The Neo-Soul Family Tree

Neo-Soul, Neo-Soul. Where for arte thou, Neo-Soul? With all due respect to R&B/Soul’s subgenre, Neo-Soul never really left, but became an acceptable addition to the R&B family (sans title). Kedar Massenburg of Motown coined the term at a time when the delineation between watery Pop-R&B and real live Soul became foggy. Many multifaceted talents were being shuffled into the mix, despite their new wave infusions of rock and funk elements previously shunned once the MPC came a’knockin. Neo-Soul raised the bar, and with it came artists that made their marks in music history. Even Hip-Hop hopped on the Neo-Soul bus with albums like The Roots’ Phrenology and Common’s Electric Circus. As a true testament to the past, present, and future, the AllHipHop Alternatives staff revisits some of the survivors on the Neo-Soul family tree (Cody ChestnuTT, we still love you).Nanna and Grand-DaddyNina Simone.Nina Simone is more of a platform for soul music than an inspirational ancestor for Neo-Soul. The grandma of the genre treated each song like home cooking. Every note she sang imitated southern fried perfection. Simone could’ve cared less if she hit proper tunes or octaves, with her vocal tone, which oozed unadulterated soul. Songs like “I Put a Spell On You” and “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” never needed intense runs and riffs to provoke. – Brandon Michael DunlapMarvin Gaye.The late Marvin Gaye is rightfully the granddad of modern-day Neo-Soul, redefining the genre since the days of Motown. His silky melodic tone melted atop of notes like butter on songs like “Trouble Man,” “Distant Lover” and “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Eulogy).” The turbulent ’70s saw the post-Tammi Terrell period in Gaye’s career, imparting beautiful and socially impacting staples such as “What’s Going On,” and “Let’s Get It On,” which remain untouchable. – Brandon Michael DunlapThe Mamas and the PapasErykah Badu.To say that Ms. Badu is the mother of Neo-Soul is weird, but appropriate. Granted, she does belong in her own genre, but when her debut album Baduizm dropped in 1997, she changed music forever. It wasn’t just her soft music style that found a home somewhere between a pacifying jazzy tune with Hip-Hop bones. It was her understated confidence in her physical and musical style that drew us in and kept us there. – Latifah MuhammadOther Side Of The Game – Erykah BaduMaxwell.The utterance of Maxwell’s name is enough to send most on a soulful odyssey. His music brings a rush of images to the brain, sounds to the mind, and emotions to the heart. And with sold out tours and platinum plus albums such as Urban Hang Suite, Embrya, and Now, Maxwell was one of the first to make Neo-Soul translate into dollars earned. For that, he will always be remembered as one of the fathers of Neo-Soul. – Kiko MichaelsAscension (Dont Ever Wonder) – MaxwellJill Scott.Jill Scott blazed onto the Neo-Soul canvas like strong, beautiful strokes contributing to a masterpiece. Songs like “Long Walk,” “Getting in the Way” and “Golden” opened the floodgates of Neo-Soul while tapping into old school jazz and soul music. Ms. Philly soul has found a powerful way to utilize the urban experience through song. Covering anything from politics, erotic love, to fish and grits, Scott continues to remain a relative artistic force in soul. – Brandon Michael DunlapRaphael Saadiq.While many came to sit at the Neo-Soul table when it became popular, Raphael Saadiq had already long been seated. In fact many might say he actually created the table. From Tony! Toni! Tone! to Lucy Pearl to his countless producer credits on various records from artists such as Joss Stone, D’Angelo, and The Roots, Raphael Saadiq is not only a father of Neo-Soul, he is Neo-Soul. – Kiko MichaelsLucy Pearl – Dance ToniteSons/DaughtersBilal.Who knew a barbershop discovery in the streets of Philadelphia would lead to one of the founding members of the Neo-Soul Movement, Bilal?  Although absent of a solo project for the past eight years, Bilal has been busy between working on his new project, performing, writing, and producing. Collaborating with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, ?uestlove, Q-Tip, and D’Angelo, Bilal is a member of the collective Soulquarians, the group dedicated to keeping the foundation of Neo-Soul alive. – S.DotMusiq.Like his name, he’s without a doubt Music’s Soul Child – a true son to the Neo-Soul movement. Known initially as MusiqSoulChild and later on as just Musiq, he’s given us his heart and soul throughout the years. A product of Philadelphia, PA (a city known for helping mold the Neo-Soul movement), can you imagine the world of Neo-Soul without him? Absolutely not! Musiq has a timeless sound and untouchable style of his own. – Nia BAnthony Hamilton.

