Blasts From the Past
During Black Music Month, The Root has looked back 15, 25, 35 and 45 years, commemorating black sonic achievement and recalling each era's memorable musical moments. But now we'd like to give special attention to another pivotal point in music — the neo-soul movement of the '90s and early 2000s. From soul-singing ladies Erykah Badu and Jill Scott to sexy crooners D'Angelo and Maxwell, we have tracked our favorite neo-soul musicians from their debuts to where they are now.
"Brown Sugar babe/I gets high off your love/I don't know how to behave." —"Brown Sugar," Brown Sugar (1995)
With his cornrows, gap-toothed smile and smooth voice, D'Angelo had women everywhere wishing he was calling them his lady. And of course, this was especially the case after he released "Untitled (How Does It Feel?)" from his second album, Voodoo, which won a Grammy for best R&B album in 2000. But then, why'd you leave us, D'Angelo?
Thankfully, D'Angelo's back, gracing us with his musical presence again. In a recent GQ article, he talks about finishing his album after a 12-year hiatus from music, his dreams about Marvin Gaye and what he's been going through for the past decade. Want to see if he's still got it? Check out a few of his recent performances.
"Shouldn't I realize/You're the highest of the high/And if you don't know then I'll say it/So don't ever wonder." —"Ascension (Don't Ever Wonder)," Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, 1996
Maxwell was another major player during the heyday of the neo-soul movement. "Fortunate," on his second album Embrya, is one of his biggest hits, and was a Billboard No. 1 R&B hit in 1999. His rendition of "This Woman's Work" was featured on the soundtrack to Love & Basketball. Remember the scene in which Monica and Quincy got busy for the first time?
Maxwell also left us wanting more music during his eight-year hiatus. He returned with an appearance on the BET Awards in 2008 and a new album titled BLACKsummersnights, which he promised would be the first of three-part series or releases. But Maxwell, it's been three years! Where's part 2? Looks like we'll have to wait even longer for that one. He canceled his summer tour this month because of vocal swelling and hemorrhaging.
Erykah Badu, Then
"I was born under water/With three dollars and six dimes." —"On & On," Baduizm (1997)
Badu entered the music scene with a big, vibrant headwrap and an even bigger voice. Her debut album, Baduizm, went triple platinum, and her hit first single, "On & On," won her a Grammy Award. In the late '90s, she also tried her hand at acting, appearing in The Blues Brothers 2000 and Cider House Rules.
Erykah Badu, Now
Badu's been all over the news lately for her collaboration with the Flaming Lips and their subsequent (very NSFW) music video for the Roberta Flack cover "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Let's just say her latest offering is very ambitious. But this isn't the first time one of her music videos has been controversial. When she stripped in Dealey Plaza in Dallas for her "Window Seat" video, city officials weren't too happy.
Lauryn Hill, Then
"No matter how I think we grow/You always seem to let me know/It ain't workin'." —"Ex-Factor," The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1997)
After the Fugees broke up in 1997, Hill brought us The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the '90s. The album earned her five Grammy awards. Despite releasing an MTV Unplugged album in 2002 that received mixed reviews, L-Boogie's fans are anxiously awaiting the day when she records an album that comes close to the beauty of her solo debut. After that release, she reeled back from making music to raise her family.
Lauryn Hill, Now
The talk surrounding Lauryn Hill over the past couple of years has been more focused on her disrespectful concert behavior (three hours late because of a mani-pedi) — and odd fashion sense — than on her music. Earlier this month, though, she performed with Nas at Hot 97's SummerJam and really showed how awesome she can be. But she's also been charged with tax evasion, a reminder that she hasn't shed the personal demons that led to her self-imposed exile from the music biz.
Jill Scott, Then
"Made me some breakfast, toast, two scrambled eggs, griiiiiiiits … " —"The Way," Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 (2001)
She got her big break when fellow Philly native Questlove of the Roots had Scott — initially a respected spoken-word poet — pen the hook of the eventual Grammy-winning song "You Got Me" from the group's 1999 album, Things Fall Apart. Two years later on her solo debut, she proved that she could write her own lyrics, scat like Ella and even add operatic touches to some of her songs whenever she wanted to show she can really blow. Plus, nobody can make grits sound as soulful as Scott, one of several neo-soul singers who hails from the City of Brotherly Love.
Jill Scott, Now
For the past few years, Scott has spent a lot of her time onscreen. In 2007 she appeared in two films, Hound Dog and Why Did I Get Married? In 2008 she starred in HBO's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Currently she's working on the black version of Steel Magnolias and will reprise the role of Truvy, Dolly Parton's character. As far as the music goes, check her out on last year's The Light of the Sun and on VH1's Storytellers.
