32 Essential Neo Soul Artists (On 1 Playlist)

The return of Erykah Badu on Janelle Monae’s new song, “Q.U.E.E.N.“, reminded us of a genre that hasn’t seen much love in the past few years: Neo Soul. In the late ’90s, it seemed like everyone was exploring a world of retro R&B influenced by soul and hip hop but these days, the artists channeling this vibe are far and few between. We rounded up 32 artists that helped define this genre of music.

1. Aloe Blacc, “I Need A Dollar”

The singer emerged when his first single, “I Need A Dollar”, was used in the promos for the short-lived HBO series, How To Make It In America.

2. Amel Larrieux, “Get Up”

“Get Up” is the singer-songwriter’s most successful single to date, reaching 37 on R&B charts.

3. Angie Stone, “Brotha”

The ode to the man in her in life was penned by Stone and Raphael Saadiq who is responsible for a lot of the production on this list. Stone herself helped write and record D’Angelo’s early albums, Brown Sugar and Voodoo.

4. Anthony Hamilton, “Comin’ From Where I’m From”

“Comin’ From Where I’m From” is Anthony Hamilton’s breakout single, which earned him two Grammy nominations in 2003.

5. Blu Cantrell, “Hit ’Em Up Style (Oops!)”

Cantrell burst onto the scene with this “a man who done me wrong” anthem that took advantage of her jazzy vocals.

6. Corinne Bailey Rae, “Put Your Records On”

The British import became popular for her homegrown sound exemplified with the single, “Put Your Records On”.

7. D’Angelo, “Untitled (How Does It Feel)”

D’Angelo oozed all the sex into this single, which was made doubly popular by with the singer’s naked body in the music video.

8. Eric Benet, “Spend My Life With You”

Benet’s duet with Tamia topped the charts in 1999, during the height neo soul’s popularity on the radio.

9. Erykah Badu, “Tyrone (Live)”

Badu is the quintessential example of the sub-genre, earning her the title, “Queen of Neo Soul.” The live version of Tyrone is the best example of her sound that combines, R&B, jazz and hip-hop.

10. Esperanza Spalding, “Little Fly”

This jazz singer was around for a few years before she won 2011 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. The song is actually a William Blake poem set to music.

11. Estelle, “American Boy”

The singer teamed up with Kanye West for her debut single, which was the jam of the summer in 2008.

12. Floetry, “Say Yes”

“Say Yes” is the second single off the duo’s debut album and it’s definitely their sexiest song to date.

13. Gnarls Barkley, “Crazy”

Cee Lo Green randomly teamed up with DJ Danger Mouse but the result was something special: Gnarls Barkley paired Green’s silky voice with Mouse’s brilliant beats.

14. Goapele, “Closer”

Goapele expanded neo soul’s sound by mixing in trip hop and lieder on her debut album, Even Closer.

15. India.Arie, “Video”

“Video” earned the singer for Grammy nominations in 2002 and is her most successful (and popular) song to date.

16. Jill Scott, “A Long Walk”

Like Badu, Jill Scott is one of the sub-genre’s mainstays. “A Long Walk” was the second single from her debut album and definitely the happy-go-luckiest of album’s songs.

17. John Legend, “Used To Love U”

After playing backup for Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, Legend finally stepped out on his own with Get Lifted, which produced two singles: “Ordinary People” and “Used To Love U.”

18. Joss Stone, “Super Duper Love”

Stone, another British import, made a splash with a collection of cover songs that blended old school R&B, punk rock and doo wop vibes.

19. Kelis, “Trick Me”

It’s almost unfair to label Kelis as a neo soul singer, she’s much more than that, having explored punk, tech and alternative R&B throughout her career. “Trick Me” is her finest example of why she’s on this list.

20. Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”

The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill is a modern-day classic, combining retro R&B, hip hop, and soul. “Doo Wop” was her most fun, radio friendly track off that album.

21. Ledisi, “Alright”

Ledisi made her label debut on a Ella Fitzgerald tribute album, a sound and style of who’s she has channeled throughout her singing career.

22. Lina, “It’s Alright”

Lina made her debut with this jazzy, funk album, Stranger On Earth, which was named Pulse Magazine’s R&B Album Of The Year.

23. Lucy Pearl, “Dance Tonight”

Lucy Pearl was something of a soul and R&B supergroup, bringing together Raphael Saadiq, A Tribe Called Quest DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammed and Dawn Robinson from En Vogue. The group turned out one album that included stand out tracks, “Dance Tonight,” “Don’t Mess With My Man,” and “You.”

24. Macy Gray, “Do Something”

Gray is probably most famous for the singles, “I Try” and “Sweet Baby” (featuring Badu), but it’s her debut single (“Do Something”) that’s arguably her best song.

25. Maxwell, “Fortunate”

This love song penned by R. Kelly came from Maxwell’s second album, Embrya, in 1999. In a year heavy with R&B hits, the song managed to be the number one R&B song.

26. Musiq Soulchild, “Just Friends (Sunny)”

“Just Friends” was Soulchild’s lead single from his debut album, Aijuswanaseing, which fused blues, gospel and hip hop.

27. Nikka Costa, “Like A Feather”

Costa combined funk, blue-eyed soul and R&B in her debut album, Everybody Got Their Something, which included the song, “Like A Feather.” The track was most famous for being the soundtrack to the 2000 Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign.

28. Raphael Saadiq, “Sure Hope You Mean It”

If Badu is the Queen, then Saadiq is the “King of Neo Soul.” Following his days with Tony! Toni! TonĂ©!, the singer built a career on writing and producing hit records for everyone from D’Angelo to Whitney Houston.

29. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, “When The Other Foot Drops, Uncle”

The funkiest entry on the list, the Dap Kings are famous for filling out Amy Winehouse’s sound on Back To Black. Jones fronts this group with incredible passion needed to be seen live.

30. Solange Knowles, “I Decided”

Beyonce’s younger sister hasn’t quite reached the same level of fame, but Knowles has done a great job of building her own sound that has verged heavily into neo soul and alternative R&B.

31. Tweet, “Motel”

The singer made her debut with masturbatory single, “(Oops) Oh My.” But the song didn’t truly reflect her acoustic, soul vibe, which filled most of her debut album.

32. The Roots, “You Got Me”

The Roots have had an expansive career that rose to new heights with “You Got Me.” The song originally had Scott’s vocals instead of Badu’s but the switch was made last minute to include a more recognizable name.

Here they all are on playlist, for your listening pleasure.

[Photo Credit: Getty]