As one of my favorite genres to sing and write to, neo-soul combines R&B with soul music to make the perfect blend of smooth, silky, heartfelt, African-American musical magic.
Neo soul, in its most simple definition, is modern soul, where the prefix ‘neo’ translates to new.
While soul music is a bit more traditional and R&B can get very dance and hip-hop-influenced, neo-soul provides the perfect balance for listeners who want something more hip and soulful.
Jazz is another genre that heavily influences the style of neo-soul, which is no surprise since Jazz music is heavily influenced by soul. I like to think of neo-soul as a concoction of soul music, R&B music, and jazz.
Keeping in mind that R&B stands for rhythm and blues, the genre of blues and a distinct rhythmic groove are in the overall concoction as well.
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Neo-soul is a relatively new genre in the world of music that originated in the late 1980s. Pioneers in the soul music world, including Prince and Sade, were inadvertently shaping a new soulful sound that was forming into its own genre.
The term "neo-soul' was coined by music producer and label executive William "Kedar" Massenburg in the late 90s when the genre really hit mainstream popularity.
The first big names in the genre included Lauren Hill, D’Angelo, Maxwell, and Erykah Badu.
Once the 2000s hit in the urban music world, neo-soul was a popular genre that was being promoted alongside the biggest R&B and hip-hop acts, with collaborations often happening.
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Conscious hip-hop groups and artists like The Roots and Common paired well with neo-soul artists' smooth and heartfelt offerings, which further modernized the overall soul sound.
After the mid to late 2000s, the genre saw a decrease in mainstream popularity for several reasons. Many artists feel like they didn't want mainstream success, with artists like D'Angelo and Erykah Badi going on hiatus after high sales.
Artist Questlove stated, "I think most of us went through our psychosomatic, quasi-self-saboteur stage. Once we got that first taste of success, I think just the pressure of reacting got to all of us."
There was also a problem with the music industry not really knowing how to market these artists that fell into this genre.
According to Tyler Lewis from PopMatters:
"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."
Regardless of the loss of appeal that happened, neo-soul has seen a resurgence in the genre thanks to international acts picking up on the genre and new artists and groups, including Ari Lennox, VanJess, Lucky Daye, Mahalia, Steve Lacy, and Kyle Dion.
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While most modern music is taking a digital approach to its instrumentation, for the most part, neo-soul keeps up with the feeling of live instrumentation and unprocessed vocal performances.
The overall feeling of neo-soul gives off a sense of authenticity and organic feeling that allows the listener to get emotionally involved in the content.
Like many soul and R&B songs, neo-soul often focuses its lyrical content on stories of love, loss, and emotional turmoil.
With the African American plight in the country that led to the creation of genres like soul and blues, it is no surprise that neo-soul has the ability to truly resonate.
Neo-soul projects also tend to be released with a more album-centric focus in comparison to R&B and Hip Hop songs that are often promoted by single and by album.
The singers involved with neo-soul projects also tend to take on the role of singer and songwriter way more often than other genres in the black music world, where lyrics are often deeply personal and can even be freestyled, similar to jazz music.
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