Friday, July 08, 2005

Divorcing Neo to Marry Soul

Jaguar Wright, the obscure, yet bodacious siren that has sung with the likes of the Roots and Jay-Z, is releasing a album titled, "Divorcing Neo 2 Marry Soul" next week. Obviously showing her disdain with being labeled a neo-soul artist, Wright is publically calling out the music genre. My friend Tosha and I called the end of the trend long ago...besides, who told people muddled, pretensious, lazy-sounding music was "deep?"

As Fresh Fridays at the Opium, which featured neo, retroed sounds closes, and attendance at the similiarly-themed Mahogany's Soul on Sunday dwindles, one must evaluate what went wrong with a genre that felt so, so right?

When the Big Three first appeared (D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell), people were tiring of the New Jack Swing fusions of 'do me baby' songs. People wanted substance. They wanted to be moved. R&B was lost, trying to stay viable as gangsta rap flousished and true love looked pussy.

As real artists began getting shine for true musicianship, many began riding the coattails of real artistry. For every Erykah, there was a India.Arie, poised with the headwrap, the deep stares and crazy-spelled name. For evey ambiguous love-ode by D'Angelo, there were a million Musiqs manufactured to feature loc'd and Afro'd chicks in EVERY video. (Didn't Musiq and India date for a while? The sunflowers and the seas must not have commissioned their love, huh?)

What neo-soul meant to me, was artists with feeling, who had been pushed aside by mainstream R&B, could finally be recognized for having some meaning behind their music. Voices that spared no emotion, muthafuckas that were really hurt, or in love or serious about being serious. And it was so refreshing to hear Maxwell bellow to his Suitelady that he missed her. Or let Jill Scott use her voice in several facets to describe her independance. I was all over it.

And so was the record industry. To the point that every singer signed had a choice: either they had to sing a hook with Ja Rule, or learn to tie headscarfs and skirts out of Kinte cloth. Singers got so insincere, that the music began sounding like high-school poetry. Dwele (who I really like, don't get me wrong. In fact, I probably have ALL of these people's albums) is barely heard on his Subject CD, trying to conjure that Brown Sugar D'Angelo vibrato. Really, it sounds ho hum. Being at the Opium, or the Brownstown, there was always some mumbling, organ-heavy deep track blaring out of the speakers. "What's that?" I would always ask one of the deejays. "The new neo-retro progressive crack jazz," they would respond.

I recently seen a performance that was so incense-woosy, I had to walk out. Not because the chick couldn't sing, because she could. But because she spent so much time in her songs trying to define herself, I couldn't enjoy the music. "Let the music define itself," I wanted to get past the ankhs and peace beads and lamentations...

Fortunately for us, people are still making clearly-sung, voice recognizable, soul music. Jaguar Wright sings her ass off on her new CD. Eric Roberson is one of the best songwriters I have ever heard. Jill Scott, well Jill's in love so I can excuse parts of her newest joint, but the poetry/singing thing will always be hers. Anthony Hamilton must get away from the Nate Dogg with soul thing (even though he deserves a brick in the face for that right-wing ass Nick Cannon joint) and represent the south right with real music. Lenny Kravitz, Seal, Van Hunt...all soul, all black, all hot.

As for the pretensious audiences waiting for the next dose of neo-soul, I call an end to the genre, ruined by the marketing machines of big business. Running a club night ain't easy, I've done it before. But as a consumer, I think people want to dance to hot shit, neo-soul ain't hot anymore. It smolders at its best, and it's nice to hear out every now and then. But I wouldn't bet my bank on it anymore.


At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Dawn1 said...

Keyshia Cole's cd is very soulful. Its a trip how quickly the neo soul thing came & went. I didnt know they could name a whole genre of music biting off Sade. ((smile))
I feel like if it wasn't 4 her, there would b no neo soul. Though I absolutely LOVE soul sista by Bilal. I must say I'm glad its over!

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Neo Soul Today Staff said...

Nice post!

Neo soul is still here. From the perspective of "hype," I think the art form is struggling through what I call a "trough of disillusionment" after reaching the "peak of inflated expectations." In the eyes of the media, the art form has failed to meet "their" expectations and has quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press abandons the genre. However, following this is what I call the "slope of enlightenment." This is where both artists and listeners establish common ground on what "neo soul" really is. Following this is what I call the "identity." This is where neo soul's real identity will become apparent and globally accepted. I plan to break this down further either tonight or tomorrow at my blog, Neo Soul Today.

As for Jaquar Wright, the jury is still out on whether she's really a neo soul artist or not. I have not heard her entire album yet, however, I have heard "Free." I love that song and it definitely falls within the neo soul sound range (see Neo Soul Lexicon: Sound). At the end of the day, it's a combination of the "overall" sound of an artist's work and the global consensus of listeners that determine whether he/she is a neo soul artist; not the artist him/herself. The struggle Jaquar is having with the term "neo soul" is no different from what many other artists are having (see Neo Soul Lexicon: The Controversial Phrase "Neo Soul").

Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

At 2:48 PM, Blogger MosaicThump said...

ain't nuthin' neo about SOUL!!!

I just want everyone to stop trying to classify the music and just enjoy it for what it is.... If you are into Soul Music, then you know that it is about feeling good. Music that makes you think back to when you where a kid at the park with your parents listening to Stevie, Earth Wind and Fire or even Sly Stone...

We all know a good soul song when we hear it because it is not just about sex, passion and orgasms. You are listening to Soul when you hear words that are deeper than the physical and powerful enough to illicit thoughts of when you were in that same situation good or bad. I guess I want to say do not let mainstream tell us what this music is; instead let your feelings guide you to music that makes you feel good…

Let's not let them bog us down with names for our art, let’s just enjoy and share it with the world…

I really enjoyed your article. I will definitely visit your Blog again to see what other surprises you have planned.

Thanks for fighting the good fight!!! It's hard to get the really positive music noticed by the masses. I look forward to corresponding with you in the future...

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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