Neo Soul: Facts & Origins
The Origins and Rise of Neo-Soul
In an era of mass redefinition, Neo Soul is one genre that took the best features of previous musical movements and left the rest behind. The term was coined first by Kedar Massenburg of Motown Recordings, an infamous Detroit-based record label. The likes of artists D'Angela, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill, out of affinity for organic instrumentation and lyricism among much more, honed their craft in constructing this movement in their own unique ways
The origins of contemporary RnB from the late 1980s play a major role in the synthesis of Neo Soul. A fusion of RnB with electronic music, hip hop, funk, and more served as the preamble to new frontiers of fusion that provided a canvas for new interpretations.
What Happened to Neo Soul?
At the beginning of the 2000s, following the break-out success of multiple Neo-Soul artists, the style began to see a decline in listeners. Speculation of its decline mainly attributes to authentic origins of the musical movement as clashing with industry behaviors aimed at producing mainstream music.
"The industry, which already has a hard time with unapologetic and complicated black artists, had no idea what to do with all these enormously talented individuals who rejected entire marketing campaigns designed to 'break' them to the record-buying public. As such, albums were shelved or delayed or retooled and artists were dropped from major labels and forced to go it alone, making the first decade of the 21st century the least 'soulful'—however you define it—decade for the industry itself in ... well, decades"
- Tyler Lewis, Music JournalistSource: PopMatters
What does Google Search data reveal about the apparent decline of Neo Soul? Well, it hasn't declined. The seeds that were planted are still germinating until the next wave of contemporary music comes around.
Following a spike in 2013, the search trends stay alive, which has leveled off. This is not to say that the movement of recruiting sounds of RnB, Soul, and Hip Hop chemically infused into a new life form is over. Quite the opposite, as mixing and matching the best of the past is very much alive and well. Let's take a look at some of the names of Neo Soul who have planted the seeds.
Some of Neo Soul's Influential Players
One of the earlier influences on the Neo Soul movement, D'Angelo became known for sultry lyricism and a potent RnB sound. His rise in the early 90s began to sow the seeds of the Neo Soul movement, which is marked by his hit album Brown Sugar, which hit #4 on the Billboard Top 100. Shortly after touring to promote Brown Sugar, he went on a sabbatical to remedy some of the writer's block. He helped provide the stage for the rise of Neo Soul, eventually enabling Erykah Badu to reach fans that would resonate with her sound.
American born singer-songwriter, Erykah Badu reached new audiences by opening for D'Angelo in 1994. This unfurled into a whole new path Labeled "The Queen of Neo Soul", big and almost unnecessary expectations were set from Badu's initiative to deliver authentic material.
This soul super-group involves some of legendary names of the mid to late 90s with many still active and influential today. This collective got their name from the founding members, Questlove (The Roots), J Dilla, D'Angelo, and James Poyser, all sharing the same sign: Aquarius.
Many of these artists have performed on one another's records, creating a community of likeminded musicians forging a style that doesn't have a name yet. Organic soul, natural R&B, boho-rap--it's music that owes a debt to the old-school sounds of Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton without expressly mimicking any of them. It refreshes these traditions with cinematic production techniques gleaned from hip-hop and with attitude that is street-smart but above all highly individual, celebrating quirks instead of sanding them down for mass consumption. Instead of crooning about "booty and blunts" (sex, drugs, etc.), the subject matter on these albums is idiosyncratic and personal, ranging from the spiritual crises of [Lauryn] Hill, D'Angelo and Maxwell to the socio-political concerns of the Roots and Mos Def.
- Greg KotKot, Greg "A Fresh Collective Soul?". Chicago Tribune: 1. March 19, 2000.
This group never release an album, but rather was born of a constant rotation of features on the respective records of the likes of The Roots Things Fall Apart, which featured Mos Def, Common, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, and more.
The Fruits of Neo Soul
Perhaps a frustration with commercially-viable lyricism is what sparked an underground movement born of authenticity. It leveled off likely due to the mainstream appeal of this contemporary approach to different sorts of music. But it is important to note some of the results of it efforts to put blues, hip hop, and soul based music back on the road to authenticity.
Currently, a movement in production and performance of soul-based hip hop thrives. From bedroom producers to more established industry lyricists, the torch or contemporary RnB, Soul and Hip Hop is carried forward. Discover how the Neo Soul movement has spiraled out in the Stereofox 'Soulful Hip Hop' playlist below:
Discover some of the Neo Soul classics in Spotify's "I Love My Neo Soul" playlist below: