Maxwell, Angie Stone

I don't envy those on the frontlines of the neo-soul revolution. Sure, there are perks: fame, fortune, a permanent spot on MTV2, the chance to hang out virtually every day with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots. But think of the demands: On the right you've got the neo-traditionalists, those aging soul devotees who'd much rather D'Angelo fill Marvin Gaye's shoes than Prince's and who view the inevitable DJ scratch as a slight against the purity of the live band. These people like Angie Stone. Then on the left you've got the revisionists, the younger crowd that digs fucking with history a bit, keeping intact the classic stuff's vocal emphasis but filtering it through high-tech studiocraft and hip-hop's enjambment aesthetic. These people like Macy Gray, who recently canceled her entire tour, including a December 6 date at Deep Ellum Live.

Yet, if you can remember back to soul's golden era (which I certainly can't, since I was about -6 years old, give or take), doesn't it seem like this bipartisanship wouldn't have flown back then? That statements like "What's Going On" would've rendered stylistic squabbles totally moot? Probably. But maybe that infighting doesn't even exist today. All the neo-soul players guest on each other's records (Stone on Gray's new one, Bilal on Erykah Badu's latest, Mos Def on everybody's everything), and they all seem to think they're living in one big happy vintage-clothes shop (especially Gray, who apparently never leaves home without wearing at least two outfits). Maybe we listeners have created the split, so enticed by niche marketing we've begun divvying up subsections into smaller and smaller micro-genres. After all, there's certainly enough of these characters to satisfy even the most particular taste: You just know Sunshine Anderson is off somewhere laying down a joint with Musiq Soulchild that is off the hook!

So let's take a lesson from all those celebs who just cut that new version of "What's Going On," the one where Ja Rule rubs elbows with Justin Timberlake and Fred Durst big-ups Nelly Furtado: Music, this kind particularly, is a healer and a balm, and it works best when it works together. You'll just have to excuse Gray's wardrobe--I really don't think she knows.

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Mikael Wood