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The Best Neo Soul Artists
What is the Neo Soul genre?
Neo Soul music or Nu-Soul can be described as modern soul music which retains much of the attributes of soul music from the 60's and 70's and even 80's. Neo Soul artists may prefer the title of simply "Soul" and claim that the music they perform is no different to what it was decades ago. However a lot of today's mainstream soul (R&B) has definitely lost much of the properties of older soul music and become more electronic sounding which is why the "Neo Soul" or Real Soul Genre has come about.
One of the main characteristics of Neo Soul music is the tonal movement and types of chords used. These tend to be in the Jazz/Gospel type keys with chords extended up to the 11th and sometimes 13th. There are often Tri tones (keys/chords outside the regular scale) which give a lot of depth and tension to the music. Tri tones were once banned in Churches many years ago as some people claimed they were the devils chords.
The second characteristic of Neo Soul Music is the use of live (or sometimes sampled) real instruments, such as sax, trumpets etc..There also tends to be section of the track where the singer stops for a whole verse while musicians perform solos. This kind of thing is very reminiscent to soul music in the 60's and 70's.
A number of artists have moved away from the Neo Soul genre into more of the pop or mainstream R&B since that's where the money, fame and popularity seems to be. Real soul music lovers tend to frown upon this.
Birth name: Gerald Maxwell Rivera, born in Brooklyn, New York.
Maxwell can reach a beautiful falsetto range and his music tends to be one soul/soft rock/easy listening side rather than the jazz/gospel. His music definitely has Prince characteristics but more of a soulful slower tempo. For musicians, Maxwell's music can quite often be worked out by ear since he tends to go with the more regular Major scales. His most recent album sets a very relaxing mood.
Maxwell - Pretty Wings
Birth name: Michael Eugene Archer, born in Richmond, Virginia
Although D'Angelo has a similar singing style to Prince with touches of falsetto here and there, his music in heavily based around contemporary Jazz with Swing or sometimes hip hop style beats. His tracks have a very distinguished style with a heavy use of a Wurlitzer sounding piano. Chords progressing are very deep and tension filled, with live sounding instruments in the background.
D'Angelo is known to play all the instruments in his productions, keys, drums, bass, brass. As a lover of hip hop he has also done a number of collaborations with hip hop artists for more of a hip hop style of music. D'Angelo's music definitely captures the feeling of soul from the 60's and 70's.
Incidentally, D'Angelo recently released his third studio album after a 15 year break. It's called "Black Messiah". Neo Soul lovers definitely need to check it out.
Birth name - Taalib Johnson, Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Musiq's productions tend to be more on he electronic side of the Neo Soul genre. You will hear the typical chord progressions but not the natural instruments. His song cover a range of moods, such as ballads, uptempo R&B, hip hop, dance, house. Musiq voice is very rich in timbre which allow his voice to sit nicely on top of tracks for clarity. Some of his tracks actual have a Stevie wonder quality to them especially he vocal phrasing techniques.
A noticeable talent is his ability to hum and beat box at the same time as in the intro of "Just Friends".
Birth name: Andwele Gardner, born in Detroit, Michigan.
Dwele's music is very deep organic soul, following jazz type complex chord progressions, quite difficult to follow by ear if you are trying to play along with an instrument. Verses often end with a tri-tone (out side of the key) type of chord with gives a certain mood to his tracks.
His characteristic style is like a monotone talk, for a few bars then into a falsetto to end the phrase. Dwele doesn't do many uptempo tracks, he sticks to mainly to 60-70 bpm, smooth slow groves. Production wise is more on the electronic side than live sounding instruments.
See the below video, very clever lyrics "I'm Cheatin". Dwele seems to be talking about two women, but he is actually refering to the same only women. The contrasts of her being a lady in public but something completely different in the bedroom.
Birth-town - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Jill Scott is a Neo Soul artist who covers a range of styles, including gospel, jazz and spoken word. Her tracks are very deep and organic and mixes element of both electric and live instrument sounds. One of her characteristics is the spoken word verses only many tracks a bit like poetry, she will then break into a complimenting bridge then into a chorus. Some of her tracks start out as R&B hen cleverly transform into Jazz changing the mood completely, like the track "Talk to me". This track starts out as a slow grove around 65bpm then doubles to around 130bpm as it transforms into Jazz. Jill can reach an impressive range of octaves.
