What is neo-soul? 

Former Motown Records President Kedar Massenberg coined the term "neo-soul" in the late '90s. At the time, he used it to define a new wave of soul artists led by D'Angelo, Erykah Badu and Lauryn Hill. Sonically, it can encompass several sensibilities: the spontaneity of Billie Holiday-styled torch jazz; the down-home gospel of Aretha Franklin and Al Green; the breezy contemporary jazz of George Benson; the supple U.K. soul of Loose Ends and Incognito; the flavorful hip-hop of A Tribe Called Quest; and the forward-thinking futurism of house, techno, acid jazz, broken beat and other forms of dance music. Neo-soul, however, describes an aesthetic more than any particular music genre.

Not surprisingly, many musicians chafe under the term.

"We were leery of giving it a title," says radio DJ and producer Jamal Ahmad of the expansive sounds he and others created back then. "We don't really want to call it neo-soul." Many artists understandably feel it subtly demeans their art -- after all, why should their "soul music" be qualified as just "neo-soul"?


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