The history of the modern music industry is littered with etymological cadavers: genres, sub-genres and re-inventions, coined by commercial impetus or critical hubris, that never amounted to much more than a blip on the historical radar.
And yet for all the failings of many of these words, the music that underpins them generally lives on through sheer creative force, long after the labels, journalists or artists have moved on.
Neo soul is one such cadaver, one that has continued to produce spams of creative life some 20 years since it first emerged. The term was coined by Kedar Massenburg in the late 1990s as a marketing category for the increasingly popular music of a new generation of soul artists such as D'Angelo, Erikah Badu and Maxwell. In 2002, Massenburg admitted to the paradoxical nature of such categories: classification leads to fads, but the industry needs them to tell its consumers what they're getting. Neo soul has an additional paradoxical nature, as pointed out by Vibe writer Dimitri Ehrlich in the same year: "Neo means new. Soul is timeless." The word was doomed to fail from the get go. The music, however, has remained true to its timeless roots.