Neo soul is a type of popular music some often refer to as progressive soul. Kedar Massenburg, an entrepreneur in the music industry, invented the phrase in the late 90s. It characterizes a genre of music that combines modern R&B and soul. Neo Soul, although it is deeply rooted in soul music, is different from its modern R&B relative in sound because it incorporates elements of funk, jazz fusion, hip hop, African music, pop, rock, and electronic music.

Origin of Neo Soul

This music style emerged in the 1980s and early 1990s. Musicians like Terence Trent D’Arby, Mint Condition, Joi, and Tony! Toni! Toné! Introduced this music style. Their music broke from the conventions of most popular R&B at the time. During that time, Raphael Saadiq, a member of Tony! Toni! Tonél started a solo career and worked on several projects with other Neo Soul musicians. Sade, a UK artist who impacted this genre, found popularity in the 1980s with sophistic-pop, a jazzy, smooth pop-rock genre. Shortly after Massenburg’s declaration, Neo Soul hit its commercial zenith.

Popular Releases

Songs like Who Is Jill Scott by Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, Brown Sugar and Voodoo by D’Angelo, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill, On How Life Is by Macy Gray, Baduizm by Erykah Badu, and Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star by Black Star all saw enormous sales from 1995 to 2000. Along the way, they frequently ranked first on critics’ lists of the top R&B albums. At this time, prominent artists like Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, and India seemed to belong to the Neo Soul genre. Arie and Alicia Keys gained further recognition after releasing her self-titled album in 2001. While some call Bilal the “one R&B artist for whom the neo-soul categorization seemed limiting,” according to AllMusic author Andy Kellman, his 2001 debut album 1st Born Second was an “exemplary” record for the genre and a top-10 R&B chart triumph.

Neo soul musicians’ output eventually decreased in the 2000s since many needed to capitalize on their prior achievements or put out a follow-up record. “Despite its critical success, if Neo Soul had an initial failing, it was the media-created label itself – a term that the artists, whom it was meant to represent, generally rejected,” wrote Renée Graham of the artist’s ambivalence towards the term in a 2003 article on Neo Soul’s current standing. Neo Soul has extended and musically broadened via the efforts of both American and international musicians since it first gained prominence.


The captivating melodies and sensual vocals of 1960s soul music serve as the foundation for this genre. Vocalists from the 1990s and 2000s like Jill Scott, D’Angelo, and Raphael Saadiq frequently channel the vocal brilliance of 1960s icons like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Diana Ross. Hip-hop and funk samples are commonly used in the rhythmic parts of neo-soul songs. They occasionally include electronic music’s computerized sounds. In contrast to many other popular genres dominating the Billboard charts, the neo-soul piece frequently uses live instruments in addition to samples and drum machines. D’Angelo’s Voodoo, his second album and a cornerstone of the genre in the early 2000s, is a prime example of this style.

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