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  • Writer's pictureKayla Williams

The Missing Genre in the Lost Decade: How did Neo-Soul Slip Through the Cracks?


"India Arie" by p-duke is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


Beginning with George W. Bush succeeding Bill Clinton, the Dot-com bubble burst, and the September 11 attacks and ending with a global recession, the death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, and the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, being sworn into office, we find ourselves in the lost decade in music.

Sandwiched between the ‘90’s age of movements like Hip-hop and the late 2000s rise of streaming, the early 2000s lay lacking a distinctive or popular feature. With much of its culture stemming from the ’90s, the early 2000s struggled to bring about an emergence of a particular style or trend in music. If the early 2000s were defined by anything, it would be the overuse of Auto-tune and the convergence of different genres that seeped in from the ’90s era creating a plethora of subgenres like Trap, Chill-wave, and Indie rock. As the years went by, the early 2000s seemed to be silenced, often being overlooked with the attention being distributed to the decades that contributed much more. Yet, the early 2000s did not vanish in the minds of everyone.

“People forget about the early 2000s, and it was like a huge turn for music, in my opinion. We had R&B and Pop culture heavy back then, but I feel like Neo-Soul was an important movement and era, but no one mentions it. It was the time Erykah Badu reached popularity, and I was listening to Musiq Soulchild and India Aire. The whole wave was cool…it was paying homage to the black culture, which is something that is missing today…empowering.”

This was a statement given over the phone by Shandise Williams, a 35-year-old African-American woman with an affinity for the era. In the middle of her shift at Avondale Care Group as a Nursing Coordinator, she reflected on growing up in the early 2000s and introduced a genre that I personally have never heard of. In all the articles about the early 2000s and what emerged, Neo-Soul was never addressed. Oddly enough, this was the decade where it reached its height of popularity.

From the late ’90s to the early 2000s, the Neo-Soul movement consisted of a musical collective called the Soulquarians — housing such artists as D’Angelo, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, India Aire, Mos Def, Common, Alicia Keys, Q-Tip, and more who’ve contributed significantly to the movement. Neo-Soul’s emergence was accredited to the wild successes of D’ Angelo’s Brown Sugar (1995), Erykah Badu’s Baduizm (1997), Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998) by music journalist because those albums are what shaped and propelled the Neo-Soul movement into mainstream visibility among R&B radio.

In the early 2000s, the movement reached the height of its hype when the king and queen of Neo-soul released their albums in the new decade, D’Angelo’s Voodoo (2000) and Badu’s Mama’s Gun (2000). The increase in attention to this genre was due to the famous neo-soul artists because of their marketable aesthetic. Described by Greg Knot, music journalist, as “organic soul, natural R&B, boho-rap,” the movement embodied black excellence, poise, and unapologetic energy. However, unapologetic energy led to its downfall when many of these insanely talented artists refused to be involved in marketing campaigns and sell their souls to major labels. This resulted in the Neo-Soul movement losing its momentum in the mainstream sphere and only being discovered by individuals who value and seek underground music.

“Neo-Soul is one of those genres I feel we need now. Especially with all that is happening with Black Lives; feeling unprotected, unloved, and devalued as a human being,”

said Shandise with a hint of sadness in her voice.


“The artists in this movement really had a lot to say about racism, classism, and sexism. They brought attention to what needed to be changed, and that was way before now. That was in the 2000s. What would have happened if it were never forgotten? How would that impact the generation living now.”


Resources:

“2000S”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000s. Accessed 23 Jan 2021.

“2000S Music Era | Buy Signed Limited Edition Music Photo Prints”. Rockarchive, 2021, https://www.rockarchive.com/music-eras/the-2000s. Accessed 23 Jan 2021.

“Neo-Soul”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo_soul. Accessed 23 Jan 2021.

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