Neo Soul Today

Neo Soul Today is an authoritative source for informed and intelligent opinion, reviews, news, and other content about neo soul music, its artists, culture, and industry.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Are Neo Soul Listeners "Elitists?"

By Sean
Editor-in-Chief, Neo Soul Today

Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I ask myself if I'm a "music snob." I mean, really. Do I think I'm superior to others because I love music that a majority of the world's population doesn't even know exists; and am serious about it? Do I think I'm better than even those who listen to neo soul (or whatever you choose to call it), but are less serious about it?

There was a very good October 17, 2003 Boston Globe article by Renee Graham entitled "Neo Soul Movement Stirs Soul Feud." Graham's article discussed how neo soul artists -- for all of their original promise -- had not continued to make a major impact. It postulated that, at the end of 2003, the "neo soul movement" had retreated to the underground and was trying to regain mainstream attention with artists such as Anthony Hamilton. Also, the article went into how artists, such as Hamilton and Lizz Fields, were (and still are) ambivalent toward the term "neo soul" -- virtually a requirement for any literary work on the subject. It reviewed how neo soul was all but on its way to the mainstream and was more than just a paradigm shift in music. Rather, it was a "movement and a mind-set;" out of which even a movie, "Love Jones" (1997), was born targeted toward this so-called "neo soul mind-set" market and thereby perpetuating the movement. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Graham goes on to propose that neo soul's initial failing was "the media-created label itself -- a term that the artists, whom it was meant to represent, generally rejected." Well, if you're a regular Neo Soul Today reader, this irony central to the music is not news to you. So what, then, makes this article so interesting? Consider, if you will, the following excerpt from Ms. Graham's article:

"Reveling in a music-first ethic, the neo-soul movement could seem a little sanctimonious. It was soul music for smart people, with a tangible elitism and self-importance that some may have found off-putting."

Wow. Is she right? Keep reading.

Late last year, I came across a blog named "The Soul Movement" with a well-written post entitled "Soul Music: A Serious Contender to Hip-Hop's Economic Throne?" by freelance writer and underground soul artist publicist Gabriel Rich. The post cites some astounding statistics about the so-called the "neo soul mindset" market from studies conducted by market research think tanks TMG and Edison Media Research. Ponder this from Rich's post:

It is estimated that "the (Neo) Soul mindset market represents 50 million consumers with a mind-boggling $65 million in buying power"

"The median age of the (Neo) Soul consumer is 32.2"

"60% of females list (Neo) Soul as their favorite music compared to 39% of males"

"African-Americans comprise over 60% of the Soul music’s listeners. Whites make up around 20%."

"The average income of the (Neo) Soul listener is $85,000"

"4 out of 5 (Neo) Soul listeners have college experience or hold college degrees"

Very interesting. I've been in touch with Gabriel and he confirmed that these numbers are authentic and accurate and that his sources are credible. Based on these statistics, he concludes that "Soul is the music of the mature adult." I've always held that sentiment and these numbers simply quantify it. However, do these numbers also support Ms. Graham's claim that the neo soul movement is "sanctimonious," "for smart people" with a "tangible elitism" and sense of "self-importance?" Well, I can confidently infer that "the majority" of serious neo soul listeners are educated, established, affluent, predominantly black, and predominantly female.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Many marketing departments in corporate America appear convinced as well. You may have noticed this yourself when watching TV, reading a black magazine, or observing billboards in urban areas. For instance, in 2003, Coke launched its "Real" advertising campaign as part of a broader marketing strategy to reinvigorate the brand by increasing its share of the young adult market. This campaign is most notable for its TV ads featuring everyday people in everyday situations. The third TV ad to launch in the campaign featured Mya and Common performing a duet about staying "real and true to one's self." Subsequent spots featured both mainstream and undergroud artists including Angie Stone, Musiq, The Roots' Scratch and ?uestlove, Amel Larreiux, Aaries, and Donnie. A 2003 EURweb article quoted Hussein Warmack, Coke Classic brand manager, as saying "We’ve chosen to go with artists from the neo classic soul music genre" because "neo soul is about being true to yourself. Being real. They write their own lyrics, sing their own music, dress how they want to dress." Baileys' "Get Together" marketing campaign offers print and billboard ads featuring mature, late-20s to late-30s adults (more women than men) getting together and socializing while drinking Baileys Irish Cream. Baileys and Coke are only two examples of companies apparently targeting this $65 million "neo soul mindset" market of affluent, young, educated adults who know what they like and have an easily-identifiable trait in common -- a love for neo soul.

