Many fans of contemporary R&B are wondering where their beloved soul music has gone, as many artists are leaning towards the hip-hop beat of pop culture. Some wonder if artists are feeling pressured into newer sounds that leave no room for the steady, smooth sound of soul. Others are concerned that soul music is losing touch with its original African-American artists and audience.
Soul music may have lost its ground over the years, but artists like D’Angelo are revamping their sound and releasing new songs. After 14 years, D’Angleo— a.k.a. Michael Eugene Archer—came out with a new album in December called Black Messiah. Within the first week, Black Messiah reached number five on the U.S. Billboard charts and sold around 117,000 units.
Another artist, Jazmine Sullivan, almost half the age of D’Angelo, released her third album at the beginning of this year. Reality Show was released after nearly five years since her last. There was a positive buzz over her smooth soul sound, and the album sold around 30,000 units after the week of its release on Jan. 13.
Writer Ryan B. Patrick said that Sullivan’s album is “an R&B album that feels like how R&B used to sound circa late 90’s/early 2000 while still coming off as forward-looking.”
“Soul music is an authentic gift from God that connects its audience in a way that people feel,” Sullivan shared. “My hiatus helped me to focus on me the woman [I am] so that I could continue to be creative and try to put out great music.”
The foundation of soul music rests on the authenticity of its artists. Expression of the soul is the true mark of the genre. Sullivan doesn’t take that requisite lightly.
She said, “I’m enjoying that people are listening to my words as well as my voice because my words will live longer than my voice. Anyone can sing my songs just as beautifully as I, but they can never take my words from me.”
Despite the negativity of the shift in R&B’s style in the last decade and half, Sullivan is hopeful. She believes things are lining up perfectly for the return of soul.
“Undoubtedly, R&B has gone through some changes that has led to disadvantages for the genre,” explained Sullivan. “But with continued success of music like [my album] as well as other great music from other R&B artists that have stayed true to themselves, I am convinced that it can make the comeback that I believe people have been hoping for.”
Contemporary music artists of the soul genre typically do take extended breaks before big releases. Artists like D’Angelo, Maxwell, Jill Scott, and Lauryn Hill are notorious for their hiatuses.
Raheem Vaughn recently released Love, Sex and Passion. He says, “A Raheem Devaughn album helps D’angelo and helps Jazmine Sullivan and vice versa. It helps the culture that we’ve contributed to and that we’re continuing to preserve through our art. I feel like R&B and soul music is in resurgence. It’s coming back—though it really never went [anywhere].”