Is It a Wrap for Neo-Soul?
The genre inspired quite the musical renaissance in the late '90s. Let's look at where it is today.
"In many circles the term 'neo-soul' is a dirty word," Kimberly Hines, creator of leading soul music blog SoulBounce, told The Root. "People argue that the music falling under that umbrella should simply be called soul because it carries on the traditions of Marvin, Donny, Aretha and Stevie."
Steven McKeever, CEO of Hidden Beach Records, the label that brought Jill Scott to soul music lovers, agrees. When he first signed Scott, she wanted to record four separate albums: jazz, R&B, hip-hop and poetry. McKeever's solution was to do it all in one.
"I wanted to shy away from the labels," McKeever told The Root. "The only definition we adhered to was that [our artists should be] real musicians who could put real emotion on tape. The whole concept was honesty, honesty, honesty. From every note to every word."
Does Neo-Soul Need a New Name?
Artists aren't married to the term. Pop musicians outside the neo-soul umbrella -- Alicia Keys, John Legend and even Michael Jackson, with his cover of Floetry's "Butterflies" -- have incorporated its elements into their music. The digital age gives fans access to young R&B artists -- Jesse Boykins III, Luke James, Emily King, Lianne La Havas and Deborah Bond, to name a few -- who were undoubtedly influenced by the movement. Artists such as Frank Ocean and the Weeknd produce neo-soul-electronic hybrid music that is almost too trippy to name. As genre bending and borrowing becomes a growing feature of R&B music, neo-soul might go the way of booty bass.
Call it what you want, says rapper Common, who has collaborated with many neo-soul artists, including Badu and Floetry. "I just like good music," he told The Root. "The thing I can say about [musicians] who are tagged as neo-soul artists is that they are talented, gifted, incredible artists. The work speaks for itself."
According to Hines, fans of soul music have already adopted alternative names for the genre -- "underground soul" or "independent soul." But she makes an important observation.
"What all of these different names have in common is the word 'soul,' which will always be at the root."
Akoto Ofori-Atta is The Root's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter.
19 Neo-Soul Stars: Then and Now
From D'Angelo's urban cool to Eric Roberson's indie cred, we recall those who defined a genre.