Neo-soul and modern funk are quickly collecting the most talented and varied army of musically capable and artistically profound human beings in the world. It seems like every time we discover a new artist or are given a recommendation, their sound exists somewhere between the smooth stylings of Motown, the bouncing groove of the funk era, and the modern experimentation, musicianship, and vocal range of electronic, acoustic, hip-hop, and R&B. And to tell you the truth, we couldn’t be happier with the direction. There is something more listenable, more relatable, and simultaneously more musically well-rounded than in the music of any counterparts. Perhaps the very beauty of such artists is that the umbrella category with which we blanket them is so broad and loosely defined that their tendencies to exist in grey areas between genre is what makes them so special, so grabbing, and so approachable in the first place.
Like all musicians throughout history, neo-soul and modern funk artists make music about love, lust, the good, the bad, friends, family, and every other possible theme that touches us all on a daily basis, but the way with which they portray such themes feels far and away more discernable and realistic than other artists.
Songs about romance and sex by way of artists like Joel Culpepper often feel more on par with our own experiences than songs on the same subjects from The Weeknd, which can feel contrived and absurdist at times. Stories about struggle and loss are more grabbing and thorough when they come from the mouth of Anderson .Paak than when they are told by Lil Uzi Vert. Songs by D’Angelo touching the themes of friends, family, and our pasts usually bring to mind more colorful memories than music by Drake or Future. All of these artists are supremely talented, influential and important, but the route available and the level of musicianship necessary that come as prerequisites to create neo-soul and modern funk music, result in these artists touching us in ways that others don’t have the capacity or the lane to do so. While these neo-soul and modern funk artists may seem so much more tangible and relatable, they are probably some of the artists furthest removed from us average joes in terms of their musical genius.
It goes to show that it takes a hell of a lot to create any sort of art worth consuming and enjoying, but it takes another level entirely to create something relatable, approachable, and at the same time worthy of listening to. More even than their unique sound, musical genius and a knack for approachability is what has come to define the neo-soul movement – an explosive movement that can be largely traced back to the colliding of worlds when D’Angelo released Black Messiah in 2014. Motown meets modern R&B, funk meets hip-hop, jazz meets electronic, and all are brought together by one microphone-wielding wizard and turned into something new, far reaching, and undeniably powerful.
Since the release of Black Messiah, some of the biggest names in music, though at their core are truly undefinable by genre, find themselves most fitting of the labels neo-soul and funk. And two of the most exciting names that have come to light in recent years are Olivier St. Louis and Aaron Taylor.
Olivier St. Louis, born in D.C. and based out of Berlin, is one of the waviest bright spots whose music has graced our humble presence in recent months. We’ll be honest and up front about the fact that we were behind the ball on this one. Like many artists who attacked a wide-open neo-soul, modern funk, and R&B markets in the wake of Black Messiah, St. Louis put out his first EP, Black Music, in 2015. Since then, he has put out two further projects, Mr. St. Louis EP in 2016, and Ever Since the Fall in 2017 – the project that caught our notice and prompted a deep dive into his catalogue.
2017 was a special year for R&B and soul vocalists as a whole. A completely unparalleled exhibition of artists released tremendous projects during the calendar year, launching both stylings to the forefront of music’s current trends and progressions. As steep as the competition may have been, St. Louis and Ever Since the Fall had no problem standing out. His powerful falsetto easily descends and expands his range, providing tremendous depth to each and every song on the EP, while his knack and experience for production and his key role as a musician and experience in live band, Good Company, helped to usher in a new sound not just for St. Louis, but for the modern music scene as a whole. Musicianship reminiscent of old school Motown, funk, blues, and rock albums paints the gorgeous landscape for Ever Since the Fall, while his voice plays the role of Bob Ross’s paintbrush and dots the landscape with a thick forest of unique and effervescent vocal explosions whose quality matches anyone in the current R&B scene.
Speaking of happy trees, London-based vocal magnate, Aaron Taylor, always leaves his listeners in a higher mental state. First releasing under complete and total anonymity aside from his namesake with his 2016 EP, Still Life, he has since stepped into the limelight and been on a mission to release a fuller catalogue. A full-length album, Better Days later in 2016, a series of takes on well-embraced single, Saw You in My Dreams in 2017, and a bold and exciting track, Jaded less than a month ago leave us hoping something big is in the works and on the way soon.
Similar to St. Louis, Taylor’s presence as an unstoppable force at the microphone is simply part of his larger whole. In possession of a sound that lies somewhere between the soft, silky Ronald Isley and the rough, violent Rick James, Taylor’s vocal strength, like the legends of past epochs, also exists in perfect harmony with the rest of his music. Seemingly inspired by the great movements of the past, Taylor’s music exists as a perfect example of neo-soul and modern funk’s ability to not only transcend genre and style, but to transcend generations of music as well.
The ability of Olivier St. Louis and Aaron Taylor to create without the boundaries of styling or time is perhaps the thing that most brings their music together, and the thing that would ensure a collaboration between the two would result in fireworks and acclaim from a vast range of critics and fans alike. The wide vocal range and the guaranteed soul would leave goosebumps on listeners while the groove, the funk, and the boogie of the musicianship and the production would leave anyone and everyone making way to the dancefloor. A neo-soul and modern funk celebration that the world needs and a wider reach that both artists deserve.