It is no question that the hip-hop scene has drastically grown and changed over the past 10 years. Whether or not it has been for the better is up for debate. Its burgeoning size, however, has undoubtedly had a major affect on pop culture and other music genres as well.
This growing force can be seen in the riffs of rock and melodies of R&B, affecting the sounds and artists heard on various albums. The R&B world, being closely related to hip-hop, has been significantly infiltrated by its urban inspired cousin. Some consider this fusion to be a godsend, while many others consider it to be degradation.
A major argument made is that R&B lost its integrity; that it no longer symbolizes what it used to. The dictionary definition of R&B is a style of music combining elements of blues and jazz. If one was to listen to the majority of today’s R&B, listeners could easily understand that R&B isn’t the same genre it was years ago. An increasing number of artists mark their songs with heavy hip-hop beats and rappers. It is unclear if this is the doing of the record labels putting pressure on the artists to lean towards hip-hop inspirations in order to boost sales, or if the artists themselves feel they need to in order to keep up.
Because of this change, the genre’s message has adjusted a fair bit. Artists like Pretty Ricky and T-Pain have a different take on R&B, but ultimately it is not what the genre initially stood for.
“I’m In Luv (Wit a Stripper),” which features Mike Jones of all people, is in no way a fair representation of what R&B is supposed to embody. One would easily find that very few young contemporary R&B artists properly reflect the genre. Although looking to older figures such as Brian McKnight and Mary J. Blige, you could see that the message is maintained by at least a few.
Thankfully, all is not lost, as there is a group of innovative artists who gave rise to a whole new sub-genre, Neo-Soul. This new genre is tricky to pin down. It is difficult telling exactly when and who started this musical revival, but regardless, it has been accepted with open arms. Neo-Soul serves up the smooth and exhilarating sounds of ’70s rhythm and blues through the vocals of modern day artists. Neo-Soul is not for all; especially those deeply entrenched in the hip-hop influenced sounds of contemporary R&B. Neo-Soul is not bizarrely different, but it is different nonetheless.
Neo-Soul is distinctively different in one specific way: the message. The message sent out by Neo-Soul artists is rarely as repetitive as that sent by contemporary R&B artists. Most contemporary R&B albums are plagued by the same “I love you” or “I’m sorry” message from track to track, making for a rather stagnant and overused motif. Neo-Soul artists, on the other hand, run the gamut, from songs of love, heartbreak and life realizations to longing for a significant other that undoubtedly exists somewhere in the world. Neo-Soul vocalists sing about life.
Neo-Soul artists of particular note include Lauryn Hill, Raphael Saadiq, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, D’Angelo, Maxwell, John Legend, Musiq Soulchild, Erykah Badu, Anthony Hamilton, Floetry, India.Arie and Macy Gray. There are many more artists within the genre who simply are not as well known as they should be, and unfortunately, Neo-Soul simply has not achieved the mainstream recognition it deserves. The only artists to be widely recognized by mainstream America are Macy Gray, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, having scooped up an impressive amount of Grammys with their first albums.
The past year has been great for Neo-Soul, with a number of new releases from artists within the genre, including John Legend (Once Again), India.Arie (Testimony: Vol. 1, Life and Relationship), Musiq Soulchild (Luvanmusiq), Joss Stone (Introducing Joss Stone) and new to the scene, British songstress Corinne Bailey Rae (Corinne Bailey Rae). In fact, Macy Gray just released her newest album (Big) yesterday. So there has certainly been no shortage of Neo-Soul for fans.
It is unfortunate how few know about Neo-Soul. Sure, some of the better known artists are spoken of on television and radio and commit to tours to promote album releases, but that is merely the tip of the iceberg. Some call Neo-Soul a buzzword and a marketing scheme, but the truth is that it is revival of soul, and one that is desperately needed in today’s music.