Musiq Soulchild, Then
"I'm not trying to pressure you/Just can't stop thinkin' 'bout you/You ain't even really gotta be my girlfriend." —"Just Friends (Sunny)," Aijuswanaseing (2000)
We would write this caption without spaces, but that might be a bit too hard to read. Musiq Soulchild, another Philly native, entered the neo-soul music scene at the turn of the century, with several hit songs about love, loss and relationships. His second album, Juslisen, entered the Billboard charts at No. 1 in 2002.
Musiq Soulchild, Now
Last year Musiq released his sixth studio album, Musiqinthemajiq. And this year he dueted with Chrisette Michele on the song "Ahh Yeah" on Robert Glasper Experiment's soul-jazz-hip-hop fusion release Black Radio. He's also tried out his acting chops and appeared in an episode of The Game in 2007.
India Arie, Then
"My momma said a lady ain't what she wears but what she knows." —"Video," Acoustic Soul (2001)
In the early 2000s, India.Arie flooded the airwaves with songs about female empowerment. She encouraged girls "not built like a supermodel" to "learn to love themselves unconditionally" in "Video." And later, in 2007, she encouraged women to love their hair with "I Am Not My Hair."
India Arie, Now
"Do you like how it feels when I smoke you out head down to your toes?" —"Soul Sista," 1st Born Second (2001)
Another son of Philly, Bilal doesn't like to classify himself as a neo-soul artist. But many early critics tried to fit his music in that box, and he continually stepped out of it. His second album, Love for Sale (2006), never got a proper label release but was heavily bootlegged and is a near cult classic. Besides that, Bilal has guest-appeared on more songs than he has recorded for his own albums, including nearly a dozen with Common. Watch this video of why he gives neo-soul two thumbs down.
Bilal is another artist who takes long breaks between his album releases. His last album, Airtight's Revenge, hit the shelves in 2010. It produced the touching tribute to his autistic son, "Little One." And if you're a fan of Robert Glasper, you might have heard his feature on the David Bowie cover "Letter to Hermione."
Groove Theory, Then
"If you've thought I'd sleep on this/Boy, you're all wrong 'cause all I dream about is our first kiss." —"Tell Me," Groove Theory (1995)
Amel Larrieux and Bryce Wilson formed Groove Theory in 1993, and they released their self-titled debut album in 1995. "Tell Me" reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album was certified gold. But the duo broke up before they could record a second album. Rumor has it that Wilson didn't like that Larrieux was emerging as the group's main star.
Groove Theory, Now
Amel Larrieux went on to establish a solo career, releasing three solid album: Infinite Possibilities (1999), Bravebird (2004) and Morning (2006). And Bryce Wilson appeared in a few films, including Beauty Shop, Hair Show and Trois. New York fans got a treat on June 17 when the pair performed in one of New York City's SummerStage concerts in Central Park.
Angie Stone, Then
"I can't eat, I can't sleep any more/Waiting for love to walk through the door/I wish I didn't miss you any more." —"Wish I Didn't Miss You," Mahogany Soul (2001)
Though Angie Stone had made a minor mark in music by 1979 with "Funk You Up," as part of the all-girl rap group the Sequence, she rose to soul-singing prominence with her first album, Black Diamond. On the release, D'Angelo (who had a son with Stone in 1998) co-wrote the song "Everyday." Stone also sang the theme song to the CW's Girlfriends.
Angie Stone, Now
Stone hasn't released an album since 2009's Unexpected. When asked why she tried a new sound this go-round, she told Blues & Soul: "I wanted to do something that embodied a jam kinda feel, so that we could have some fun in concert and show people everything doesn't always have to be so serious." She's performing in a few cities this summer. Check her out if she's close to home.
"It's getting late/Why you gotta be here/Beside me/Watching, needing, wanting me." —"Getting Late," Floetic, 2002
Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart made up the British duo Floetry. Under the names they called themselves respectively, "the Songstress" and "the Lyricist," their debut album, Floetic, featured two sultry ballads, "Getting Late" and "Say Yes."
Ambrosius left Floetry in 2007 to start a solo career. She released her first solo album, Late Nights, Early Mornings, in March 2011. It featured "Far Away" and its accompanying video, which had a timely message against gay bullying. (Last October she also released the mixtape Late Nights, Earlier Mornings.) Stewart released her first solo album, The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul, in 2010; it featured her spoken-word poetry over seductive beats. Watch her sexy gap-toothed smile and bald head in the video for "Forever" with Musiq Soulchild.
