Neo-soul sprouted in the early ‘90s with the intent to explore the contours of soul and R&B in new contexts. Since then, the success of releases like John Legend’s ‘Love in the Future’, an unmistakable product of G.O.O.D. Music, has shadowed a close-knit, experimental community of artists who still share the desire to challenge musical orthodoxy. The lack of experimentation in popular soul has made it difficult for artists like Bilal to associate with the neo-soul genre as redefined by Def Jam, Universal and Sony. Fortunately, contrasting sounds, which continue to focus on artist expression rather than popular appeal, are being produced just scrapes under the surface.

In 2012, they self-released their debut album ‘Tawk Tomahawk’ which led to their affiliation with Q-Tip, and neo-soul veterans Erykah Badu, Questlove, and Sa-Ra’s Shafiq Husayn. In the wake of their 2012 success, Hiatus Kaiyote has been building a presence in the UK, and will be in Manchester on November 20th at Mint Lounge.

This continued experimentation is hardly secluded to the spheres of soul and R&B, as the genre has spread from more traditional soul-revival groups like Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, whose Give The People What They Want will be released January 14th of next year, and more progressive artists like Thundercat. Co-produced by Flying Lotus, Thundercat’s summer album Apocalypse shows the same level of emotional engagement as work by D’Angelo, and as much musical variation as Erykah Badu’s The New Amerykah Part Two. Yet, songs ‘Oh Sheit it’s X’ and ‘Heartbreaks + Setbacks’ scream Brainfeeder with the influence of glitch.

Artists like DJ Jazzy Jeff, Jill Scott, and Erykah Badu have been directly shaping the genre by championing smaller artists such as LA-based Moonchild. The soulful sounds of their 2012 album Be Free are influenced by Bon Iver and John Coltrane, and their recent single ‘All the Joy’ is full of quirky analogue samples and distinguished by the vocals of Amber Navran. Robert Glasper has also contributed to the genre’s collaboration culture with the Robert Glasper Experiment. His project, a collaboration of some of the biggest names in soul, hip-hop and R&B, including Jean Grae and Common, will be releasing the much-anticipated ‘Black Radio 2’ on October 29th.

Jessica Roberts