Indie artist Avery*Sunshine is a descendant of the Neo Soul movement.
Her latest effort, The Sunroom, fuses together Jazz, Gospel and Soul, keeping alive this genre, which is still young but vibrant. In 2010, Avery Sunshine (whose real name is Denise Nicole White) recorded her self-titled debut album and received critical praise for her music in The Washington Post, touting her album as a “radiant brand of Soul.” Even though she has been on the scene for a relatively short period of time, Avery*Sunshine is proving that Neo Soul’s presence continues to thrive as more artists emerge with this type of Soul.
Neo Soul surfaced when music executive Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records coined the term in the 1990s. This was his way to market the merging of contemporary R&B and Soul music, which also incorporated elements of Jazz, Pop, Hip-Hop and Funk, as well as heavy tones of Gospel – much of which often exhibits ‘culturally-conscious’ lyrics. One of the first artists to emerge from Neo Soul was D’Angelo with his first album, Brown Sugar, which took traditional and contemporary R&B and sprinkled in Funk, Quiet Storm and Hip-Hop. His album spent more than 65 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 Charts and was certified platinum.
Erykah Badu, who was one of Massenburg’s artists at the time, is credited as the foundation of Neo Soul. Erykah Badu is known as the “First Lady of Neo Soul,” and many of her albums are considered a model for the genre. She incorporated live instruments, African musical beats and groove music to lyrics that dealt with relationship and love issues mixed with more of a mellow and melancholy vibe.
During the mid to late 1990s, Neo Soul revved up with Erykah Badu, Maxwell and Lauren Hill and remained strong as other artists stepped into the limelight. And as the lineup of singers expanded, so did the genre as other elements showed up in Neo Soul such as poetry. Jill Scott is a prime example of how Neo Soul began to blossom over the years. Her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, incorporated spoken word with her brand of Soul and R&B, and she won legions of fans to the genre.
In early 2000s, the movement experienced a brief decline after Jill Scott, India.Arie and Musiq Soulchild as artists’ albums didn’t have as much of the commercial success as their Pop counterparts. However, it didn’t completely die as Neo Soul had some success with the debut of Alicia Keys’ Songs in A Minor. But in 2010, Neo Soul quickly picked up again with a revival from such artists as John Legend and Anthony Hamilton, who are commercially successful and critically acclaimed.
Neo Soul continues to evolve and can be witnessed through a new set of singers, particularly U.K. British artist Sam Smith, who has a hit duet with Mary J. Blige titled Stay With Me. He is one of a hand full of “Blue-eyed Soul” artists making their mark in Neo Soul.
Artists like Avery*Sunshine are the up-and-coming part of this genre’s evolution, which rejuvenates and extends Neo Soul. Like many of its predecessors, Neo Soul is a culmination of other genres and would not have existed without the influence that these artists and genres poured into music.