Retro Neo: Q on Taking D’Angelo’s Essence And Making His Own Music
In the latest installment of our Retro Neo series, R&B singer Q describes how neo-soul is the identity of the Black community.
R&B singer Q can make internal battles with demons and the simple smell of lavender sound like grand productions amplifying simple human truths — as neo-soul is known to do. His mother singing in the church and playing neo-soul gave him a deeper connection to the sub-genre. He knew how it was made, and understood what neo-soul really meant.
“I think [neo-soul] is one of the biggest foundations around, especially for even the new generation because that's what they gravitate to more," Q said. "They gravitate to more neo-soul than traditional soul. There's a lot of neo-soul songs that we cry to and there's a lot of neo-soul songs that we fly to.”
After a standout appearance on the remix to Baby Rose’s “Show You,” Q has begun emerging from relative reclusion to being one of the best new neo-soul artists in the world, even if he doesn’t fully see how he fits. In the latest installment of Retro Neo, Q describes how neo-soul is the identity of the Black community, Solange’s affect on his appreciation of neo-soul, and the possibility of him doing an all neo-soul project.
You sang in the church, your mom worked with reggae legends and artists. What is your earliest memory of being introduced to neo-soul?
Q: Neo-soul, that comes from my mom's side of things, for sure. She definitely was more tapped into that. She didn't play it a lot but when she did, it was a vibe.
And at around what age would you say you first got into that kind of sound?
Now these are questions that I have not been asked, specifically that. You know the [Jill Scott] song ["Golden]? My mom, she would just run that song. [sings song] Yeah, my mom would just sit there and play that on the keyboard every day.
What three neo-soul albums would you say really either shaped you as an artist?
D'Angelo and Jill Scott. Honestly, the two people that I could just listen to and binge listen to really are D'Angelo and Jill Scott, for sure. D'Angelo inspired this song on Thoughts that’s like [sings- “We just need to have some communication”]. It’s on a song called “Commercial Break.” I took that essence of neo-soul or what D'Angelo would do on a song and I just did it without drums or anything. It wasn't very groovy. It was just a guitar. But yeah, I definitely take some things.
Neo-soul artists can find the grandeur in the mundane. Your song “Lavender” has lyrics that can beautify through heavy use of metaphors. How would you say your style of writing mirrors some of the traditional neo-soul that we've heard?
With neo-soul, there's a lot of description, there's a lot of imagery with neo-soul for sure. I feel like I carried over that imagery and describing the situation that's going on. Even just over-describing this, using as many words as you can to describe, and you just do it with little melodies and stuff and it goes a long way.
What ways would you manipulate instruments to achieve the sound?
I have made some custom neo-soul. Like, there's this artist I work with, her name is SophieTheHomie, and I made the song called “Home Demo.” We did three songs, and I consider it to be neo-soul, for sure. Honestly, I was just using some Rhodes and a regular drumkit. I was just using the basics, but I was more knowledgeable of sounds. I felt it more... I wouldn't even manipulate anything, I wouldn't want to manipulate anything.
To that point, what would you say is the neo-soul sound to you?
There's a lot of cluster chords, which is amazing. It's not on a groove. It's not on this. You just vibe with it.
It's funny you say that because I remember D'Angelo when he was talking about making Voodoo, he told Questlove to play the drums a little bit behind the beat.
Play it behind the beat, let that be, in itself, a tempo. Let it literally exist, it's not off tempo. Trust me, when you put it all together and you hear it, it makes your body relax.
What song of yours would you put in a neo-soul playlist?
I'll probably take a lot of songs from my Thoughts project. I'd probably do “Momma's Prayer,” “Nonchalant,” and “Commercial Break.”
Your project The Shave Experiment used a lot of the same ‘70s and ‘80s influences that are the bedrock of neo-soul. Given your music and the way you make music, which neo-soul legends would you have the best chemistry with?
Honestly, I'd say it's D'Angelo and Jill Scott for sure. Those songs would definitely come out different. I think it would definitely be a different taste because when I make music, from what people saying, it's very familiar but it’s you and new, though. Shit, I'm curious how it would sound. It could work or it might fail miserably.
I think [neo-soul is] one of the biggest foundations around, especially for even the new generation because that's what they gravitate to more. They gravitate to more neo-soul than traditional soul. There's a lot of neo-soul songs that we cry to and there's a lot of neo-soul songs that we fly to, you know? And there's a lot of people that broke those barriers with neo-soul.
How do you feel like you fit into the evolution of neo-soul?
Bro, I don't even know if I fit. That's the thing. I don't even know, man. I really don't. I really don't. There are times where I really think about just making a whole album like that.
I always say that neo-soul is pretty much a gumbo of so many different black genres and they're able to coexist harmoniously.
One of the people who did that for me is really Solange. She's one of the driving forces of the past five years. She's been really doing that. For me, that's what I just know. There's probably more but she for sure has hit the nail on the head.
How is neo-soul tied to the identity of the modern Black artist which you feel like?
I think then it goes back to even the foundation of what they feel when they listen to soul music. I think what they listen, they carry it on. And of course, you know, ideas are being formed on the daily. So it's like the identity in the black community is always going to continue to evolve and grow based on the times and what they're going through. Different problems, mental problems that we even have. We see what's going on in this world so it's always going to evolve, and they're finding new ways to do it. The best thing is that there's even more types of sounds now. There's so many things to play with. And the identity is growing in the sound, the actual sound. Going to go back to Solange, because I've never heard music like hers before, it's neo-soul. It's like I hear the foundation of it, I hear where it's stemming from, I can get the same feeling. It's always growing, bro.
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