DAR Music: The 6 Greatest Neo-Soul Artists

By @TrueGodImmortal

While R&B music has many facets and styles, throughout the duration of the genre, there had never been an actual subgenre. That was until the mid 90's, when the emergence of a sound that mixed funk, jazz, and soul together became the new wave and took over. That sound and style would be dubbed Neo-Soul, and at the time, there would be many artists that would gain interest utilizing that music. Whether it was the sounds of D'Angelo, the ecletic vibe of Erykah Badu, the eccentricity of Maxwell, the down to earth vibe of Lauryn Hill, or the style of Jill Scott, there have been many artists who took Neo-Soul to the next level. Today, I wanted to take a look at the 6 greatest artists in the history of the genre. Granted, these are my personal picks, so in the event you think a Musiq Soulchild, Angie Stone, Bilal, or even Anthony Hamilton should be listed, don't worry: if this was a top 10 or 15, each of those names would be listed. However, it is a bit of a challenge narrowing the list down to 6, which is why I took that task and decided to rank the best of the best in Neo-Soul. Who makes the list and who sits at no. 1? Let's take a look.

6. Eric Benet

-You might see the inclusion of Eric Benet on this list, and be puzzled. The fact is, Benet is one of the better artists of the time, with a number of great albums and a level of consistency and quality that a number of others can't seem to keep up. I'll be honest, at first, I wasn't aware of the music that Benet was making, mostly due to the fact that I had ignored him following his divorce from Halle Berry (and during the marriage too). I was familiar with his work after hearing "Spend My Life With You" and "George Porgy" from his 1999 release A Day In The Life, but after going back and revisiting his albums over the last 4 to 5 years, I realize I've been missing out on true Neo-Soul greatness. His 1996 debut album True To Myself is an underrated Neo-Soul gem, and his 2005 album Hurricane is also a very solid release as well. One of his best songs came from The Brothers soundtrack with the smooth yet upbeat "Love Don't Love Me", which is a classic. His best work however, came in 2010 with the release of Lost In Time, an album that is flawless in nearly every way. While his stature in terms of the charts isn't too noteworthy, his music speaks for itself. Benet is an underrated Neo-Soul legend and I would place his catalog against any other choice for this spot.

5. Raphael Saadiq

-In many ways, Raphael should be at the top of the list. The genre of Neo-Soul seemingly got a start in the earliest days when Tony! Toni! Tone! had the momentum and would flirt with the sound on a number of their tracks. However, once Raphael went solo, he would venture into the Neo-Soul territory more and more, first with the created supergroup Lucy Pearl, and then on albums like Instant Vintage and The Way I See It. While one could have placed a more traditional name like a Bilal or Anthony Hamilton here, it should be noted that Raphael was instrumental in the architecting of the sound, as he would contribute production to two D'Angelo classics and craft the biggest single from Bilal as well. Saadiq is one of the greatest Neo-Soul artists and producers, which justifies his standing here on this list. He is a legend, an underrated one at that, who has made classics.

4. Jill Scott 

-I remember the first time I heard Jill Scott sing. Her voice wasn't special to me, in terms of range or style, but her voice carried a soothing and soulful vibrato to it that made her music pop even more. Add the jazz infused production behind her, and you had a recipe for smooth success. The truth is, Jill was in a league of her own, delighting audiences with her food infused lyrics, her seductive rhythms, and her sometimes raunchy but straightforward songs. Her debut album is a Neo-Soul classic, as it instantly placed her in a separate lane from her other female Neo-Soul contemporaries. While her albums since haven't lived up to the classic vibe of her debut, Jill has remained one of the faces of Neo-Soul and has a consistent catalog that boasts a number of hits and classics within it.

3. Maxwell

-A legend. While many have said they look at Maxwell as the greatest Neo-Soul artist of our time, I think he comes in just below the top two. While I can't blame inactivity for his falling out of the top two (especially considering no. 1), what made me rank him at no. 3 is simply because his catalog has one or two mishaps in it. That's not to say his music isn't still classic, and he has had some huge moments within his lengthy but somehow short career. After his classic 1996 debut Urban Hang Suite, he would release the 1998 underrated gem Embrya, before releasing the middle of the road album (IMO) Now in 2001. While Now did have some good music, it was below the level of consistency that his first two had, but he would bounce back with the classic BLACKsummersnight in 2009, which would be the start of a new trilogy in his catalog. The one thing about Maxwell though is that he tends to come and go as he pleases in terms of when he releases music, so you expect his music to be amazing when it drops. That can't be said for his worst release, the uneven 2016 BlackSUMMERSnight, which has very few standout tracks and very little replay value. Even with that, Maxwell still remains a pioneer for Neo-Soul and one of the best artists to ever be within the subgenre.

2. Erykah Badu

-There has never been an artist quite like Badu. The afrocentric lady with the smooth vocals has been a big part of the music scene over the last 20 years, but the fact remains, she took the genre of Neo-Soul to the next level with her debut Baduizm in 1997. She is the greatest woman within the subgenre and she has a true claim to the no. 1 spot because she has embodied everything that the subgenre was to represent. From her style to her production to her lyricism, she is simply the eclectic and eccentric queen of Neo-Soul, even if that label was rejected by many of the artists who perfected it. Her music is what truly drew me into her, as I loved Baduizm, as well as her 2000 release Mama's Gun, which in actuality is her best album. The rest of her releases haven't been as powerful as her first two, but they have been good to great albums and she never misses with a new project. That precision and quality is what makes Badu a true legend and pioneer, and there is no doubt that she is top 2 all time within Neo-Soul, and if you had her at no. 1, I couldn't blame you. She is essentially the embodiment.

1. D'Angelo 

-The ultimate Neo-Soul singer. Period. I mean, let's be honest. He essentially ushered in the sound and the subgenre for the mainstream following the select few who attempted to give it life prior. At the time of his arrival with his 1995 debut Brown Sugar, the sound in R&B and soul was geared more towards piano driven ballads from Boyz II Men or the synth and piano raunchy rhythms of Jodeci. When D'Angelo arrived with his jazzy funk infused production, and his unique singing voice and ability, it instantly felt like a game changer. Brown Sugar is a monumental moment in Neo-Soul for sure, but honestly, his second album Voodoo is even more vital. While not the more popular of these two classics, Voodoo is the better album and quite possibly the greatest R&B and soul album of the 2000s. What made D'Angelo even more legendary is that he would return after a near 15 year hiatus with another gem, the near classic Black Messiah. Though his musical output isn't as plentiful as some of the artists on this list, the fact that he can drop 3 of the best albums in the genre and do so after going through his ups and downs is even more amazing. D'Angelo is the greatest Neo-Soul artist of all time.



Post a Comment

Popular Posts