Neo soul

Neo soul (also known as nu soul) is a musical genre that fuses R&B, 1970s style soul, and hip hop. It is the third major genre of R&B/soul music to blend in hip-hop elements, after the new jack swing of the late 1980s/ early 1990s and the hip-hop soul of the early to mid 1990s. The "neo soul" term, originated by Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records in the late-1990s, is sometimes looked upon with disdain as nothing more than a marketing specialization of R&B instead of an honest revival of soul music.


Early works

The genre is considered to have originated with the work of Raphael Saadiq's band Tony! Toni! Toné! in the mid-1990s, and with D'Angelo's 1995 LP Brown Sugar. Brown Sugar featured elements of classic soul, inspired by artists such as Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway (both keyboardists, as is D'Angelo), that had not been regularly seen in modern African-American mainstream music since the mid-1980s. Also, in 1995 came the work of a duo called Groove Theory, which included the members Amel Larrieux, the singer and Bryce Wilson, the rapper/singer/producer/actor. In 1997, Motown artist Erykah Badu released her debut LP, Baduizm, the success of which paved the way for new Motown chief Kedar Massenburg to shift the direction of much of the company's output towards Badu's style, which he dubbed neo-soul. The first neo-soul artist to make a major impact on the mainstream was Lauryn Hill, whose 1998 The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill LP was a critical and commercial smash and garnered five Grammy Awards.

Popularization of neo-soul

After Hill's phenominal success, a number of other neo-soul artists began scoring R&B hits, most notably Macy Gray, Musiq Soulchild, and India.Arie. Alicia Keys' 2001 LP Songs in A Minor was another Miseducation-like smash, winning several Grammies and selling six-million copies and further popularizing the sound, to some critical disdain. Other major neo soul artists have included Angie Stone, Lucy Pearl, Floetry, Res, Truth Hurts, and Bilal, all of whom became staples of R&B radio. Perhaps less widely played, but still well-selling and highly critically acclaimed, is Maxwell. The latest major neo-soul artist to emerge is John Legend, who style bears strong similarities to that of Stevie Wonder.

Lack of mainstream success

In general, neo-soul has remained almost exclusive to R&B outlets such as urban radio and BET; most of its artists are unfamiliar to mainstream audiences, and its sound generally focuses on artist expression rather than pop orientation. While these artists have found major success in those venues, they generally have yet to crossover to mainstream American music listeners.

To date, Hill remains the most well-known and consistently successful neo soul artist from a mainstream, commercial point of view, thanks to two big pop singles: "Everything Is Everything" and "Doo Wop", both of which were far more hip-hop oriented, containing rapped verses, than most neo soul. Hill is also widely known because of her successful sweep of the 1999 Grammys. Keys, however, is widely known because she has had the biggest single mainstream neo soul hit to date with "Fallin'", which contained no rap verse and consequently managed to cross over not only onto the pop charts, but also onto both the hot and the soft AC charts.

Towards the turn of the millennium, Macy Gray had a massive urban, pop, and AC hit with "I Try", making her pretty well-known by mainstream America. Gray's other singles, while successful in some outlets, failed to make an impression on the pop charts as "I Try" did. Wyclef Jean's protégés City High managed two successful singles on the pop charts, "Caramel" and "What Would You Do", in 2001, which was a time when hearing hip-hop on pop radio was no longer anything exceptional, as it had been during Hill's initial success. Because of this, City High did not receive the same widespread recognition that Hill had three years earlier; and since City High's singles were more upbeat and rhythmic sounding than Keys' "Fallin'" and Gray's "I Try", they did not cross over onto the AC charts. As a result, City High, is nowhere near as well known as either Hill, Gray, or Keys, even despite the group's pop radio and MTV hits.

The other neo soul artists are hardly known of at all in mainstream America, having yet to cross over to the mainstream despite the fact that most have found success with the urban audience, urban radio, and BET. Most have also found success in America on the music video channels MTV2 and VH1 Soul. Some, like Maxwell, Erykah Badu, and D'Angelo are somewhat known by mainstream America for having initiated the neo soul genre, from critical acclaim, from word-of-mouth recommendations of their albums, and from other media appearances, e.g., D'Angelo's performance on VH1's Men Strike Back 2000 and Badu's role in the movie The Cider House Rules. Only time will tell whether any of the other neo soul artists begin to crossover into the mainstream and become household names, or whether the genre remains predominantly as a sub-genre of music played mainly just on urban radio stations and BET.

Criticism of the "neo-soul" label

Many musicians who create what is considered "neo-soul" prefer to disassociate themselves from the tag, due to the term's buzzword-like usage. These artists argue that many record labels, hoping to cash in on the success of the "neo-soul" style, simply had A&R departments take R&B singers, give them a bohemian look, and have them state Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, or Marvin Gaye as their favorite artists. Instead of using the "neo-soul" tag, many artists simply refer to themselves as soul musicians.

List of nu soul artists

Soul music - Soul genres
Blue-eyed soul - Brown-eyed soul - Girl group - Motown Sound (Detroit soul) - Northern soul - Quiet storm - Psychedelic soul
New Jack Swing - Hip-hop soul - Neo soul (Nu soul)
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