So clearly, more evidence is surfacing suggesting that many (not all) serious neo soul listeners have a common mindset supported by similarities in economic status (affluent), race (majority black), gender (more women than men), age (late-20s to late-30s), and education (mostly college-educated). Coincidentially, I obviously love neo soul and I match in every characteristic except for one -- gender (I'm 100% male).

So, although I always try to avoid generalizations, I can understand Ms. Graham's claim that the so-called "neo soul movement" consists of "smart people" with a "music-first ethic." However, I'm still struggling to understand where the claim that a "tangible" sense of "elitism" exists amongst neo soul listeners.

Recently, when doing a Google search on the phrase "neo soul," I ran across a bulletin board thread at entitled "What's Wrong With the Term Neo Soul???" In fact, this thread was how I discovered Ms. Graham's article. The thread, begun by Digital DJs' DJ Melodic, reprised the article and posed the question, "Are we witnessing the downfall of this soul movement??? What can we do to make this music more mainstream???" The thread began and peaked over a time period from June 2003 to October 2003 and consists of interesting intellectual analyses (some overly analytical, some tangential) of Ms. Graham's article. However, the first person (codenamed "SaSkWatch") to reply was also intrigued by the paragraph containing the "elitist" reference, in particular. I highly recommend reading DJ Melodic's thread in its entirety.

In a nutshell, the most intriguing and honest replies appear to come from serious neo soul listeners who candidly admit that their rare musical tastes bear on the side of elitism and "musical bigotry." While these particular posters' candidness about their elitist tendencies is admirable, they also appear to struggle internally with it. They appear to struggle with the fact that their exclusive tastes may, just may, be one of the reasons why the neo soul artists they dote over struggle (no pun intended) to manufacture but one album, struggle to break into the mainstream, struggle to fill the house for a single concert, or, frankly, struggle to make a decent living. Below are some quotes from the thread relevant to the "elitism" claim that I found to be the most telling:

"I personally think that two of Soul Artist's greatest enemies have been the artists and the fans themselves...I have to look at my own self in the mirror and admit I too presented an elitist attitude regarding music. I have been called everything including being a 'musical bigot'. I would go on these self-important rants about why...Jill Scott is better than Ashanti, etc. This self-importance is pertinent to who, the 10 people that bought the Bilal LP? It sure is not important to the million plus that buys Nelly records. We complain about why [our artists] don't reach mainstream success, but its not like we endear ourselves to the mass market. The Roots and Jaguar Wright [make] a Coke commercial and you scream bloody murder. Common stands next to Mya, and you are like WTF? If we don't re-evaluate our thinking then we might be witnessing the end of a great musical renassiance. How can our artists afford to live, raise families, etc., when they can only get small venue shows, and the chosen few are buying their CDs?"

"The common consensus is that in some way we have all been deemed elitists and bigots because of our very stringent opinions. I consider myself an intellectual, and I will admit that I like that I'm into music that [a] majority may not like or know about. It kind [of] confirms my belief that [my]mindset is different (like my third eye is wide open...). But at the same time, I love the artists and their musical innovation -- and I want them to succeed and get the recognition they so rightfully deserve."

Some of these posts, prompt me to ask if folks like the music they claim to listen to or rather are they just trying to be different/fashionable/hip or whatever by claiming they like certain artists?"

"You have people who have dedicated their lives to music...They study it, live it, breathe it, perform it, and collect it like it was the sweet nectar of life. Conversely, I think you have people that look at music as a simple distraction...Ya know, its not that serious for them. Maybe its that commitment level that drives people to Soul, creates that elitist atmosphere or thought process, and lead people to sites like these. Let's face it, Soul Music is special music. I personally think that music has a higher purpose in a person's life. It can make people get "happy" in church. It gives you the goosebumps and/or gives you a feeling of euphoria. It can control your mood and your mindstate. Something that powerful should be looked at seriously and that wisdom needs to be shared...BUT... Just because we listen to special music, that doesn't make us special people."

So what is my take on this proposal that serious neo soul listeners are essentially self-important elitists who think they are smarter than the masses? As of today, February 12, 2006, I identify the most with SaSkWatch's sentiments three years ago. I, too, am struggling with the underlying dichotomy of my passion for neo soul music and its artists. See, I still cannot go as far as to say I wish neo soul and its artists would go mainstream. It is the music's fundamental rareness, genuineness, and uniqueness that drives me to love it and the artists that make it. Yet, simultaneously, I'm pained by the fact that many of these artists have to struggle to live as a result of remaining independent and not going mainstream. Nestled within my DNA is an appreciation for going against the grain and being somewhat different than the masses when it comes to certain preferences (e.g., rare music such as neo soul). I truly believe, without any direct evidence, that many people who love neo soul also share this desire to be different. See, everyone has a set of preferences. Of those preferences, I'm sure there are one or two that you believe you know more about than most people in the world. In my case, neo soul just happens to be one of them. However, I do not think I'm superior or elite because I think I know more about neo soul than most?

