Neo Soul is R&B music fused with other genres like Soul, Jazz and Hip-hop. The genre first started in the mid-90â€™s with Tony!Toni!Tone`! and became more popular later when Dâ€™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 artistâ€™s work is poetic and discusses political or cultural concerns.
Inspired by Soul and Hip-hop, Dâ€™Angeloâ€™s debut album Brown Sugar earned instant popularity among the R&B audience when it was released in 1995. â€œLady,â€ which hit the Top Ten on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, was written by Dâ€™Angelo and Raphael Saadiq (of Tony!Toni!Tone`!). Dâ€™Angelo has also appeared on fellow Neo Soul artist Lauryn Hillâ€™s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill on â€œEverything is Everything.â€ Not only a vocalist, Dâ€™Angelo also plays guitar and piano, which is fairly common in the subgenre.
After spending time opening for Dâ€™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 â€œOn and Onâ€ 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. Baduâ€™s â€œNext Lifetimeâ€ also topped the Billboard R&B charts. Her 2002 single â€œLove of my Life (An Ode to hip-hop),â€ 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 Hillâ€™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 â€œKilling Me Softly,â€ 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. â€œEverything Is Everythingâ€ and â€œDoo Wop (That Thing)â€ both surpassed the expected R&B success and even topped pop charts. In â€œTo Zion,â€ 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 â€œGetting in the Wayâ€ and â€œA Long Walkâ€ were also both nominated for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance. Scott also wrote the chorus for The Rootsâ€™ hit single â€œYou Got Meâ€ (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 â€œLoveâ€ and â€œJust Friends,â€ Aijuswanaseing is loaded with classic tracks including â€œMary Go Round,â€ 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.