What Is Neo-Soul?

Singer John Legend
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Neo-soul is a musical genre that fuses contemporary R&B and 1970s-style soul with elements of hip-hop. As its name (new-soul) implies, Neo-Soul music is essentially modern-day soul music, with contemporary attitudes and sensibilities. It differs from contemporary R&B in that it's obviously more soulful, and it also tends to have deeper messages and meanings than R&B. In general, neo-soul has remained almost exclusive to R&B outlets such as urban radio and Black Entertainment Television.

Origins of Neo-Soul

The actual term "neo-soul" is believed to have originated with Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records in the late-1990s. The genre itself, however, is considered to have originated in the mid-1990s with the work of Raphael Saadiq's former band, Tony! Toni! Toné! and with "Brown Sugar," 1995 debut album by singer D'Angelo. In 1997, Motown artist Erykah Badu released her debut LP, Baduizm, the success of which paved the way for Massenburg to shift much of Motown's output toward Badu's style.

Limited Appeal

To date, the Neo-Soul artists to make the largest impact on the mainstream have been Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, whose debuts went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. However, the majority of Neo-Soul artists have yet to crossover to mainstream American music listeners, partially because the music's sound generally focuses on artist expression, rather than popular appeal.


Many musicians in the genre, however, dislike the term Neo-Soul and have disassociated themselves from it, calling it nothing more than a shallow marketing tool. Many of these artists refer to themselves simply as Soul musicians. A perfect example of this is the singer Jaguar Wright, who entitled her second album Divorcing Neo to Marry Soul.

Popular Artists

Examples of current popular Neo-Soul artists include John Legend, Jill Scott, Maxwell, and Leela James.