Birth name: Erica Abi Wright, born Dallas, Texas.
Erykah is know as the first lady of Neo Soul, well know for her eccentric headgear and style of dress. Erykah has a passion for Hip-hop as she raps in some of her tracks and are very hip-hop orientated. The majority of her tracks however are a very slow tempo deep soul tracks. Erykah has a lot of timbre in her voice but can reach very high notes. Her voice is also distinctive due to the slightly nasal property.
Not only does she like hip hop, she has had relationships with some famous rappers, Andre 3000 from Outkast with whom she has a child. She also dated and made tracks with Common who is a respected underground rapper.
Birth name: Ledisi Anibade Young, born - New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ledisi is known for her highly influenced jazz type songs. Most of her tracks have an R&B rhythm to it but definitely a contemporary jazzy sound in terms for musical arrangement and key. Ledisi has quite a wide vocal range and is a very energetic and emotional singer. In some videos you can see her even scat singing which is a kind of vocal improvisation mainly found in Jazz.
Ledisi was originally in a band called Anibade, which consisted of a keyboardist, bassist, guitarist, drummer and saxophone player. You can see her performance with this group in the below video.
Birth name: Angela Laverne Brown, Born - Columbia, South Carolina.
Angie grew up with a Gospel background. Her music has elements of soul, funk, hip hop, jazz and gospel. She is also a keyboardist and record producer. Vocally Angie is more towards the softer side of singers while at the same time expressing herself very well emotionally through the music. Musically wise she has a similar vibe to Jill Scott (mentioned earlier).
Angie is known for having a relationship with D'Angelo (Mentioned earlier on) who is 13 years younger. They have a son together born in 2008. They are now separated. D'Angelo is now back on the scene.
Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist who also produces music on the Neo Soul / Hip hop genre. He often performs live as "The Robert Glasper Experiment" with the members Chris Dave - drums, Derrick Hodge - Bass and Casey Benjamin - Sax / Synth. Robert Glasper plays with very interested and rhythmic chords textures creating and Hip hop / Jazz fusion.
Check out his latest Album - Black Radio
Robert Glasper ft. Jill Scott
Raheem DeVaugh is a Neo Soul Singer and the cousin of singer Chrisette Michele. He sings with a very colorful old school sounding powerful voices that stands out on any tracks. He has done a lot of choruses for hip hop tracks also such as Ghost Face from the Wu-Tang Clan.
In 2008 he won a BET Award for Best Male R&B Artist.
Pronounced De-BOR-rah, a Neo soul singer with a beautiful but strong voice. She has an element of older UK soul in her music since some of the musicians are seem to be British. True lovers of old school soul will love her music.
Zo! Is from Detroit and plays various instruments. He has done a lot of work for the "Foreign Exchange and Little Brother" but has more of Neo Soul sound than hip hop. His productions are usually original and likes to utilize many instruments. More on the Underground Neo Soul scene.
Esperanza Spalding is one of the few female upright bass players who also sings while playing. A true musician, singer and composer who began music around the age of 5. Her music is more on the Jazz side then the Neo Soul however she does have listeners from the Neo Soul / R&B category. Definitely worth listening to if you need a break from the typical 4/4 standard beat productions.
Eulaulah Donyll Hathaway is also known as the First Daughter of Soul.She is Donny Hathaway's daughter and has a beautifully trained voice. Most of her songs tend to sit in the mid / low register but she does actually have a very good vocal range. In the video below she actually sings chords!!! something that seems impossible for a human to do. i.e. a triad, three notes at the same time, amazing.
Amel Larrieux is an American singer-songwriter and keyboardist. Many know her mainly from the group the Groove Theory were she was the lead singer. After leaving the group she released her debut solo album entitled "Infinite Possibilities". A beautiful voice and a must for all Neo Soul or true soul lovers.
Check out this awesome Neo Soul band from New Zealand featuring Olivier Daysoul. Very under the radar but deserves some exposure as this is real soul.
- Chords for Neo Soul Artists | Soulful Keys - Neo Soul and R&B Production
Download Neo Soul Piano Chord Progressions
- Improvise cool R&B chords for piano
Do you want to know how to play those deep soulful chords with a lot of emotion?