Turon Gholston. They headed back to his apartment in New Jersey, where the police would later find Plowden’s laptop and clothes.

She didn’t go and see Max, didn’t call him; by all accounts, he received nothing from the robbery whatsoever.

Max B “Why You Do That”

When the police arrived at the Holiday Inn, they found Plowden trying to escape with the money that Conway and Leerdam hadn’t found – around $30,000 – and Taylor’s corpse in the hotel room. Plowden immediately told the police what had happened and they went in search of Conway.

Plowden’s joy at surviving the ordeal was short-lived. Upon finding Gina at Gholston’s apartment in New Jersey, they found his laptop too. Plowden had been embezzling money as part of an elaborate mortgage fraud, and was subsequently charged just days after Conway herself was caught.

Upon her arrest, Conway immediately told the police that it was Leerdam who’d killed Taylor, and that it had been Max who’d arranged the whole thing. The police arrested Max and Leerdam. Max was charged with murder and robbery conspiracy charges, and bail was set at $2million. Max couldn’t afford it.

Leerdam, for the record, denied any involvement.

Max B “Paperwork”

While Max was stuck in prison, Jim Jones was doing great. He had a real buzz going for him off the back of his track “We Fly High”, which Max had co-written. Max repeatedly claimed that he had his hand in most of Jones’s output since the two met. Not only was his lead single co-written by Max, most of Jones’s new album had Max’s fingerprints all over it, as well – he’d guested on seven of the tracks and had writer’s credits on several tracks on the album.

As Jones enjoyed his success, Max had grown frustrated at his predicament and began to air his grievances publicly from prison – in radio interviews he would spew vitriol on Jones’s attitude towards him. Jones’s recent success, Max believed, was down to him and he had nothing to show for it. Jones, meanwhile, dismissed the idea publicly, and said he was waiting for the bail to go down before he helped Max out.

After a couple more months had passed, Jones hit on an idea. In exchange for paying Max’s bail – then $90,000 – Jones would have Max sign a new record deal, signing over all his publishing to Jones. In his desperation, Max signed the deal.

Max B “She Touched It In Miami”

Things between the two grew sour quick once Max was out. Jones was working on his next album, trying to get Max to write with him and get things going, but Max was having none of it. Frustrated at the lack of movement towards his own album, the split between them grew. Having grown apart from Cam’rom and Santana as Dipset imploded, Jones had signed a deal with Roc-A-Fella for the next album, and was trying to build on the hype of “We Fly High”. Max, having languished in prison for so long, cut out on his own.

Lambasting Jones publicly and shouting about how he’d slept with Jones’s wife (“She Touched It In Miami”), among other accusations, Max ran around screaming to everyone who’d listen how he’d written Jones’s biggest hits, how Jones was nothing without him, and his hype grew.

Given the fact that Jones owned Max’s publishing and any money from music he put out for sale would end up in Jones’s pocket, Max proceeded to put out mixtape after mixtape, DVDs, even trying to sabotage Jones’s singles when they dropped by bringing out his own – arguably superior – versions when they dropped. (See “We Sip Grand Cru” vs Jones’s “Pop Champagne”).

The trial, though, loomed large. Despite the inconsistencies of Conway’s account, the state had decided to try Leerdam and Max together, an odd move given that their situations were so different. During the period before the trial, Max’s lawyers claimed that Allen Plowden had not been able to identify Leerdam as the shooter during any photo array, and had actually identified someone else during the process. Conway herself admitted that she’d taken four or five Es and drank a lot of Hennessey during the night that Taylor was killed, didn’t go anywhere near Max or speak to him when it happened, and yet her testimony about him arranging the robbery was taken at face value. It was alleged by Max’s lawyers that she was in much the same state when she arrested and gave her initial statements.

Unfortunately, a lot can be said about the conduct of Max’s lawyer at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming to be a lawyer, but I’m not quite sure I’d be doing interviews on Vlad TV with quasi-Zaytoven beats underneath if I was – nor would I necessarily follow that up with another YouTube video calling Conway a “prostitute drug addict,” again, on Vlad TV. But still, what do I know?

