Monday, September 26

What Is "Neo Soul"? - Pt. 1

D'Angelo, the Neo Soul artist credited with putting the genre on the map.  Check out D'Angelo at
There are more Soul music tributaries today than Aretha Franklin would shake her R-E-S-P-E-C-T stick at, but only Neo Soul aspires to stay rooted firmly in the past, maintaining integrity across generational lines. The best known of these music acts include Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Musiq, Floetry, D'Angelo, Angie Stone, Bilal, India.Arie -- even Lauryn Hill and Joss Stone. But what exactly is Neo Soul?

Neo Soul is a raw, non-conformist musical cocoon of yesteryear -- the 1970s and earlier -- brilliantly interpreted by contemporary talent. The resulting sound has the power to sooth, heal and excite in butterfly kisses. Like the boldest, hippest poetry, Neo Soul expresses pure, unabashed emotion and informs the listener long after the song's final notes dissipate.

Neo Soul represents a spiritual revival of decades old underground funk, sometimes with jazz, rock or folk elements. Like funk music, Neo Soul pledges deep allegiance to a bluesy, gospelized essence popularized by greats like Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield... So much so that, sometimes, if played between "real" oldies, a "neo" track sounds like a tune from long ago -- but blissfully without the hisses and scratches associated with vinyl records!

Simply said: Neo Soul is a continuum of legends such as Donny Hathaway, Prince, Minnie Ripperton, Ann Peebles, Al Green, Donald Byrd & The Blackbyrds, Marvin Gaye, Parliament-Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Betty Wright, and Sly & The Family Stone given a fresh, new millenium edge.
Neo Soul originators Zhane. Read reviews of this classic CD at
Perhaps the first American vocal act to redux this powerful sound was
Zhane (pronounced Jah-NAY). This Philadelphia duo's 1994 CD included the radio hit "Hey Mr. D.J.", which sampled synth chords from "Haven't You Heard" -- an R&B tune by jazz crossover composer Patrice Rushen. Zhane used Rushen's springy melody to create a mega party anthem, one embraced by young and old alike. However, most of Zhane's album cuts took the neo sound steps further, skillfully stepping into light jazz territory, making the CD a diverse, enduring classic.

The next significant Neo Soul entree was perhaps the 1995 CD Words by The Tony Rich Project. Produced by L.A. Reid, Tony Rich broke the sound barrier with a laid back blues and folk-rock sound embedded in a Nu-drum rhythm. A multi-instrumentalist with a smooth voice a la Baby Face's, Tony Rich indeed helped rebirth a missing sound in soul music, with a few tunes (surprisingly) still in rotation today on Easy Listening radio.

But it took
D'Angelo, the Virginia-born son of a Pentecostal minister, to perfectly define the sound of Neo Soul. D'Angelo created a mass yearning for more of this dark, sexy, moody stuff with his seminal 1995 hit "Brown Sugar" (and CD of the same title). He crooned sultry love songs with heavy down beats in a manner that harkened Prince and Marvin Gaye at once. D'Angelo is considered the artist who opened the flood gates and put Neo Soul on the map, solidifying a well-deserved place in music history.

All the while, the Neo Soul movement was joined by other immensely talented and impassioned vocalists such as Joi, Carleen Anderson of the Young Disciples, and Laurnea -- all taking wonderfully different tangents. Some leaned heavily toward rock, others incorporated a spoken word poetry style and political rants. (Check out the
Top 20 ListMania of the Blazingest Neo Soul Sistaz!)

But it wasn't until 1997 when
Erykah Badu rocked the industry with a haunting voice reminiscent of Billie Holliday's that Neo Soul seemed to blossom into the full bouquet it is today. Executive produced at Motown by Kedar Massenburg, the same visionary who produced D'Angelo, Badu was so fresh in her throw-back styling that she garnered a succession of chart-topping hits and gained a die-hard cult following. With beats by The Roots and masterful jazz bass contributions by Ron Carter, Baduizm is an essential CD for any serious music collector.

Amidst the onslaught of new jack R&B, these Neo Soul pioneers proved the seasoned sound of Soul was not only still viable, but a life's spice in great cross-generational demand. Today, the Neo Soul scene is robust with a full menu of innovators paying homage to black music roots -- yet keeping it progressive and next-level.

Clicks to Miles Davis catalog, but explore as you like


Blogger projectVIBE Internet Radio said...

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8:35 AM  
Blogger MosaicThump said...

ain't nuthin' neo about SOUL!!!

I just want everyone to stop trying to classify the music and just enjoy it for what it is.... If you are into Soul Music, then you know that it is about feeling good. Music that makes you think back to when you where a kid at the park with your parents listening to Stevie, Earth Wind and Fire or even Sly Stone...

We all know a good soul song when we hear it because it is not just about sex, passion and orgasms. You are listening to Soul when you hear words that are deeper than the physical and powerful enough to illicit thoughts of when you were in that same situation good or bad. I guess I want to say do not let mainstream tell us what this music is; instead let your feelings guide you to music that makes you feel good…

Let's not let them bog us down with names for our art, let’s just enjoy and share it with the world…

I really enjoyed your article. I will definitely visit your Blog again to see what other surprises you have planned.

Thanks for fighting the good fight!!! It's hard to get the really positive music noticed by the masses. I look forward to corresponding with you in the future...

12:52 PM  

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