Mic Drop: Soul as a Whole—and How it Continues to Grow

Mic Drop: Soul as a Whole—and How it Continues to Grow

Shelley FKA DRAM – Exposure
Shelley FKA DRAM – Exposure
Screenshot: YouTube

Soul, man it’s what drives music as a whole. As with all things, music adapts to what’s current, already going on. In recent years, the concept of the genre has transformed into whatever a specific artist identifies with, whether that’s the backing tracks, lyrics or melodies, soul has become a much more approachable genre. Neo-soul, a sub-genre launched in the mid-‘90s, is influenced by funk, punk, jazz and hip hop, moving away from its musical counterpart, R&B. Nearly 30 years later, “neo” isn’t so new anymore, but even still, it seems like alternative R&B artists such as Noname, Masego and Smino are continuing to shift towards the neo soul genre.

Soul has also embedded itself into this week’s tracks, as in a release from Adrian Younge, who speaks on the state of the treatment of Black men in this country. In the same vein, Tobe Nwigwe expresses his thoughts on the same topic and creates a very funky hip hop track that includes pop-culture references and hard-hitting statements.

Going back to our roots has always been part of what soul is about, and gospel singer Evvie McKinney puts emphasis on her southern roots in her latest track, allowing listeners to catch a glimpse into how soul music is rooted in Black religious practices. Cautious Clay quite literally goes back into his roots but pulls out the funkier side of the genre, while Leon Bridges—who’s been about that soul life since the beginning—gives us a different perspective with a gospel collaboration with Keite Young.

Soul has been around for a while, and while it may evolve, it’s clearly not going anywhere, especially if artists like this continue to do it justice in all the best ways.

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Adrian Younge – “Light on the Horizon”

Adrian Younge – “Light on the Horizon”

Light on the Horizon” performed by Sam Drew gives us insight in response to recent events surrounding Black people and what’s happening in the world. The message behind the lyrics, “I can see the light on the horizon” is beautifully conveyed through not only the lyrics, but the different layered instrumentals. The melancholy tone of Drew’s vocals are soft yet desperate, which melds with the building piano melodies in the soulful ballad. The song opens with bright sounds bells which lead into a horns and drums section which play hand in hand with the eerie electric guitar parts, while the lyrics feel like a plea for inner strength, as well as seeking compassion and empathy from others.

February 26, 2021, Jazz is Dead (R&B/Soul)

Corrected: March 2, 2021, at 6:30 pm, ET: An earlier version of this post stated that “Light on the Horizon” was performed by Adrian Younge. Additionally, “Light on the Horizon” was produced by Jazz is Dead, and the post has been amended to reflect that.

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Cautious Clay – “Roots”

Cautious Clay – “Roots”

Cautious Clay’sRoots” features a very laid-back drum beat with emphasis on high hats and kick drums and a clear and clean bassline. The lyric video features a man holding a three-way mirror that reflects the ocean behind it. The song feels both relatable because of the lyrics’ humorous tone, (“let’s get tacos and a red punch”) yet dark (“gotta trust it in the process/because nothing lasts forever anyway/got my best advice from a broken screen display”). Clay is known for his incredible vocal range and doesn’t hold anything back on this track, the third from his upcoming album.

February 24, 2021, Cautious Clay (R&B)

Corrected: March 1, 2021, at 9:20 pm, ET: An earlier version of this post stated that “Roots” is the first single from Cautious Clay’s upcoming album. It is the third, and the post has been amended to reflect that.

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Chloe x Halle – “80/20”

Chloe x Halle – “80/20”

Chloe x Halle have done it again! Their dynamic vocals seamlessly meld together (as always) and give us a song that is good for throwing it back but also sitting on the living room floor and vibing alone. One thing I love about Chloe x Halle is the way they use instruments as a way to distinguish parts of their songs; this track includes a Spanish-sounding electric guitar in the introduction which shifts to an acoustic guitar as the song progresses. From guitar shifts to beat drops to a capella, Chloe x Halle have mastered keeping listeners enthralled from the opening note until a song closes. 80/20 is off of their album Ungodly Hour (chrome edition), which you can stream here.

February 26, 2021, Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia (R&B)

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Evvie McKinney – “Do It Again”

Evvie McKinney – “Do It Again”

Have you ever put on a song and it just shook you down to your core? With lyrics, the vocals, the melodies, the delivery, just made you think, “well damn…” Evvie McKinney delivers on all accounts. As the song develops, the drums, guitar and bass layer upon themselves, constantly changing but never losing the original focal point. The backdrop for the video takes place in a lounge, adding to the sultry and smooth ambiance of the song... man, I want that silver sequin dress. And can we talk about her vocal range? Not just anyone can be a gospel singer, but Evvie is definitely working her way to be up there with the greats. Do It Again is a single off of McKinney’s newest EP, This Is Evvie McKinney, available now.

