Believed to have been originated in the late 1990s by Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records, the term Neo Soul refers to a musical genre that many observers are calling the revitalization of soul. This genre is quite unique in the way it fuses old school soul and contemporary R&B with styles that range from blues and electric rock to poetry and spoken word. Raphael Saadiq and Tony Toni Tone are largely credited for birthing the revolution with artists like D’Angelo and Erykah Badu leading the wave into the new millennium. While the next generation of soul features a balance of numerous musical elements, one of the most notable is hip hop. Being that the genres are so closely tied, it is should come as no surprise that some of today’s brightest hip hop stars are making the transition to soul music.
The History of Hip Hop and Soul
Pick an album from almost any hip hop artist who has been prevalent over the last two decades and you are sure to come across a familiar hook you’ve heard somewhere before. Perhaps it’s snippets of Etta James’ “Hard to Handle” in Nas’ Affirmative Action or a hint of “I Miss You” by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes slipped into Jay Z’s “This Can’t Be Life”.
From the very beginning, hip hop artists have paid homage to classic soul music by using catchy samples in their songs. The trend remains popular today as it is not uncommon to hear the angelic voice of Nina Simone melded with lyrics of conscious rapper Talib Kweli or the soulful sound of Curtis Mayfield complimenting the music of Grammy award-winning artist Kayne West. It is the fondness and respect of the old school that has resulted in more and more artists going soul.
In 1984, a group known as Force M.D.’s began recording with Tommy Boy Records, asserting that their style of music would combine musical influences from various eras. Although this quartet was heavily influenced by early hip hop, 1950s doo wop along with 1960s and 1970s soul left impressions on them as well. Force M.D.’s were inspired by the Fat Boys, L.L. Cool J, Run D.M.C. and Whodini but most are not aware that they also got into the Penguins and the Five Satins, groups that were doo wopping on the corner before these guys were even born. Anyone familiar with the sound will agree that Force M.D.’s were far ahead of their time, delivering neo soul-like hip hop years before Mary J. Blige was anointed as the Queen of Hip Hop Soul.
Who’s Gone Soul?
Several hip hop artists and producers are showing diversity by releasing tracks laced with soulful elements. Common has always been considered as a hip hop artist bordering on the soul genre, but you may be shocked to know that DJ Jazzy Jeff has been successfully dabbling with these experimental sounds as well. Over the years, Jazzy has produced a number of soul-driven albums with tracks featuring names like Jill Scott and Raheem DeVaughn amongst many other aspiring soul artists. The continuous merger of these dynamic genres is good to see as it is not only being embraced by the fans of soul music, but also helping to bring neo soul to the surface and reach the ears of more listeners.