DAR Music: 7 Classic Neo-Soul Singles
The sounds of Neo-Soul music have delighted audiences for years and years, giving the subgenre longevity and a legacy that is mostly unmatched. One thing that's always stuck out to me about the subgenre is that it has always been able to craft hits and catchy tunes that endears listeners. While there is strength in Neo-Soul albums, the singles are easily the most recognizable pieces of music, and today, that's what we're here to discuss. You may have noticed that recently, we've started looking at singles as part of a series, and we're giving Neo-Soul that treatment today. Let's take a look at 7 classic Neo-Soul singles.
*Erykah Badu- On and On (1997)
-One of the first women to be a voice in the Neo-Soul movement (while still rejecting the label), Badu would make her presence felt with her debut single. Full of smooth jazzy instrumentation and sly musings hidden within the lyrics, Badu delivers one of the most interesting songs of the 90's with her first single. My favorite part of the song remains the line "if we were made in his image, then call us by our name...most intellects do not believe in God, but they fear us just the same...", as it added something to the entire vibe of the track that the rest of the words somehow didn't. Still, those lyrics aside, "On And On" is an excellent listen from start to finish.
*Bilal- Soul Sista (2001)
-There aren't many artists that embody the spirit of Neo-Soul quite like Bilal. He's the poster child for the subgenre in many ways and this song is like a paradise for Neo-Soul lovers. I've always considered this song the evolution of D'Angelo's "Lady", another single that you'll see on this list a little later. Both are produced by Raphael Saadiq, and both have the same style of drums and melodic touch, and honestly, they are both classics. Where "Soul Sista" excels perhaps a bit more than "Lady" is in the layering of the vocals, but regardless, Bilal made sure to move his other singles out of the way ("Fast Lane" and "Love It" aren't even close to this one) by giving the world a song that's timeless. "Soul Sista" is a classic and the greatest Bilal single.
*Jill Scott- A Long Walk (2000)
-I remember when Jill Scott debuted. It was a moment in time. Her music was the essential jazzy Neo-Soul sound that captivated the subgenre and their listeners, and when deciding which single to put from her on this list, I struggled for a moment. When I wanted to go with "Gettin' In The Way", then I remembered how important "The Way" is, and then I arrived to conclusion that there is no better single than "A Long Walk". Backed by extremely jazzy production from Dre and Vidal, Jill coasts vocally through one of the most laid back yet complex "love ballads" of them all. One listen to the song will have you relaxed, but when you follow the lyrics, you see this isn't just your standard "here's why I want you" song, it comes with depth in each lyric.
*Musiq Soulchild- Halfcrazy (2002)
-It is a bit of a challenge to pick the Musiq Soulchild single that deserves to go on this list, but I'll be honest, this is probably his best single. While "Love", "Just Friends", and others are probably better songs, the essential Musiq Soulchild sound can be found on "Halfcrazy". Featuring a glorious production and layered vocals, Musiq would sing about a love gone wrong, and the effects of it. While other singles like "Don't Change" are also important to his career and to the genre, I hold the belief that "Halfcrazy" is quite possibly the best Musiq Soulchild song and definitely his best single.
*Maxwell- Sumthin' Sumthin (1996)
-The first album from Maxwell is seen universally as a classic and rightfully so. Urban Hang Suite is one of the most wonderfully crafted albums bristling with funky and jazzy production, and this third single from the album is definitely the most infectious of the singles. While I'm more partial to the alternate smoother version featured on the Love Jones soundtrack, the uptempo and upbeat rhythm of this song invites listeners to tap their feet or dance along, and with this single becoming a smash hit on the charts, it solidified Maxwell as a force in music.
*Eric Benet featuring Tamia- Spend My Life With You (1999)
-While many wouldn't consider this a Neo-Soul song in general, it is a true to life Neo-Soul love ballad and one of the great duets of the 90's. R&B and Neo-Soul were essentially one in the same at the time, but Eric Benet is one of the hidden pioneers of the subgenre in many ways. After his debut album, he would return with a number of singles that caught the listener's attention, notably "Georgy Porgy", "When You Think Of Me", and this track. All in all, I hold this duet in high regard, as it has become a song for multiple weddings and romantic occasions, and is probably the most recognizable single in the Eric Benet discography. For that reason alone, it deserves a spot on this list. Also, Tamia does a wonderful job and vocally she outperforms Benet.
*D'Angelo- Lady (1995)
-I'll be honest, Raphael Saadiq is one of the most underrated producers in the entire genre of soul music and his work on this track can never be taken away from him. With a smooth bass line and melody, Raphael provides D'Angelo with his best pure single and one of his greatest songs, maybe his greatest ever. It's really one of the more simple songs of the genre, and it feels more like a Tony! Toni! Tone! album track than an actual D'Angelo song (or a blend between the two), but that's probably what makes it so great. D'Angelo managed to adjust (it doesn't sound like anything on Brown Sugar really so it's a standout), and this breezy single about the woman he adores took D'Angelo to a different level. This is still an all time classic and in my opinion, the best song on this list.