Neo Soul

Neo Soul

Neo Soul is R&B music fused with other genres like Soul, Jazz and Hip-hop. The genre first started in the mid-90’s with Tony!Toni!Tone`! and became more popular later when D’Angelo and Maxwell released albums. Neo Soul artists tend to shy away from the mainstream, opting for originality over appeal. They want to earn the respect of their peers and their fans for being creative and not selling out or going pop. Often a Neo Soul artist’s work is poetic and discusses political or cultural concerns.


Inspired by Soul and Hip-hop, D’Angelo’s debut album Brown Sugar earned instant popularity among the R&B audience when it was released in 1995. “Lady,” which hit the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, was written by D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq (of Tony!Toni!Tone`!). D’Angelo has also appeared on fellow Neo Soul artist Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on “Everything is Everything.” Not only a vocalist, D’Angelo also plays guitar and piano, which is fairly common in the subgenre.


After spending time opening for D’Angelo, Erykah Badu released her own debut album, Baduizm, in 1997. Badu, like many of her colleagues, had previous experience with hip-hop. She began rapping in high school and her hip-hop influence is evident in her music. Baduizm won a Grammy for Best R&B Album and the single “On and On” won for best Female R&B Vocal Performance. The album not only topped R&B charts but was also largely successful on the pop charts and was certified 3x platinum in 2000. Badu’s “Next Lifetime” also topped the Billboard R&B charts. Her 2002 single “Love of my Life (An Ode to hip-hop),” with her then boyfriend, Common, from the Brown Sugar movie soundtrack won a Grammy for Best R&B Song.


Perhaps one of the most successful Neo Soul albums is Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Released in 1998, the album was nominated for practically every award imaginable, including 11 Grammy nominations. While this was her first solo album, Hill had already earned a strong reputation among the mainstream media for her moving vocals in “Killing Me Softly,” lead singer for The Fugees. Aside from her loyal fan base from The Fugees, Hill drew in new fans and won five Grammy awards, including Best Album and Best R&B Album. “Everything Is Everything” and “Doo Wop (That Thing)” both surpassed the expected R&B success and even topped pop charts. In “To Zion,” Hill sings about her experience of becoming pregnant and how she decided to keep the baby against the advice of people in the business. Hill is one of the few artists who can actually sing and rap, in addition to being able to play guitar.


Although Jill Scott is mainly known for her music, she actually got her start with performing poetry at clubs. Scott recently released a book of poetry and now uses her talents to write songs. Before Scott released Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 in 2000, she was not known among mainstream audiences. The universal appeal of her work however, earned her a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album. The singles “Getting in the Way” and “A Long Walk” were also both nominated for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Scott also wrote the chorus for The Roots’ hit single “You Got Me” (although it was performed by Erykah Badu on the album).


In 2000, Musiq released his classic debut album, Aijuswanaseing. Discussing everyday experiences, the music of Musiq intrigued R&B listeners and quickly began seeing airtime on urban radio stations and TV shows. This is arguably one of the best Neo Soul albums ever. Many of the songs on the album discuss love and relationships. Aside from hit singles like “Love” and “Just Friends,” Aijuswanaseing is loaded with classic tracks including “Mary Go Round,” a metaphoric song discussing a lost love. Musiq is one of the many Neo Soul artists who hail from Philadelphia, along with Jill Scott, The Roots, Floetry and Bilal.

Although Neo Soul is a fairly new subgenre of R&B, it is becoming more accepted than it was 10 years ago. Many Neo Soul artists have become names that everyone knows because they have gained more media coverage and been exposed. With new artists like John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Alicia Keys making music, the genre could go from the underdog to one of the most recognized forms of music if it continues in this direction.

Alexa Novachek

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  1. What’s crazy is how, while I’d hate to say generic sound or mold for lack of better words, the sound for neosoul came from a big jam session in a random apartment. In an interview ?uestlove told me that The Roots had been practicing in an apartment and Musiq was a pizza boy who decided to get on the mic and Jill Scott was just a local who worked at Urban Outfitters and joined in.

    D’Angelo, Bilal, even Black Star and Common would all just chill in the studio which is why you saw a lot of collaborations on their earlier albums. Everyone’s sound was so similar because they were all working together, and I would never call it a bad thing because they each had original aspects.

    Musiq is dropping an album in March and its anticipated as a hit..hopefully

  2. soul music has been steadily going downhill for the last 25 years. Why? There are a few people here who’ve made a few good -tracks- but even putting them in the same genre as motown and stax is almost a bastardization. (and I’m a big fan of D’angelo and Badu)

  3. The pioneers of neosoul came from the 70’s. Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, Barry White, James Brown, Aretha Franklin brought the movement of Black Pride struggle and love which reflects the music of neosoul. The current of neosoul has always been around.

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