The "Neo Soul" Debate: Enough is Enough; Let's Just Move On
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today
Enough is enough.
I don't disagree that the term "neo soul" was created by a marketing executive (Kedar Massenburg). So what. As a listener, I understand both sides' point. Nevertheless, I don't see what the big deal is. Since launching Neo Soul Today, I have realized three truths:
1. That the term "neo soul" (as controversial as it may be) has stuck
2. That this music (today's soul) is truly different than anything else that's out there (in sound and substance)
3. That the split over the term "neo soul" will never go away and that both sides have a valid point. Quoted from Wikipedia:
"Many musicians who create what is considered "neo-soul" prefer to disassociate themselves from the tag, due to the term's buzzword-like usage. These artists argue that many record labels, hoping to cash in on the success of the "neo-soul" style, simply had A&R departments take R&B singers, give them a bohemian look, and have them state Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, or Marvin Gaye as their favorite artists. Instead of using the "neo-soul" tag, many artists simply refer to themselves as soul musicians."I've also learned since launching this blog that music artists and marketing go together like oil and water. Nevertheless, the harsh reality is that both need each other and I believe most artists understand this. Here's why I believe this to be the case.
Consider two 2002 interviews with Rapheal Saadiq. In one interview with Sacramento News and Review, Saadiq said, "I don’t believe neo-soul really fully describes my music. I prefer to call it 'gospeldelic’--that term seems much more encompassing, particularly since I come from a gospel background." In the other interview with VH1, Raphael Saadiq said he thinks the term [neo soul] is 'wack.'" However, he also went on to say "I understand why they do it for marketing reasons." I found that last statement enlightening.
Consider another example from a Honey Soul audio interview with one of my favorite artists, Julie Dexter. When discussing being mentioned in the same sentence as artists such as Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, she used the term "neo soul." She said, "...that term is quite redundant. You know, I don't consider any of us neo soul. You know, you write soul or jazz or whatever you are. It's not necessarily new." However, she went on to say, "But people have to put a name on our music, I guess, at least to categorize what we do so when you go to a store looking through a thousand CDs, you can go to that section to find what you want to find." That's all I'm saying. Julie and I think exactly the same way. I'm not the greatest fan of the term "neo soul" either and soul definitely is not new. Yet, today's flavor of soul (and all of its sound variants) is clearly different than anything out there and without some way to isolate it, how will listeners be able to find it in the record store when they don't have a particular artist in mind? A "soul" section would be too broad. I don't care what you call it. Just call it something.
With all of that said, my September 5 opinion on Raheem DeVaughn not being what I originally considered to be a neo soul artist has been my most controversial post to date. However, it was taken totally out of context by a few. If you've consistently read the content at Neo Soul Today, all opinion pieces are presented in a respectful manner and focus on the music and the artists that make it. Contrary to what some may believe, I love DeVaughn's music. I bought his album and will likely buy his next. I just learned that his music is more diverse than I, at first, thought. The post was neither a diss nor criticism. His diversity is to his credit. I just had the wrong expectation (that he was a neo soul artist) when I purchased the album (and I know for a fact that I'm not alone from my personal circles). My next purchase will just come with a different level of expectation as to the brother's sound.
Let's Just Move On
Admittedly, I'm exhausted with the debate over the term itself. I say let's just get on with enjoying the music. I would even rename Neo Soul Today to "Soul Today" (http://soultoday.blogspot.com), but it's just not worth the time and effort (similar to trying to undo calling "neo soul" "neo soul"). Get in where you fit in. If you want to call it "soul," call it soul (because it is soul). If you want to call it "neo soul," then call it "neo soul" (because since the mid 1980s, soul went dormant -- click here for more info). We all know what music I'm talking about; so let's stop kidding each other and being so sensitive about the subject. If you find my thoughts and analyses to be nonsensical and unintelligible, then I'm sure there are other blogs out there that are a better use of your time. I created this blog to connect with others who like this music (whatever you want to call it).