Q&A: Incarcerated Rapper Max B on His 40-Year Jail Sentence and His New Record Vigilante Season
"They found me guilty as an accomplice to murder and a co-conspirator for felony murder and robbery, which they had no proof of whatsoever." Max B is talking on the phone from Bergen County Prison in New Jersey, where he's serving out a 40-year sentence for these charges. The offenses relate to an incident on September 22nd, 2006, when a man named David Taylor was shot and killed as Max B's fellow defendants Gina Conway and Kelvin Leerdam attempted to rob Taylor and his associate Allan Plowden of $30,000 at a Holiday Inn in Fort Lee, New Jersey. It's a spell of incarceration the rapper is appealing -- not least because he says he was back home in New York when the fatal robbery took place. Max B is confident his appeal will be approved, and estimates he could be a free man as early as this July.
In the interim, he's just released Vigilante Season, his debut album via the Amalgam Digital label. Recorded before he was locked up, the project sees Max, who came to prominence by helping one-time Dipset capo Jim Jones write 2006's summer smash single "We Fly High (Ballin')," teaming up with the producer Dame Grease, who crafted many of DMX's early hits. (According to Amalgam Digital's DJ Next, Jones sent out a cease and desist order when Max B attempted to sign to the label, claiming that he still owned rights to Max B's contract; following a lawsuit, a judge ruled against Jones's claim.) Unable to promote the album and its first single, "Money Make Me Feel Better," in person, Max B says, "We just got to ride on this one, hopefully it do good and I can come out and give you the next one and be behind it 100%."
In the days leading up to the album's release, Max B engaged in two phone calls from Bergen County Prison to speak about the rigors of his incarceration, anomalies in his trial, the perceived foulness of the New Jersey prison system, and the days when he held down a pre-rap nine-to-five at the World Trade Center.
How has today been for you?
Today's been alright, it was a cool day, nice outside, got a little fresh air. Now I'm back in the hole ready to get ready for the tournament, this NCAA game, UConn against Butler. CT, stand up! That my second home from home, Connecticut, I used to spend a lot of time there.
Can you remember what your first night in Bergen County Prison was like?
First night was horrible. After I blew trial, I had to come in fresh off the street, man. I blew trial, I was fresh at the table, the judges were telling me I'm guilty and reading me my counts, then I'm taking off my jewelry and getting ready to walk to a prison van. The weekend before that I was having a ball. It was my birthday weekend, I was in Connecticut -- I had a venue party sold-out show. Then coming to prison to hear a guilty verdict? First night was tough. But I got over it, I'm good.
Do you get treated differently in prison because you're a rapper?
Absolutely. It's a little overwhelming at times, 'cause some dudes, when I go out, some guys run up on me like, "You Max B?" They have that face on them -- some could be fans, some could be enemies, some could be like groupies -- and it's a little overwhelming. But in here, I just stay with my guys. I pray at night that every time I go out, it's not crazy, no violence, no rah-rah stuff. I pray for calm nights.
Do you get wannabe rappers trying to battle you in prison?
These guys respect me in here. I set the example for the guys in here. I already established myself, and looking at my career, I'm not a battle rapper. But just with me going to prison twice [Max B previously served eight years in prison for robbery charges] and accomplishing what I have accomplished, guys in prison truly respect what I've done. They try to find ways to get with me in the future and work together in the future. I don't battle.
Have any other rappers or artists been to visit you since you've been locked up?
French [Montana] came to see me. Shout out to Frenchy. But that's it, man. My visits are real exclusive, I keep it close, just family. But just 'cause they don't visit or write me don't mean they don't love me. I really don't want too much attention when I'm down on the visit -- I like to enjoy the company of my kids and my mother. I keep my business real exclusive.
What's the biggest rumor you've heard about yourself since you've been in prison?
The biggest rumor that I heard was that I was actually home. I heard that a couple of weeks ago. There are no real big rumors about me -- I put it all out there, people know about me. But yeah, a couple of weeks ago somebody said I was actually home. That's not true, as we can actually see.
What was your first reaction when you heard the guilty verdict?
I just wanted to cry, I ain't gonna even lie, man, I wanted to cry. That's probably the most hurtfullest disappointment ever in my life to hear that verdict. I was on the cover of Hip-Hop Weekly -- I don't know if you saw it or not -- but my eyes was like bloodshot red. I just couldn't believe it. It was unbelievable that I got caught up in this nonsense and my culpability was next to nothing and they still found a way to trap me in the system. It's horrific. It's indescribable. It's a painful feeling. But I was good in two days.
Was there a point in the trial when you started to realize that a guilty verdict might be coming?
I always thought that was a possibility from the day I was arrested, from like how the police even racked me up in this joint. I always kept it 50-50: if I beat it, I beat it; if I don't, I don't. I left it in God's hands. I guess he got a plan for me to go through this and see what I got to see before I get out. It's crazy.
Some reports say you were sentenced to 75 years in prison. Was it hard to process such a high number of years?
Well it's actually 40, but it's the same thing to me, 'cause I'm 30 so I'll be an old man anyway. First thing I thought was, " It is what it is -- now let me get up out this joint." I mean I already knew what my time was gonna be two years prior if I was found guilty -- I was out on the street knowing what I would be facing. But I ain't lose yet, I'm in the appellate courts. And if I lose that I can go to he Supreme Court, all the way up. As much time as they make me spend in here, I'll spend it fighting.
Do you ever replay the events of the day the robbery happened in your head?
Actually, yeah, I replay it, but it's hard to replay it 'cause when it happened I wasn't there! You know what I'm saying? I was in New York as the crime occurred, so I mean... I go back and replay things I could have done different that day. It was just so delicate, and the universe is so screwed up it's probably something I could have said or one little call that could have changed the whole course of events. But it didn't work that way.