The Rise of the Retro & Neo-Soul Music Movement

D'Angelo
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Paul Natkin/Getty Images

This week on My Classic Soul podcast, Soulmusic.com founder and host David Nathan chats with A&R specialist Darone Bowers to discuss the rise of the Retro and Neo-Soul music movement in the late 80s, through the mid 90s. Their lovely conversation centers around the emergence of key artists, such as D'Angelo, Brian McKnight, Angie Stone, Lalah Hathaway and the influence of her father, the legendary Donny Hathaway as well as the late Betty Wright. Tune into the full podcast below.

ON THE DEFINITION OF NEO-SOUL: 

BOWERS: "When Neo-Soul came about, it was around '95, '96. And it was a different sound when it came. The album that stuck out to me the most that changed t was the Brown Sugar album from D'Angelo. And what that it was reminiscent of New Jack Swing because when New Jack Swing was a combination of R&B and hip hop at that time, kind of dance music, even in the ballads."

"Neo-Soul was kind of the same thing. It was a very dusty sample-sounding R&B with real talented soul voices. And D'Angelo, really the - I can't say the birth of it or the King of it - but that was the first time that I really noticed it. And then that following year we got Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite, which was a real big record in that following year."

"We got Erykah Badu's Badiuzm, and with those three records, everything that followed it, it kinda set a bar and everything we got after that in that strain was really Neo-Soul. I remember the term was coined from Kedar Massenburg, who was the manager of Erykah Badu. So it was one of those things where the term was coined that in the late '90s. But by that time you had those epic albums out, by that time."

ON THEIR FIRST NEO-SOUL PERFORMANCE: 

NATHAN: "I remember vividly seeing D'Angelo at a showcase. It was in Philadelphia at the the international association of African American music award show every year. "D'Angelo was a showcase at that. I'd have to look at the date. Do you know what year Brown Sugar come out?"

BOWERS: "Brown sugar came out in the spring of 95."

NATHAN: "So this would probably have been in 1994, I think I'm not sure I'd have to look at the dates, but the point being is to showcase it. It was giving people a preview of what to expect from him. And most vividly stays in my mind is he sat at the piano. He sat at the piano and played - I don't recall that there were any other musicians and literally had the whole audience. These are industry people, people in record companies. These were some journalists obviously, and it wasn't open to the public, so to speak. So it was an industry event. I remember people chatting afterwards, 'Wow. That's amazing.'"

"And the first reference that people made after watching D'Angelo wasn't that he sounded like this artist, but it was kind of like a kind of throwback to Donny Hathaway because Donny Hathaway sat at the piano. I recall thinking D'Angelo is like the first of his generation that I'm seeing, sitting at the piano company accompanying himself."

ON WORKING WITH RETRO SOUL'S BRIAN MCKNIGHT:

NATHAN: "I refer to Brian McKnight, who I had the opportunity to work with his media coach and also, do his first bio as Retro Soul, which was diff which Neo-Soul because retro meaning it kind of took us back in the tradition of other artists. In the case of Brian McKnight, there wasn't a parallel so much with Donnie Hathaway, it was more Stevie Wonder because there was some Brian's voice that kind of elicited that kind of sound."

Listen to the rest of the podcast here

 

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