You can tell what a marked effect Maxwell has on women by the fan mail that he gets from men. They write to thank him for putting their wives and girlfriends in the mood for romance with his smooth, erotically charged funk. But the 28-year-old singer with the suave '70s, style disputes his growing image as a smooth operator. "I don't do this because I'm trying to pick up girls," he says. "It's funny to think this would ever happen to me." Hip-hop diva Lil' kim can clue him in. Her friend, she says, "is really cute. His eyes and his facial hair do it for me. And then there's that voice—it's mellow, kike he takes a breath before speaking."
Growing up in the East New York section of Brooklyn, Maxwell (that's his middle name; his first and last names are closely guarded secrets) considered himself a nerd. "I was the cat with the books and guitar," says the shy only child who was raised by his mother and grandmother after his father died in a plane crash when he was 3. He underwent a remarkable public transformation with the 1996 release of the acclaimed Urban Hang Suite
. The album, which chronicled the singer's first serious affair was praised by Time as "soulful, seductive and as smooth as lingerie," Whenever he's tempted to believe his own press, though. "I remember where I'm from." says Maxwell, who released his third effort, the platinum-selling Now
, last August. "It's like, 'Dude, you used to work at Pizza Hut.' I still have the hat," Currently unattached, the 6-ft. singer, who lives in Manhattan, could use a muse to model it for. "It's my secret dream to have that love thing," he says. "But I'm trying to do it right—I just want something good and real."