When Anthony Hamilton burst onto the music scene, it caught a few

people off guard. His sound took you to the pews of a traditional

Baptist church, and touched your soul in ways you’d never felt before.

Delivering a classic album on his freshman debut, Hamilton contributed

a sound R&B, and Neo-Soul was begging for. A son to the Neo-Soul

movement, his voice was shaped and molded by the fathers of Neo-Soul

and R&B. – Nia BMartin Luther.If anyone in the entire Neo-Soul movement wasn’t given enough credit, it was Martin Luther. While he may not flow from the lips of many music lovers, Martin Luther was a forefather to Neo-Soul with his electric soul tinged with live instruments. If you aren’t a fan of Martin Luther, your favorite artist probably is. – Nora LenoxGoapele.Goapele is perhaps the unsung she-ro of Neo-Soul music. A daughter of the genre, Goapele released Even Closer on the indie Hip-Hop label Hieroglyphics Imperium before being picked up by Sony for a re-release. Now a free agent, Goapele released her rootsy-funkdafied Change It All with production help from Sa-Ra. Her consistently slept-on status will hopefully change in the future, as Goapele brought a fresh take to soul music with her definitively unique sound. – Nora LenoxGoapele – CloserVan Hunt.

After years co-writing for other artists, Van Hunt finally

embarked on his own music journey in 2004. His self-titled debut tested

the limits when the singer/songwriter’s careful selection of poetic

lyrics, R&B and soul instantly registered him on the “Neo-Soul”

radar. His second album, On the Jungle Floor, featured a much more

experimental rock influence, yet still embraced the soulful and

energetic formula that makes Van Hunt one of the more unpredictable

singer/songwriters of today. – Donyel L. GriffinAngie Stone.Angie Stone’s voice held more power within a single note than most young R&B chicks’ entire careers. Her Black Diamond debut made us instant fans, but Mahogany Soul brought forth the cult phenomenon that was Angie Stone with her hit “Brotha.” Had she and D’Angelo stayed together, they would’ve probably led the revolution. Amel Larrieux.Largely underappreciated as a Neo-Soul veteran, Amel Larrieux paves soulfully in her own lane as a seasoned indie neo-soul songstress. The jazzy Hip-Hop essence, which founded her breakout group Groove Theory, also established Larrieux as a modern-day innovator in merging soul, jazz and Hip-Hop with Middle Eastern and West African styles. Equipped with a fluid whistle register evocative of Minnie Ripperton, the varied sound of Amel Larrieux can’t even be pinpointed with a magnifying glass. – Brandon Michael DunlapAmel Larrieux – Get UpFloetry.Floetry, the first female group to successfully combine singing and rapping since TLC, seemed to sneak into the U.S overnight. Their name said it all as Marsha “Songstress” Ambrosius and Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart represented the best of both worlds before parting ways in 2007. Though no longer a duo, both artists have no plans to abandon music. Thank goodness. – Donyel L. GriffinBig Brother/Big SisterD’Angelo.Before it was “cool” to be Neo-Soul, there was D’Angelo. D’Angelo’s ’95 arrival with Brown Sugar redefined the male soul singer, and for once made it acceptable to possess street appeal while delivering silky vocals over smooth tracks. “Brown Sugar”, “Lady”, and “[Untitled]”How Does it Feel” were easily some of the best contributions to Neo-Soul. Although D’Angelo’s been absent from the music scene for awhile, his sound can be heard in many newer artists. – Donyel L. GriffinLauryn Hill.Lauryn, Lauryn, Lauryn. Ms. Hill could effortlessly fall into any late-90s subgenre as either the Queen or the Princess. Lauryn Hill mothered a new breed of soul with The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which in turn inspired many new artists to follow her lead. So began the pleasant cycle of incorporating change into the world of R&B and beyond. We have Ms. Hill to thank for that. Now if she could only resurface to accept her award… – Kathy IandoliIndia.Arie.Decked in a simple tank top, long flowing skirt,