Max B “Never Wanna Go Back”

They found Max guilty and sentenced him to 75 years. Leerdam was sentenced to life plus 35, and for her co-operation with the police, Conway saw her sentence reduced to 15. Max fired his lawyer shortly after the jury returned with their verdicts.

Although he was in prison, Max continued to work. Before the trial commenced, he had signed a provisional deal with Amalgam Records. In May 2010, via much wrangling by Amalgam’s legal team, a judge decreed that Jim Jones no longer had any rights to his publishing and he had fully performed his obligations under both his 2005 recording contract and 2007 songwriting contract with Jones. Subsequently, his first and only actual album Vigilante Season was released last year.

Max B “Money Make Feel Better”

Max took his case to appeal and made a bit of extra money by doing guest verses and shout-outs recorded over the telephone from prison. The quality on them wasn’t great, and the only full project that came out of it was a collaboration with Isaiah Toothtaker. That was put out for free by Mishka (I don’t rate it at all but you might).

Max took his case to appeal and after a few false starts it was heard. Sadly, it was upheld and Max won’t be eligible for parole until 2042. If you believe Twitter rumour mills, Max is going to try and take his case to the Supreme Court, which doesn’t seem that likely, but you never know.

*****


Max B “Porno Muzik”

Really, as much as there was a lot hanging over his head after he got out of prison, it isn’t always reflected in his music. Bar odd references to the case and upcoming trial, most of the music was about your usual rap trappings – women, money, drugs – littered with references and threats to Jones.

Max’s style and flow is a bit of an acquired taste, I think. His flow is at times almost a mumble – falling off beat, off cadence – and I can understand why his insistence to sing all his hooks in an off-key, almost tuneless way could put people off. But Max had basically ran with this idea of the ‘wave’, all his tracks and mixtapes framed in this hazy Grand Cru-soaked decadence.

The beat selection is a big part of this, I think. For the most part Max and his Gain Greene crew are vocalling these ridiculous soul-flecked Dame Grease and Young Los beats and they’re just perfectly suited to Max’s languid, almost nonchalant delivery. You only need to look at the likes of Curren$y to see how this style’s progressed – his beat selection only seems to lead on from that of Max. There’s a nod to this on his “One For The Wave”, using the same beat that Max vocalled for “Why You Do That,” posted earlier.

The period between his arrest and trial was a ridiculously productive one as well, which probably helps – Library Of A Legend is an overwhelming collection of everything Max ever did, with over 300 tracks from the period between being bailed out and going to trial. The levels are remarkably consistent, believe it or not.

There are a lot of great mixtapes from this period after Jones bailed him out – pretty much all of them, really. I found it hard to whittle down the idea of the best Max tapes simply because there are so many, and I think there’s an amazing consistency between them, but here’s a vague top five:

Million Dollar Baby 2: The first true tape after the arrest (and, indeed, without Jones); a real statement of intent. “Sexy Love” has the most out of tune hook and lazy flow out of possibly all Max B tracks, Max singing from the girl’s perspective on the first half of the hook and basically making no sense. That’s quite indicative of the tape.

Domain Diego: Recorded in California over two days, there’s a real sun-kissed feel to this one. This was the first place I heard the “Blow Me A Dub” remix too, and I think I rewound that about 20 times that day – “Contemplating about my trip to the Bahamas/as I skip through the condo in my Calvin Klein pyjamas” about sums it up.

Coke Wave: This is more of a split tape between Max B & French Montana but it’s great. “Stake Sause” opens the tape and it’s probably my favourite Max B track ever, to be honest. Just such a hard beat, great hook too. Not really the biggest fan of French but Max brought out the best in him.

Quarantine: A lot of this tape finds Max on some G-Funk wave and it suits him well. There’s also a cover of Britney Spears’s “Gimme More” on it, which is far better than you’d ever imagine it could be to be, honest. You may want to skip past the Mak Mustard features but I don’t. “PD5” is incredible.

Vigilante Season: This one isn’t free or on Datpiff. Max’s only album, you really do need it, if only because you get “Porno Muzik” and without Big Mike screaming all over it. Such a great beat.

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