Perhaps the "elistist" reference is more about the assumed economic and educational position of those with the "neo soul mindset" and less about the music.

Please comment with your thoughts. What do you think? After digesting the information in this post, do you think serious neo soul listeners (or those with the "neo soul mindset") are elitists?


At February 19, 2006 11:50 AM, Blogger peace in the chAos said...

If it's the case that Neo-SoulSters want to break into hte mainstream then they shouldn't turn their noses up to Common's duet with Maya. Quality music is what it is whatever it is paired with or compared too. Ideally if for examlpe if the ?uestlove & Roots were put in the same concert with 50 Cent & Ludacris they'd be givent he same opportunity to shine & win fans.

The thing about "Neo-Soul" is that it acts elitist. It seems to be infantalized by the care people take of it. Like if the wrong person handle's it it'll break. A lot of Neo-soulSters put on a kind of genre-piety when the artists names are mentioned whereas 'mainstream music lovers' get happy when they hear their favorites named. Why can't neo-soul folk be happy. Why do they have to act like people going to church or worse, coming from a funeral. Maybe what we need is an injectioon of high energy from the hype machine & the fans of neo-soul. There's nothing unnatural about joy in music.
As long as neo-soul brushes off the seat before it sits on the bus with all the other musical styles it'll be treated with the kid gloves it demands. Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Stevie wonder didn't play such careful attention to categorization as these kids. If Neo-Soul is indeed about rejuvenating the spiritually alert section of music fandom then it needs to welcome exuberance in its presentation and consumption.

At February 21, 2006 2:10 AM, Blogger Ms. Pretty Green Eyes said...

Can I just say that I love to read your posts? Because I am pretty mucher a new comer to the neo soul movement, I am just soaking up everything you have to say. Thanks for all of the insight.

At February 21, 2006 10:44 AM, Blogger Apparently Nothin' said...


I don't know where to start. All these so called "accurate numbers or facts" come from. Firstly, the main reason why artists have a problem with the term "Neo Soul" is because of one very obvious reason. There is nothing NEW ABOUT SOUL MUSIC.

Soul Music can't be any more elitist than any other musical genre; people simply love what they love. There are millions of Soul artists that are undiscovered or untapped; so i doubt the median income for these fans is $85,000. There are only a handful of soul acts who have achieved success in recent years and you can name them on two hands. So if you are basing it on that, i might give you a possible maybe.

The reason why Soul acts have a difficult time or have a chip on their shoulder is the lack of support and outlets available for their music.

Even though the internet has made it possible for more folks worldwide to discover soul music; that hasn't translated in to sales or more touring opporunities because alot of the mainstrem media still doesn't cover SOUL music..

You can't compare soul music of today to soul music of yesteryear. They had to deal with the civil rights movement, racism and other factors that are far and beyond what artists deal with today. I find it all a bit strange that people don't see the obvious, that Soul fans are no different than other fans when it comes to their music. And most of the artists that are Soul acts aren't dressed in Versace or roll in Benzes , so how can they be elitist?

At February 21, 2006 3:54 PM, Blogger Neo Soul Today Staff said...

Apparently Nothin',

Thanks for your comment! However, just to clarify, the post isn't asking whether neo soul "artists" are elitsts. Rather, it is asking whether neo soul "listeners" are elists? Thus, all of the statistics (e.g., median income) are focused on the listener population. I urge you to recast your thoughts given the "listener" angle.


At February 21, 2006 3:55 PM, Blogger Neo Soul Today Staff said...

Ms. Pretty Green Eyes,

Thanks for the love! Even though you consider yourself a newcomer to the neo soul world, what are your thoughts on the question this post poses? What is your perception?

At February 21, 2006 5:43 PM, Blogger Apparently Nothin' said...

Ahh..maybe i missed the point slightly..Although listeners/ lovers of any music artforms can't
rightfully be called "elitists". Look at the top Billboard albums..clearly Rap and R&B are at the top..but most of those consumers are middle of the country Caucasian kids. These are the folks that make these Rap albums sell 3-5 million. Is their income $85,00 or more even though they buy most of the music?