and guitar, India.Arie proclaimed that she wasn’t the average girl in

your video. With the release of Acoustic Soul in 2001, Arie

added another chapter to the growing Neo-Soul book. This southern woman

has never been afraid to express her readiness for love or

self-appreciation. Chronologically speaking, her position as daughter

of Neo-Soul is fitting, but she really deserves to be godmother or

older sister at best. – Latifah Muhammad

Favorite CousinsAlicia Keys.When we first met Alicia Keys, she was a sexy tomboy with braids and beads, singing Songs in A Minor about falling in and out of love and trying to find herself throughout. As Neo-Soul’s cousin, she let us peek into her Diary, watching her grow into the undeniable force that she is today. As J Records’ golden child, Alicia paved her path with platinum all the way to superstardom. With her third solo album As I Am being already dubbed a classic, Alicia Keys is proof that legends can still be made. – Kathy Iandoli Fallin – Alicia KeysJohn Legend.While Mr. Legend’s notoriety came into full bloom well after the Neo-Soul movement commenced, his brand of designer jazzy soul was a definite channeling of the old school in a way new format. John Legend helped us Get Lifted and then did it Once Again to the tune of chart-topping crossover hits like “Ordinary People” and “Save Room.” Cosmically organic and completely honest, John Legend is Neo-Soul’s favorite cousin. – Kathy IandoliThe OffspringLedisi.More exciting than Ledisi’s best new artist Grammy nomination were the people’s reactions and attempts to pronounce her name. Many continued asking “Who is she?” from the time nominations were read until her face graced the Grammy red carpet. Technically proficient in vocals, possessing a gospel choir conductor’s range, and songs that touch the romantic and uplifting psyches of listeners, Ledisi is proving to be the example for which new inductees of the Neo-Soul society should adhere to. – Jonathan Reyes

Raheem DeVaughn.Raheem Devaughn’s sensual and mature debut, The Love

Experience, (2005) predicted a Neo-Soul star on the rise. “You,” and

“Guess Who Loves you More” catered to those that still appreciate a

good old-fashioned soul singer with meaningful lyrics. Raheem

Devaughn’s growth on his second album, Love Behind the Melody is

evident, as success from singles “Customer” and the Grammy nominated,

“Woman” seem to strongly suggest that longevity is certainly in this

balladeer’s future. – Donyel L. GriffinChrisette Michele.Poised, classy, and with an unshakeable jazzy voice, Chrisette is the closest an artist has come to marrying jazz, the new millennium, and mainstream together. Giving marriage props, storytelling on women who know when to let go, singing about her favorite jazz singers, and about knowing when to declare her love gave Chrisette’s debut parental credibility, much like that girl in the front row of class eager to learn; eager to show. Just ask Professor HOV. – Jonathan ReyesChrisette Michele – Be OkDwele.From Slum Village affiliate to Detroit’s shining star, Dwele has been that smooth dude since his solo debut Subject. Dwele has been the mastermind behind many important projects in Neo-Soul, Hip-Hop and beyond. While his contributions have been great over the years, he holds an honorary position as the offspring of Neo-Soul, since despite his long musical history, Dwele is the future. – Nora LenoxAlice Smith.Like a true visionary, this Brooklyn citizen took the definition of Neo-Soul and stretched it out infusing rock into R&B song arrangements. Tall, modelesque, and a voice that joins the air in a room to fill it as one. Her debut album, For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me built a hipster buzz very reminiscent of Baduizm in 1997. With her debut two years behind her, Alice has many loving and dreaming of her follow-up’s potentially sonic landscape. – Jonathan ReyesThe Family ReunionThe Soulquarians. Hip-Hop cliques typically form when Rapper A signs to Rapper B’s label and suddenly becomes best friends with Rapper C, The R&B Chick and The In-House Producer. The Soulquarians, however, united simply because of mutual respect and love of music. A true all-star lineup, ?uestlove, James Poyser, Erykah Badu, Common, Mos Def, Kweli, D’Angelo, Q-Tip, Bilal, Raphael Saadiq and Dilla formed a collective of artists that hadn’t been matched since the glory days of Motown and hasn’t been seen since. While they only officially collaborated for a few years, their impact was deep, resulting in incredible works like Things Fall Apart, Voodoo, Mama’s Gun and the tragically unreleased Kamaal the Abstract. The group seems to have disbanded by now, but the members still work together frequently and building on their shared knowledge to work magic for artists as varied as Busta Rhymes, Al Green, Pharrell and Zero 7. – Alex ThorntonCommon – The Light – CommonComment below on some of your favorite Neo-Soul artists.

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