We recently wrote a Rediscover feature on D'Angelo's album Brown Sugar, well after writing that we wanted to share some more artists from the genre with our readers for our latest TLG's Finest feature. Neo-soul ranges from jazz to hip-hop, there's contemporary R&B sounds with some phat bass (solid drum beats are an essential part of the sub-genre), it's a mixture of various msucial styles. Artists like D'Angelo, Erykah Badu and Maxwell pioneered the style, bringing it into the mainstream world of music. Here's our list of 15 essential tracks from the genre, ranging from 1989 to 2002. Checkout the playlist on our Spotify account trouvelagroove under TLG's 90s Neo-Soul. There's also some information about each of the songs below if you're interested, read on and get acquainted with some of the greatest soul singers of the 90s.
Update 27/09/17: Now available on Apple Music too.
D'Angelo - Brown Sugar (1995)
Brown Sugar is the title track from D'Angelo's debut album. It's probably one of the most well known neo-soul songs because it was the first to truly break the commercial charts, this effectively began the mainstream neo-soul movement. The song is like a blend of jazz instrumentation with hip-hop beats and soulful vocals. Impressively, D'Angelo played nearly all of the instruments on his album as well as producing, writing, and arranging the record.
The Roots - What They Do (1996)
The Roots are a band of incredibly talented musicians and true hip-hop artists. This song is one of their strongest neo-soul tracks, the instrumentation and harmonies are all smooth as fuck. The band are well versed in hip-hop lyrics, and here they are highlighting the changes in 'true hip-hop' and proving that proper musicians and artists do not need to sell-out or cheapen their work.
Ms. Lauryn Hill - Doo Wop (That Thing) (1998)
Lauryn Hill is one of the pioneers of neo-soul, and this track is a real throwback sound, incorporating the old school soul sound with some harmonising and a great horn section. There's also a slightly funky bassline with hip-hop drums and keys, this is a well written genre-blending track from Lauryn Hill (who was also a member of The Fugees).
Eric Benét - Spiritual Thang (1996)
This is a much funkier neo-soul track with some great backing vocals and tasty guitar riffs. This features on Eric Benét's 1996 debut album True To Myself, it really shows off his strong vocals and has a great sound. Interestingly, the music video was shot by famous American director McG.
Mary J. Blige - I'm Goin' Down (1994)
This is an amazing cover from Mary J. Blige, the original track was released by Rose Royce and featured on the Car Wash soundtrack. It's far more like old school soul, owing to the original version being from 1976, however the singer does somewhat update the track with her contemporary R&B style. As per usual, Mary J. Blige's voice is ridiculously good.
Macy Gray - Why Didn't You Call Me (1999)
Mostly known for her track 'I Try', Macy Gray also has a back catalogue of great neo-soul tracks, including this song from her 1999 album On How Life Is. Her voice is instantly recognisable and unique, this is quite a funky number and has a live jam feel to it.
Soul II Soul - Keep On Movin' (1989)
We cheated slightly here, this is actually from 1989 but we felt it had to be included as this is one of the earliest tracks to start the genre of neo-soul. Whilst this is electronic soul, it is also clearly a predecessor, and originator, of what later became known as neo-soul. It's a classic tune from british band Soul II Soul.
Jill Scott - Gettin' In The Way (2000)
This is a song about telling another woman that she 'better chill', well (as annoying as the word is to describe something) this is certainly chill. It's a soft drum beat and sounds like mellow R&B, but it wouldn't sound wrong as a slow hip-hop backing track. Great vocals on this, Jill Scott has a sassy and soulful voice to rival Mary J. Blige.
Maxwell - Sumthin' Sumthin' (1996)
This has some proper funky bass playing on it, a very sexy song from the 1996 concept album Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite. This track is a more upbeat contribution to the neo-soul genre, the instruments are all tight on this track with some vocals to rival the likes of Boyz II Men.
Q-Tip - Let's Ride (1999)
This is a funky hip-hop jam from Q-Tip, a man who clearly has taste as he pays tribute to Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, and Biggie at the start of the song. This features on his 1999 album Amplified, with a sample from Joe Pass' song 'Giant Steps'. The track almost feels like a neo-soul track that Childish Gambino would have taken influence from for his latest album.
Angie Stone - Everyday (1999)
A very similar sound to D'Angelo's Brown Sugar album, probably something to do with the fact that he wrote this track, this is our favourite kind of neo-soul. Angie Stone is another example of the neo-soul movements' incredible singers, she puts in a great vocal performance and the harmonies on this track are so damn smooth.
Common - The Light (2000)
This comes from his album Like Water for Chocolate and samples vocals from Bobby Caldwell's 'Open Your Eyes'. Common managed to bag himself a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance with this track. This is another tune that showcases how cool the merging of soul with hip-hop sounds. Common also uses the drum beat from one of The Detroit Emeralds songs.
Bilal - Soul Sista (2001)
This is one hell of a sexy jam from Bilal, another great pioneer of the neo-soul genre, this has some real soft funk vibes and sounds like a Prince influenced song. Bilal has a phenomenal voice and proves it on this record with his sensual performance on this number from his 2001 album 1st Born Second.
Erykah Badu - 4 Leaf Clover (1997)
The queen of neo-soul, Erykah Badu, featured this song on her debut album Baduizm in 1997. She also co-produced this track, it has that quintessential 90s style and an excellent piano riff throughout. Erykah Badu is another key artist from the neo-soul genre who blends hip-hip with jazz and soul in such a perfect way.
Raphael Saadiq - Uptown (2002)
This is a great track from his 2002 album Instant Vintage, a really funky number in the neo-soul genre. He has a real old-school sound, with gospel-like backing vocals and hip-hop drum beats. This may be somewhat later than the other tracks (yeah it's a 90s list, but the song fits) but there are so many beautifully layered vocals and instrumentations on this track that we had to include it.