And I still don't see how this median income number has come about. Soul music (some of it) is typically a little older skewed (as the airplay is on Urban Adult Stations) so it is natural that an older demo has more disposable income. Look at BArry Manilow! He is Adult artist with HUGE sales. Does that make his fan base elitist? Nope..just means they have disposable income. Disposable income doesn't mean elitist, just means they have jobs with a means to spend money (or extra money) on ancillry things like entertainment.

At March 19, 2006 2:01 AM, Blogger MosaicThump said...

I must say that you have posed some questions that I have yet to think of. To put it simply, I do not ever want to think of myself as elitist but I do think that I am very much into music that makes me feel. Myself, as well as many others like me, just want to listen to something other than the same 30 songs over and over again on the radio.

Honestly, I think it is a testament to our community that so many people are becoming more educated about where to find the kind of music that has been termed NEO-SOUL (could care less about the name).

I think this is just simply Thirty-Something African Americans becoming a lot more discerning about what we support in terms of music.. Man we are trying deprogram. Conventional radio is becoming what they want us to hear. I choose to be more finicky about what I listen to...

I love your BLOG!!!

At March 23, 2006 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was searching on the internet and ran into this article and really loved it. After some thought I have to admit as a neo soul listener I do feel a sense of elitism. When I meet a woman in her twenties, like me, who supports artist whose every other word is Ni**a or Bitch I can't relate. It just makes me wonder what this person thinks of themselves and their race to tolerate such music. I want neo-soul to go main stream and get the respect it deserves but the fear of the music I love evolving for a mass audience like hip hop did worries me.

The fact is when Jill Scott sings about love she makes me think about things that Beyonce never could. So I agree that its more intellictual than most would prefer.

This article really made me wonder are we selfish as soul listeners or just afraid to lose the music we love to the mainstream?

At May 19, 2006 8:56 PM, Anonymous UrbanGuy said...

Great post!

Nice analysis...props


At May 22, 2006 3:58 PM, Anonymous screenplay23 said...

I personally don't see any inner conflict with calling the music I love Neo-Soul.


To take "Neo" out of Soul is to ignore the powerful influence that Hip-Hop has had on our generation. Our parents did not grow up on hip hop. We, however, did. Sure, it might be a Madison-Avenue-generated term, but to me, it fits.

We have our own issues, like affirmative action, access to startup capital for black businesses, hip-hop's decadent turn for the worse, the digital divide, ad nauseum. Atleast Neo-Soul comes the closest to reflecting those issues and the emotions of the black americans of our generation.

I say keep the label. It fits. Neo Soul artists should not shun the label. They should embrace it and live on to feed their families.

At December 23, 2006 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a child of the 60's I loved the music that for that most part helped define Black musical creativity, social consciousness, love and heart break from a Black perspective. You name the 70's soul group, I had their album. Yes I was a soul music devotee, with a collection that eventually filled 8 plastic milk crates. I loved the contemporary jazz flavors of Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith ect. When rapp music came on the scene I even embraced particular artist for their beats and spoken word form of the craft. As the 80' and 90's merged rapp music took a firm grip on the air waves as to what the Black inner city experience was suppose to be. I'm not trying to hate on these young rappers in their quest to survive and escape the ghetto against what in many cases were hugh odds, to survive or succeed. The reality of the hard edged gangster rapp was very detrimental to the mindsets of young developing minds. How many times or ways can your hear girls and women referred to as bitches, or if somebody disses you bust a 9mm cap in their ass ect, without it having an effect. It may sound like a generalization but in my experience most of the Black male teenagers and young adults who listen exclusively to rapp music, are responsible for the majority or murders, drug dealing and general crime that goes on in the hood. I for one have wondered how long the rapp phenomina would last.

Are Neo-soul listeners elitist, give me a damn break? How can appreciating artist who can sing about love, life and survival from a positively progressive modern perspective, be elitist! Haven't we seen enough dividing, dissention and demeaning in our time, not to fall into this trap by now. I'm really feeling the Neo-soul flavor that's out there now. Need some musical reference material. Try these for a few, Dwele-"Lay it down", Raheem DeVaugn-"The Prototype", Darien Brockington-"Wasting time", Eric Roberson-"Painkiller", Hil St. Soul-"Baby come over", Teedra Moses-"No more tears", Conya Doss-"Meantime", Aloe Blacc-"Shine through", Amp Fiddler-"Dreamin", Kindred the family soul-"Let it all go". If you're interested in more or if you have some choice cutts you'ld like to share, email me at If you have a problem with any of my comments don't email me. The way I feel is not posted for review, nor do I want to discuss my comments. I don't like to throw softballs at hard situations. I'm out.

