The new millennium must’ve provided (exceptional) inspiration because we were blessed with four albums that over a decade later are still sonically and lyrically relevant. At a period where people were unsure about the direction of R&B, these four albums provided sounds that took a different path, hence a lot of releases coming under the genre of ‘Neo-Soul’.
Firstly, Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun”, her second studio album after a short hiatus and becoming a parent with André 3000. Badu had become a member of the collective ‘Soulquarians’ which consisted of likeminded musicians such as D’Angelo, J Dilla and Common. Although Mama’s Gun wasn't as commercially successful as “Baduizm”, its soulful feel still connected with fans. Badu mentioned in an interview “When I started to tour again and saw all the people show up who knew the words, it was confirmation that the work is not always for commercial success. It's also for spiritual upliftment”. Numbers aren’t everything but there’s a song for every mood on this album.
It’s no coincidence that D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was released in the same year with a similar but unique feel to “Mama’s Gun”. It was also D’Angelo’s second album and both albums along with Common’s “Like Water for Chocolate” were recorded simultaneously in the same studio. Voodoo’s commercial success doesn't depict the feeling and emotion that this album emits. D’Angelo revealed in an interview that the album came after a musical journey, “I had to reiterate why I was doin’ that in the first place, and the reason was the love for the music”, that love definitely translates.
Jill Sott’s “Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol.1” was the Philadelphia Vocalist’s first studio album. It’s hard to believe that such a complete sounding album can be a musicians first attempt but if you’ve listened to Scott’s music you know she’s not any musician. Strong elements of Jazz, Soul, and R&B are consistent throughout the album, without it sounding dated or static. Commercially and critically it was a success, going double platinum and receiving Grammy nominations for Best R&B album, with 3 songs off the album receiving nominations for best R&B vocal performance too.
Musiq Soulchild’s “Aijuswanaseing” completes the quartet. We’ve previously mentioned the album in our Albums on Rotation segment, so you know it’s got the 94Five stamp of approval. The album infuses elements of Jazz, Soul, R&B, and Gospel, taking you on a journey through real life and relatable topics. The album still has a place on my playlist, and I can’t see it ever coming off.
2000 was a unique year for Neo-Soul and I’m unsure if we’ll have another like it, we can hope.