What is Neo-Soul?
As a neo-soul artist I get this question from time to time. It doesn't come as a surprise that I get asked this question because neo-soul is a very new genre. Actually, it is only a little over a decade old. I've heard a lot of different definitions for neo-soul and it seems that everyone has their own interpretation of it. In brief Neo-soul is modern day soul music that includes elements of contemporary R&B and folk. It carries a very mellow, smooth sound and it often has a spiritual aspect to it.
The word "neo" means new. So if you take the word "neo-soul" at face value, it means "new soul." The neo-soul genre represents soul music in today's culture. It falls squarely in the middle of rhythm and blues music and soul music.
Traditional soul has gospel undertones and typically follows a call and response format where the lead singer sings a line and the back-up vocals or the audience responds. It also is marked by improvisational singing. The topic of the music is about love, relationships, sex, personal experiences, and having a good time. It hinges on rhythm using hand clapping and a lot of swaying or dancing because the music is catchy and uses hooks. Soul artists pride themselves on organic, natural sounding music using real instruments. Artists like Al Green, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Jackie Wilson are just a few examples of soul music.
Neo-soul is similar because it also has a more organic and natural sound through the use of real instruments, percussion, and natural, un-altered vocals. While neo-soul music is catchy and uses melody hooks, it is different because it focuses less on repetition, dancing, call and response, and hand clapping. The focus is more on lyrics and the topic of the song. It's often funky and less intense when it comes to dancing. It invites the listener to participate on a spiritual-soul level as song topics often cover the state of the economy, politics, positive attitudes, in addition to love and relationships. Artists such as India.Arie, Jill Scott, Tracy Chapman, Ledisi, D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Greg Kot are just a few mainstream artists who fall into the neo-soul category.