Book Review: The Essential Neo Soul by Chris Campbell

Greetings beautiful people

I was asked by this dope sistah, Rae Christine, to read a book, The Essential Neo Soul by Chris Campbell and write a review.  Considering I love to read, and I enjoy neo soul music, I thought it would be a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.  So she got me a copy and thus the adventure began.

To jump right into it, yes I seriously enjoyed the book.  If you are an admirer of Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Me’shell N’degeocello etc, then this is the book for you.  The author Chris Campbell gives a brief but detailed history of soul music and it’s evolution into neo soul in the mid 1990’s to the early part of this century. 

After the brief history lesson, the book breaks into a countdown format were Campbell goes through over a 100 neo soul albums and details each one track by track.  He gives us the context in which the album was created as well as additional information about the artists.

Now mind you as an admirer of neo soul music, I think some of the countdown positions are open for debate, but make no mistake, each artist represented in this book deserves to be.

Thank you Rae for putting me on to this book and I recommend each and every lover of soul music purchase a copy or two.  You won’t be disappointed.  Please find my formal review below:


Book: The Essential Neo Soul

Author: Chris Campbell

Publisher: Metro Jazz Media & Progressive Underground Publications

Year: 1st Published 2009

Category: Non-Fiction, Media, Music, Entertainment

This book would be on the shelf next to:  The VIBE History of Hip Hop, God on the Mic: 50 Greatest MC’s,

Official Website:




The Good

The style of writing:

Considering the type book this is, it would only make sense for the narrative be in essay form.  This is a brilliant essay.  One filled with intelligent, thought out explanations of the genre of (neo soul music) as well as providing collateral information for this music’s inception into pop culture.  I’m college educated and had to slow down a minute to take in the vast wealth of information Campbell provides through out the capsule history of neo soul.

Since I’ve been around long enough to see the genre’ manifest, I had my doubts that I would learn anything new.  Yet after reading the book, I felt I barely knew anything to begin with. This book took me out of the place of a mere consumer and put me closer to the music connoisseur that I imagined myself to be. Lol. (Oh silly me)

The Bad

The Editing:

Here in lies a double edge sword.  The editing of the book organizes the music industry in a chronological & interesting way.  Yet I did find a typo or two and some of the sentence structure at times had me re-reading lines almost 5 times to understand what Campbell meant.  Yet these things were too few and far between to judge the whole of the book by.

The Good


As someone who criticizes things for a living, it’s difficult to keep an objective point of view at times.  Yet I do my best.  The only thing I’m completely non-objective about is food.  From the opening of The Essential Neo Soul Chris Campbell really stays the course of reporting to the reader, exactly what’s happened and is happening in contemporary soul music.  He balances the achievements of past soul icons with the influence they’ve had on the current (soon to be legends).  He describes a rich and textured sonic landscape of eccentric individuals in a manner that is biographic and informative, not opinionated.

The Bad

The author’s obvious love of music:

I found this to be one of the best things about The Essential Neo Soul; I can also see how it might be frustrating to the average reader.  It’s so obvious that Campbell is both passionate and knowledgeable about soul music, so much so, that it seems he forgot all his readers are not as knowledgeable as he is.

Because I am a musician I understood all the language he used to describe base lines, chord progressions, song structure etc.  If I was strictly a consumer I wouldn’t have a clue as to what he was talking about sometimes.  I know this type of book is suppose to be entertaining and informative, yet I believe there should have been a glossary of terms included for those not privy to Campbell’s musical lexicon, to comprehend some of the language. 

The Good

The authors’ obvious love of music:

I love reading material when it’s apparent that the author is passionate about his/her subject.  Mr. Campbell’s love for music is prevalent in every line, while keeping his objective viewpoint. He moves through the history of soul music like a tribal elder teaching the youth.  At one point I found it difficult to put the book down because I was caught up in a narrative of appreciation and respect for soul music.

By the time I got to the count down, it was a throw back to a Cassey Kasem radio show that I intensely listen to as a child.  I read a lot of art history books that recant historical works and time periods with the enthusiasm of a sloth climbing a tree.  So while informative, the books never evoke some magic in me to dig deeper into the subject.  I’m so glad Campbell breaks from that tradition and gives us something as soulful, well written, and artistically cultivated as the genre of music he’s talking about.

The Just Alright

The Graphic Design:

Okay!  I’m a visual artist from birth, so I’m a stickler for graphic design in books.  While I have nothing really bad to say about the design of this one or overall lay out, I just wish the design was as dynamic as the author’s words.  I know small press book don’t have the resources of large publishing houses, but I still believe a little more “flare” could have gone into the look of the book.

In closing:

The Essential Neo Soul is a pretty good read, especially for lovers of soul music.  If you get the chance, please add this work to your book collection.  I look forward to reading other books from Chris Campbell in the future and once you guys check this one out, I’m sure you will too.

As always, be blessed beautiful people

Yo brotha



 For Chris Campbell.  Man how you go talk about The Essential Neo Soul and leave out Joi’s 1994 release “Pendulum Vibe”? Lol.  This woman is Erykah Badu’s’ idol!  Ok that’s all.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Essential Neo Soul by Chris Campbell

  1. Chaka says:

    This is a thoughtful and brilliant review… you never disappoint.

  2. Chaka says:

    I didn’t see Omar in there as well… *sad face*

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by DWNTN '81 Det, MisterMyhem. MisterMyhem said: Book Review: The Essential Neo Soul by Chris Campbell: […]

  4. Raya Sunshine says:

    Great book review. I also loved the book and enjoyed the balanced good/bad style review. 🙂

  5. Dope interview, brotha! Well-articulated, balanced and constructive. Props 2 u! Now to your query: you’re right – Erykah is working off that Joi blueprint, however I used 1995 (a year after Joi’s album dropped) as the starting point for neo soul as a viable genre, which coincided with D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” release. Had that “Pendulum Vibe” come out a year later, it definitely would have been in there.

    As for Omar, yeah my bad! But he has a much higher profile in the updated version of the book titled “Essential Neo Soul 2.0,” which drops in November. You’ll be the first to get a copy and it will have EVERYBODY in it.

    It’ll further define the genre, include even more artists and maybe even put a sense of closure to a lot of the controversy surrounding it as a genre.

    Again, a great review and I thank you. Peace and hair grease, my brotha!

    Chris Campbell
    Author, The Essential Neo Soul

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