During the late '90s, neo-soul was as exciting as any development in urban music. It was one of those terms that the musicians detested -- a record executive coined the phrase, not them -- because they made soul music, pure and simple. They didn't consider themselves "neo" soul revivalists. Yet artists like Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Angie Stone and many others were connected aesthetically. They guested on each other's records, and in press interviews they decried the increasing mechanization of the R&B industry. Ironically, mainstream R&B was going through its own celebration of classic soul tropes, too. A cursory listen to late '90s hit records by Mary J. Blige, Donell Jones and others will uncover the same Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Al Green references that the neo-soul rebels used. Perhaps the latter camp seemed more sincere in their quest to bring back old-school values, at least at the time.
The neo-soul scene inspired some classic albums, from D'Angelo's (only?) two full-lengths to lesser-known suites by Rahsaan Patterson and Joi Gilliam. But by 2000 and Jill Scott's debut, Who Is Jill Scott?: Words and Sounds Vol. 1, it was being subsumed by the urban adult contemporary format. Some artists rebelled against the typecasting -- before he disappeared, D'Angelo was planning a psych-rock record -- while others, notably Raphael Saadiq, jumped on the retro-soul bandwagon. So this playlist has a narrow focus on the glory years of neo-soul, when it seemed like it was the sound of the future.