Anthony Hamilton, Then
"Baby I'll be/Sitting here waiting on you to come home again/I won't leave/Promise I'll be here to the very end." —"Charlene," Comin' From Where I'm From (2003)
The North Carolina native's plaintive, churchy vocals immediately recall Bill Withers or Al Green. And by 2004, fans wanted to know who Charlene really was and if she would ever come home to a crooning Hamilton. That same old soul grit helped earned him three Grammy nominations for his breakout album, Comin' From Where I'm From.
Anthony Hamilton, Now
Hamilton has steadily produced high-quality soul albums: Ain't Nobody Worryin' (2005), Southern Comfort (2007), The Point of It All (2008) and Back to Love (2011). In 2008 he performed a tribute to Al Green on the BET Awards with Jill Scott, Maxwell and John Legend. Next month he's set to sing at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.
Meshell Ndegeocello, Then
"I'm waitin' here just to please you/All I want is you/All I want is you." —"Soul Searchin'," Higher Learning soundtrack (1995)
During the early years of her career, bassist and singer Ndegeocello played gigs in Washington, D.C., so it makes sense that many of her musical tastes were influenced by the sound of go-go. Some of her biggest hits were cover versions of Bill Withers' "Who Is He? (And What Is He to You?)" and Van Morrison's "Wild Night," both of which made the Billboard charts. Her 1993 debut, Plantation Lullabies, featured the cheeky hit "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)."
Meshell Ndegeocello, Now
In 2011 she released Weather, her ninth studio album. Ndegeocello will embark on a U.S. tour later this month, starting in Pittsburgh on June 24. For more dates, check out her schedule here.
Dionne Farris, Then
"They say I'm hopeless, as a penny wit a hole in it." —"Hopeless," Love Jones soundtrack (1997)
In the '90s, Farris started out as a member of the earthy hip-hop collective Arrested Development, singing on their big hits, including "Tennessee." Soon after she went solo, releasing Wild Seed, Wild Flower, which featured the up-tempo tune "I Know." But she's most widely known perhaps for her contribution to the Love Jones soundtrack in 1997, with the hit single "Hopeless."
Dionne Farris, Now
Vivian Green, Then
"Emotional rollercoaster/Loving you ain't nothing healthy/Loving you was never good for me/I can't get off." —"Emotional Rollercoaster," A Love Story (2002)
Perhaps Philly and soul music really do go hand in hand? Three of Green's singles — "Emotional Rollercoaster," "Gotta Go Gotta Leave (Tired)" and "I Like It (but I Don't Need It)" — all made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Dance charts.
Vivian Green, Now
The Tony Rich Project, Then
"How blue can I get/You could ask my heart/But like a jigsaw puzzle it's been torn all apart." —"Nobody Knows," Words (1996)
With his debut single, "Nobody Knows," Tony Rich reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Adult Contemporary charts. He even received a Grammy nod but lost to Eric Clapton's "Change the World" in 1997.
The Tony Rich Project, Now
Perhaps only diehard fans know that Rich has released four albums since his debut Words in 1996. His last album, Exist, was released in September 2008. However, his section on the website of his record label, Hidden Beach Recordings, hasn't been updated since the 2009 Grammys.
"I wanna do the things we used to do/Say the things we used to say/Just lay every day, all day/Far away from here." —"Far Away," Surrender to Love (2003)
Another pair out of Philly, Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon — a married couple and parents of six children — make up the group Kindred the Family Soul. Their debut album, Surrender to Love, was released in 2003, which included "Far Away."
In late July, Kindred is scheduled to perform three concerts, two of them at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., and one in New York City at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill. Last year, the duo released their fourth album, Love Has No Recession.
"There's nowhere to hide, when love's callin' your name/From the dark, baby, nowhere to run, girl." —"Love Calls," Kemistry (2002)
He was a wedding singer and a waiter before he raised enough money to self-publish his own first album, Kemistry, in 2002. Talk about determination. He was later signed to Universal Motown, after selling 10,000 albums on his own.
KEM's last album was released in 2010. Earlier this year, he released the album's latest single, "You're on My Mind." He's on tour this summer. Want to see if he's in a city near you? Check out his schedule here.
Eric Roberson, Then
"Why can't these memories just be erased/Why must I yearn for your kiss." —"Dealing," Music Fan First, 2009
Roberson collaborated with Philly artists Jill Scott and Musiq Soulchild in the early 2000s. But he's stayed true to a fiercely independent career path, releasing his debut album, The Esoteric Movement, in 2001 and then following that up with a series of underground sizzlers, including The Vault albums and 2005's The Appetizer.
Eric Roberson, Now