February 26, 2021, Motown Gospel (Soul)

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Jhené Aiko – “Lead the Way”

Jhené Aiko – “Lead the Way”

Any time there can be more representation of Black people, specifically girls, in film and TV, I’m here for it. Raya and the Last Dragon, the newest animated movie from Disney+ features Lead the Way by Jhené Aiko. Aiko’s music usually falls under the R&B umbrella and she’s known for her darker, more sensual songs. However, Lead the Way, shows us a different side to her vocals–poppier and definitely more upbeat. Aiko’s voice also takes on a different ethereal quality to it in this song, hovering at an alto level which adds to the brightness of the music. The song uses electronic beats and synth sounds to give it a bubbly and ethereal tone. Raya and the Last Dragon premieres on Friday, March 5 on Disney+.

February 26, 2021, Walt Disney Records (Pop/R&B)

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Kevin Holliday – “Lonely”

Kevin Holliday – “Lonely”

I’ve been a fan of and listening to Kevin Holliday since he was performing in a tiny shack somewhere on Wesleyan University’s campus. From hip hop to R&B to soul and everywhere in between, Holliday can do it. With that in mind, his newest release Lonely is the perfect amalgamation of punk, funk and a little R&B. While the punk—specifically Brit-punk—influences are clearly present, Holliday’s vocals add that level of R&B that is needed to make the song multidimensional. This song makes me feel like I should be in an ‘80s movie dancing around at a slumber party or some underground club. Because Holliday has released a diverse portfolio of music, he is able to experiment with different genres such as punk and punk rock while keeping his signature funk and R&B edge.

February 24, 2021, Gray Records (Punk)

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Leon Bridges, Keite Young – “Like A Ship”

Leon Bridges, Keite Young – “Like A Ship”

Leon Bridges and Keite Young collaborated to create a cover of Pastor T.L. Barrett’s Like A Ship. The song is part of a collection from the Truth to Power Project, to be released in full on Record Store Day 2021 (June 12). The song is a jazzy, soulful cover of the original gospel version; backing vocals led by Young include reverberating and overlapping tones, giving it its original big church choir feel. Bridge’s silky and smooth voice builds and blends well with the composition of the music, and the electric guitar in place of the traditional organ is a beautiful touch.

February 26, 2021, Columbia (Soul)

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Noname – “Rainforest”

Noname – “Rainforest”

Imagine you’re in the middle of the jungle, the sounds of birds and water and wind and leaves around you, suddenly inspiring you to move. Well, Noname makes that happen for us in “Rainforest” using mellow drums, ambient sounds and a muted beat to give a jungle/rainforest vibe. The song combines a lowkey dance beat with lyrics that tackle important topics. The art that accompanies the video further explores these topics, with two men standing on top of a car surrounded by others doing the same thing. Also, the lyric “and I just want to dance tonight” really hits home because we all just want things to go back to “normal,” and just want to dance like before.

February 26, 2021, Noname (Neo Soul)

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Shelley FKA DRAM – “Exposure”

Shelley FKA DRAM – “Exposure”

In the middle of the party, bitch / I just wanna be your man.” Actually, disregard that first part because Shelley FKA DRAM (Broccoli, Caretaker, Cash Out) has shifted from a trap house hype man vibe to a neo-soul/R&B artist–and I am absolutely here for it. Shelley utilizes a full band set up—drums, keyboard, bass and electric guitar on this track. Unconditional love is the driving force behind “Exposure,” with Shelley hoping to convince someone of his undying love by exposing all of his own insecurities. On top of the beautiful lyrics, the set is funky as fuck. A combination of high-tech electronics mixed with old-school televisions–which apparently are very in right now–gives the set and video the intimate vibe it’s looking for.

February 26, 2021, W.A.V.E Recordings/EMPIRE/Atlantic (Neo Soul/R&B)

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Tobe Nwigwe – “Give It Back”

Tobe Nwigwe – “Give It Back”

Let’s talk about some funky hip-hop and how Nigerian-American rapper Tobe Nwigwe is pulling out all the stops in his new single “Give It Back. His flow and rhymes feel very influenced by “typical” hip-hop flow with short lines and clipped words. However, the beat and backing tracks sound like they’re inspired by his Nigerian heritage. His rhymes are a combination of hard-hitting topics and ironic pop culture references such as the recent GameStop stock incident. But the most iconic moment is his perfect mic drop moment, which clearly we loved.

February 23, 2021, Tobe Nwigwe (Hip Hop)

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