Retro Neo: Reaux Marquez on How Neo-Soul Produced Some of the Best Rappers

Keith Nelson Jr. Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop,…
Reaux Marquez
Reaux Marquez's debut album, NO ROADS, is a Kendrick Lamar-esque conceptual journey through a wildfire with no way out. Photo Credit: Okayplayer

Speaking for this installment of Retro Neo, Reaux Marquez discusses the conceptual aspects of his music, how neo-soul helped the careers of rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and the artists taking the genre forward this decade.

Nashville, Tennessee is steeped in Black soul with greats like Jimi Hendrix and Little Richard having  early career starts in Music City. Up-and-coming neo-soul artist Reaux Marquez of the Nashville hip-hop collective Black City, Funky Tenn is from that lineage, introducing many in Nashville to a neo-soul sound the city has seldom produced. His debut album, NO ROADS, is a Kendrick Lamar-esque conceptual journey through a wildfire with no way out.

He’s the manifestation of the expansiveness of neo-soul he was raised on.

“Neo-soul covers the whole spectrum. They may discuss issues but they always come with a solution at the end,” Reaux Marquez said. “They don’t just give you questions, they give you answers at the same time.” 

Speaking for this installment of Retro Neo, Reaux Marquez discusses the conceptual aspects of his music, how neo-soul helped the careers of rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, and the artists taking the genre forward this decade.

What is your earliest memory of neo-soul?

Reaux Marquez: I can’t really pinpoint it. I was raised by mostly women, so Erykah Badu and India Arie were big. D’Angelo, too, and all of that type of shit. On those long rides with my mom, going wherever we were driving to, that music kept me grounded. 

What are some of your favorite neo-soul songs?

I have to go with Erykah Badu, off top. So, we’re going to go with “Bag Lady.” I’m a conceptual nigga and I like conceptual songs. I feel like “Bag Lady” is a bar. We’re going to go with D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” and “Really Love.” Niggas be sleeping on “Really Love.” That’s the one. 

Your music is also very conceptual. When you listen to your music, what do you draw from from neo-soul?

What I draw from neo-soul is the attitude. It’s the grittiness on whatever topic you want to float over; the authenticity of the shit. Neo-soul covers the whole spectrum. They may discuss issues but they always come with a solution at the end. They don’t just give you questions, they give you answers at the same time.  

What song from your latest album, No Roads, would you put in between two classic neo-soul records on a playlist and which songs would those be?

I’m going to definitely go with “EPISODE 11: ARSONIST, WITH LOVE” or “ON MY SIDE” with Yours Truly Jai. “HIGH” could also fit in a neo-soul space. For a song like “HIGH” I’d put Noname’s “Prayer Song” before it and Jamila Woods’s “BASQUIAT” after.

The artists we claim are the best artists when it comes to rapping — Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Big K.R.I.T. — there wouldn’t be any of them without neo-soul. It’s a sense of community in their tone. The tone and pocket that we’re in, since I consider myself a neo-soul artist, brings questions and solutions. It’s all about real life issues.

Who are some underrated neo-soul artists in the history of the genre?

Noname for sure. I’d say Smino too.  Also, Jamila Woods. I love that woman. Her whole LEGACY! LEGACY! album was inspiring as help and I definitely see her being a go-to name when we talk about neo-soul in the next five years.

As a musician, what sounds go into making neo-soul music to you?

Since our voices are an instrument, I’ll go with the background vocals. The way we stack certain words and stretch out certain phrases is uniquely neo-soul. You hear some background vocals and it just takes you to that space, along with the drum loop and the space around the snares and the hi-hats. 

What neo-soul songs would you love to cover that you think you could add a twist to?

I would cover thats song “GIOVANNI” by Jamila Woods only because I was singing that shit for three weeks straight when she dropped it. 

Who are some artists you think will lead  the next decade of neo-soul?

SiR, Ari Lennox, NoName, Smino, and Yours Truly Jai.

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Keith Nelson Jr. is a journalist who has covered hip-hop, technology, and movies/TV for VIBE, Revolt, Digital Trends, Flaunt Magazine, and more. Follow him @JusAire

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