What happened to neo-soul? In the latter part of the 1990s up until sometime after the year 2000, neo-soul was one of the most popular new genres to hit the air waves. Collectives were formed, commercials were made, and then out of nowhere the movement ended. Was this because of the over sensationalizing of the genre, becoming mainstream in every aspect from advertising promotions to pseudo artists popping up all over the place with misrepresentations of the music? Or was it because many of the famed artists who once embraced it left it behind in fear of becoming labeled or stereotyped? With all the ups and downs that neo-soul has been through, it stood the test of times. Musicians like Angie Stone, John Legend, and India.Aire are still holding it down, but there is a new crop of young singers who are emerging to take the mantel and expand upon it. One of those artists is Raheem DeVaughn. A native Washingtonian, DeVaughn worked his way up through shows performances and self promotion to help him land a recording deal with Jive that launched his critically acclaimed debut album The Love Experience. Raheem has not skipped a beat with his follow up LP Love Behind the Melody, proving that it will be a while before anyone can say that neo-soul is dead.
What separates DeVaughn from his R&B counterparts is that he comes from an angle of simplicity, not trying to reinvent the wheel, but just improving it. For example, the Grammy nominated and lead single “Woman” is a lovely song dedicated to the appreciation of the female gender, unlike many of the misogynistic tracks that we are used to hearing on mainstream radio. Assisted by a smooth beat, DeVaughn sings about the importance of a woman in one’s life, not just intimately, but in a general sense as he whales, “You can have a big ol’ car and a big ol’ house/But next to God nothing else amounts…” He later shows his appreciation of classic R&B on “Mo Better,” a throwback track that over soft horns DeVaughn tells his loved one how much his life has improved by being with her. This is an underlining theme on this album by that many of the songs are crafted in a classic soul fashion where the focus is placed on emotion and not just on physical attraction. But the true contrast to other R&B artists is on “Marathon” featuring Floetry. The exchange of love making rhetoric is tastefully done and is very descriptive. DeVaughn seems to have a way with words that make you image just what he is describing, leaving the listener feeling fully engaged.
As well as DeVaughn walks a tight rope between classic and modern day music, he seems to stumble on his quest for perfection. The poorly selected “My Girl” sample for “Friday (Shut the Club Down)” is obviously an album filler, but still comes off sounding lazy and uninspired. This is culminated with his emphasis on the classic sound that can sometimes misguide him, most notably the R Kelly-esque “Customer” where DeVaughn steals the concept of comparing a woman to an inanimate object or idea by comparing his treatment of her as to the one of a patron. Even the crooning on the track reminds you of Kells, that in one way or another takes away from originality and leaves DeVaughn cloaked in the essence of redundant cliché artists that this album helps him to escape.
Love Behind the Melody achieves exactly what it’s purpose was, to set DeVaughn out from his peers and launch him into the stratosphere of notoriety. By the looks from the accolades that he has obtained, it seems like the mission has been accomplished. – Ryan Harrison
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