Neo soul is a genre of popular music. As a term, it was coined by music industry entrepreneur Kedar Massenburg during the late 1990s to market and describe a style of music that emerged from soul and contemporary R&B. Heavily based in soul music, neo soul is distinguished by a less conventional sound than its contemporary R&B counterpart, with incorporated elements ranging from funk, jazz fusion, hip hop, and African music to pop, rock, and electronic music. It has been noted by music writers for its traditional R&B influences, conscious-driven lyrics, and strong female presence.
Neo soul developed during the 1980s and early 1990s, in the United States and United Kingdom, as a soul revival movement. It earned mainstream success during the 1990s, with the commercial and critical breakthroughs of several artists, including D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Maxwell. Their music was marketed as an alternative to the producer-driven, digitally approached R&B of the time, although many of them were ambivalent about the term.
Since its initial mainstream popularity and impact on the sound of contemporary R&B, neo soul has been expanded and diversified musically through the works of both American and international artists. Its mainstream presence declined during the 2000s, although newer artists emerged through more independent means of marketing their music. According to music journalist Mark Anthony Neal, “neo-soul and its various incarnations has helped to redefine the boundaries and contours of black pop.”