February 10, 2010

Corrine Bailey Rae says "I don't really know what neo-soul is"

Do you blame her for not wanting to be labeled as representing neo-soul music? Listen to Meredith Viera's first question to Corrine Bailey Rae on a recent appearance on NBC's The Today Show.

The term neo soul was initially coined by Kedar Massenburg of Motown Records in the late 1990s as a marketing category following the commercial breakthroughs of artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, and Maxwell. Has there ever been a more detrimental term is the history of Black music for a recording artist? To be called an underground hip-hop artist is close to being on the same plane.

In reality, I don't think anyone really knows what neo-soul is. What do you think of when you hear "neo-soul"? Whoever you think of or whatever your definition; you can almost guarantee very little commercial appeal for that artist and no radio airplay. Neo soul could be a euphemism for: "I actually have talent but refuse to be packaged in the image of some urban music record executive."

Maybe it's a good thing for neo-soul artist to strike out on their own; doing small concert dates and promoting their mostly independently produced albums. In the meantime I'm sure many artists would love to have just a bit of radio airplay.

However Urban AC radio is the least bit interested in playing so-called neo-soul artists. It's a Catch-22 situation. Listeners aren't interested in hearing music from artist they don't know. Radio is not going to play artist that will drive away listeners. But how are listeners going to know about these artist unless they hear them on the radio.

The only major urban station that incorporates neo-soul music in their playlist is KRNB 105.7 in Dallas. You will occasionally hear non-mainstream R&B music on 96.3 WHUR in Washington, DC. Even 107.9 WRNB in Philadelphia has abandoned their "R&B from the 90's and Today" slogan even though neo-soul was never really part of their playlist mix.

The term neo-soul never caught on with music listening public in large numbers. But this past year Maxwell did catch on. Maxwell emerged out of the music genre equivalent of a black hole to massive urban commercial appeal. Although mainstream crossover success has eluded him.

Now you know why Corrine Bailey Rae said what she said.

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