At August 25, 2007 2:22 AM, Blogger Nicole said...

It seems as though the research is true. I fit the demographic perfectly. I can't say that my love for Neo Soul is because of its rarity, however. Frankly, it's just good music, no matter what you name it or how popular it may be. Good music is just good music. And with the sad state of hip hop as it is, Neo Soul is the best alternative. Am I an elitist? No. Just conscious.

At June 19, 2008 8:52 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

After reading this I have to agree that neo soul listeners come with an air of elitism. I'm a young college student, who upon arriving at school had quickly began berating others for their musical choice. And now that I think about it my attitude towards other's musical choice may have backlashed upon the my favorite artists. It is very hard to get someone to listen to and love your music, after you spent the last 20 minutes ranting about how Beyonce isn't a real artist and is nothing but grey clay for anyone to mold. If we want our music to be heard then we need to get off our high horse!

At August 01, 2008 9:45 AM, Blogger KSkittlez07 said...

(I made an account just to answer this, nice blog by the way lol...)

Well.. I suppose the findings in this article could be correct. But, I started listening to Neo Soul when I was like 16-17? I loved it when I heard it. Now I'm 19, and I still love it. That kind of excludes me from the late 20's to 30' category. I'm also not earning an average of $85,000 (yet lol), but I wouldn't mind it, lol...

But it is one of my favorite genres, I am a female, and I am in college- no degree (also "yet", lol). But all the same, why categorize the people that choose to listen to this genre? It's just people who like to listen to the music, because it's on a deeper level and more meaningful than most of the crap that's out today (I listen to some of that crap, but I do admit that most of it is crap, lol).

I also agree, why call it Neo Soul when there isn't anything new about Soul music? It's an evolution of Soul with the time period, that's all. But, I suppose it goes hand in hand with the Classical and Neo Classical stuff. The genre evolved, so they put a new term to it... whatever. Toe-may-toe, Toe-mat-toe, same thing, lol....

But like I said, people like the music because it's on a deeper and more realistic level than most of what's out today. I listen to everything really, but if you just choose to listen to Neo Soul, I don't think it in no way makes you an "elitist." You like what you like, right?

But, I suppose, if you're one of those people that don't atleast "respect" others' musical preferences, and instead, you put them down for listening to what you probably think of as "garbage," well that does kind of make you a elitist now doesn't it? LoL...

I suppose it all just depends on your own personal views towards your own style and others. If you look at it as your music is the All Mighty above other genres, or if you atleast respect the fact that every music in the world is different and people like what they like. Each genre is an art of expression (even if they choose to sing about sex, drugs, and money, they're expressing their diluted minds right? Twisted, but all the same, a means of expression none the less, haha...), and you might just like to have your expressions sent into a genre of Neo Soul.

So take the middle road, no need to think all other genres should bow down before yours. I respect them all, even if I don't like some. It's not my job or care to judge other people and what they listen to. Neo Soul is still pretty awesome though (lol).

Anyways... this turned out kind of longer than I expected, couldn't help bu rant a little, lol.... Well, in closing... good article NSTS, keep up the good work. LoL =)

At February 09, 2011 8:31 PM, Anonymous day said...

Hi i'm a radio show host that also produces music and video.

I do music for the enjoyment of myself and to bring good music to the general public. i produce jazz, R&B and Hip Hop music. but as of recently ive been promoting musicians on my show, ExclusiveRs. I would definitely appreciate any comments good or bad on my shows. my shows feature dance, smooth jazz, commentary, personal production videos, soul, R&b and Hip Hop music. After clicking below, it will take you to a music player which features Afro Soul 3.

On that page, the comment box below the music player is open for anyone to leave comments as long as you leave comments about the music and or production. there's also a "download episode" on the bottom left of the page. As i mentioned, i'm a show host and more of my shows will be on the right side of the page and are available for download.

Please enjoy.

I'm always up for improvement and to know you are listening and are commenting, brings me motivation.

At February 16, 2011 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a sample of a show i host called Afro soul for more Afro soul or more from ExclusiveRs, click FOR MORE INFORMATION and off to the right (under PODCAST tab) will be more shows by me, Dae of ExclusiveRs. Which features smooth jazz, Hip hop, commentary, R&b and neo soul music (afro soul). Download for each show will be on the bottom left of page.


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