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Smooth: 10 Definitive Neo-Soul Tracks

Smooth: 10 Definitive Neo-Soul Tracks

Nearly 12 years after the release of Voodoo, Michael Eugene Archer, better known for his stage name, D'Angelo, has emerged out of his self-imposed exile. After doing battle with drugs and alcohol for a decade, last week the singer kicked off a European tour entitled The D-Tour, for his first live performances since 2000. If you haven't seen the videos, the guy seems to have legitimately turned a corner -- he's back to a reasonable weight, for one thing -- and the handful of shows he's done have been full of new songs that are proof the singer hasn't missed a beat.

With ?uestlove reporting to Pitchfork that D'Angelo's new album, over 10 years in the making, is 97 percent done, there seems to be enough cause to feel good about soul music again. That being said, we compiled ten must-haves from the '90s boom to hold you over.

And please, let us know of any oversights in the comment section.

10. "Soul Sista," Bilal

Bilal's an often forgotten face from the Neo-Soul generation. He never had a Top 40 hit, and he sold the fewest number of records among the major players of era. Bilal found his niche somewhere between R&B and hip-hop, not close enough to either to claim a definitive genre, and cashed in on the revitalized soul sound to modest success.

9. "Still Ray," Raphael Saadiq

No Neo-Soul retrospective is complete without Saadiq. After the break up of Tony! Toni! Toné!, he disappeared from the public eye, and spent his time as a producer and session guitarist. When his first solo album, Still Ray, hit shelves in '02, gems like the title track announced the gospedelic return of a soul pioneer.

8. "You Got Me," The Roots

Things Fall Apart was the best of both worlds for the Philly natives: not only was it the band's most critically acclaimed album, but soul-tinged tracks like "You Got Me" made it one of their most commercially successful as well.

7. "(Lay Your Head on My) Pillow," Tony! Toni! Toné!

Tony! Toni! Toné! was doing Neo-Soul way before the movement took off in 1995. The Oakland trio, led by Raphael Saadiq, achieved only moderate fame during their early-'90s tenure, but without classic tracks like "(Lay Your Head on My) Pillow" the idea for a R&B re-genesis may have never crept into the heads of guys like Maxwell or D'Angelo

6. "Aquemini," OutKast

It's a stretch, we know. But when the Atlanta hip-hop duo released Aquemini in 1998, Andre 3000 was in the thick of an affair with Soulquarian Erkyah Badu, and her influence is all too evident on this deep track. The sulking, understated guitar loop and heavy R&B vibe make the music sound like a long lost Badu take, and adds up to one of legendary group's most diversified songs.

 

5. "Didn't Cha Know," Erkyah Badu

Badu's thick Texas drawl brought a unique flavor to the group of revivalists. The Dallas native's sophomore effort, Mama's Gun, produced several hits, including her best-known track, "Bag Lady," but "Didn't Cha Know" is the quintessential Badu tune: a steady, slow-burning bass-and-drum combo, with the singer's characteristic raspy moan luring listeners into a trance.

4. "Chicken Grease," D'Angelo

D'Angelo's second album, Voodoo, was five long years in the making. In that time, the soul mystic was to said to have studied the "Yodas" of soul -- Prince, Sly Stone and James Brown -- in week-long jam sessions at Electric Lady Studios. To this day, the album is most often remembered for the soft-core porn video of "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," but "Chicken Grease" was the gem that signified the pinnacle of Neo-Soul

3. "Ascension," Maxwell

In 1996, Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite introduced the world to the suave, Afro-ed crooner in characteristically smooth fashion. The album didn't catch on with listeners especially fast, but when BET debuted the video for "Ascension," Max became a hit overnight.

2. "Ex-Factor," Lauryn Hill

In light of the Fugees' ugly, public break-up, Ms. Hill had a lot to prove as she entered the studio to start recording The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill -- her first solo effort sans collaborator/producer Wyclef Jean. To no one's surprise, the album was groundbreaking, and earned the singer five Grammy awards, including the coveted Album of the Year.

1. "Lady," D'Angelo

When D'Angelo dropped his debut album, Brown Sugar, the shy, soft-spoken singer drew instant comparisons to soul legends Donnie Hathaway and Marvin Gaye. Critics lauded the artist for his blend of R&B and hip-hop, and women for his sensual voice and modelesque good looks. When the Richmond, Va. native rose to fame in 1995, it was clear a soul revival was in the making -- and that he was leading the way.


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