Even God Has a Sense of Humor

by Joe Hughes III

I know of conscious rappers. Some subvert genres, fusing alternative instrumentals with trap beats. Some experiment with lyrical density and brevity; some paralyze listeners. Yet among these rappers are artists who command attention. They are apparitions during hypnagogic visions, an instant boom that disappears as fast as it arrives. These rappers are rare and deceptive— the kind of rapper I'm talking about is the 28-year-old rapper from LA, Maxo. Nearly four years after his debut studio album Lil Big Man, he returns with lucid and grief-driven joy in Even God Has a Sense of Humor.

Somehow, highlighting Maxo’s zeniths in Even God Has a Sense of Humor doesn’t make much sense. Although he contemplates hopelessness, most evident in the distant, nearly weeping singing of “What 4,” Even God Has a Sense of Humor employs motifs like Morse code that signal a steadfast search for joy. Maxo is neither describing the light through a dark cloud nor the cloud itself; he is capturing the entire storm.

This leads to Maxo weaving apostrophes into each song, assuming that context speaks for itself. He confesses in “Free!” that “I was taught to know better; still tripping on my laces,” after saying earlier that “I’m just trying not to burn everything God touch,” which out of context does not make much sense. But that is precisely where Maxo becomes a master of omissions. Without a stated context (what God touches and why is he tripping on his laces), listeners, particularly non-Black ones, must work harder to uncover meaning.

More specifically, understanding how Blackness intertwines with his search for hope is crucial. Listeners receive glimpses of kinds of scenes that inspire Maxo’s imagery, they can uncover the personal contexts that inform his work without having to physically be there. Soft percussion atop a steady flute melody on “Nuri” sounds like entering a Black barbershop with a bunch of old heads.

Sometimes, this can feel like a challenging ask, particularly when first listening to the opening track “Still.” Although the song establishes a distinctly somber mood to the album, it includes lines like “and you don’t care until you feel it like a pinch,” which are vague enough to simply forget amongst the vignettes dusted throughout.

Yet the result is still somehow haunting and fantastical: listening to Even God Has a Sense of Humor reminds listeners that pain eternally links joy and sorrow. People can listen to the album when they’re happy and when they’re sad because it captures both emotions seamlessly.

Perhaps then, the irony of this combination is exactly the kind of humor that God loves.