- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

NEW YORK This year's Grammy Awards celebrated a new generation of women singing sweet soul music that hearkens back to the heyday of the '60s and '70s. Alicia Keys and India.Arie snagged 13 nominations between them, and Miss Keys walked away with five trophies.

Their male counterparts in neosoul, however, have not gotten much attention. In an urban music world dominated by sneering rappers or sexy pop-driven acts, men who sing artful songs about the complexities of love and life have struggled to find breakout success.

"Somewhere along the way it became almost standard for brothers to come out and either be a thug or not really express their emotions," says newcomer Glenn Lewis. "I think now that's starting to change."

Mr. Lewis had an encouraging first week when his debut record, "World Outside My Window," was released in March; it sold about 85,000 copies and came in at No. 4. Since then, however, it has yielded only one hit single and sold a total of just 316,000 copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan.

The best-selling male neosoul singers include Maxwell, Musiq and D'Angelo, who in many ways started the whole retro-soul sound when he debuted in 1995. Still, their albums sell about 1 million many fewer than multi-platinum rappers such as Ludacris and Ja Rule, or flashier R&B stars such as Usher, who flaunts sex appeal and dance moves.

"Male neosoul singers are so kind of sensitive and caring, and kind of not edgy, that people don't pay enough attention to them," said Emil Wilbekin, editor in chief of Vibe magazine.

Musiq's debut album, "Aijuswanaseing" (pronounced "I just wanna sing"), sold more than 1 million copies; his second, "Juslisen" ("just listen"), has sold more than 500,000 copies since its release in May. The songs reflect many influences, from Prince to Stevie Wonder to the Beatles.

Most R&B artists, says Musiq, "tend to be crooners and balladeers. I mean, I croon, I balladeer also, but I do more than that."

Like singers Bilal and D'Angelo, his songs tend to be grittier, with broader emotional and musical range, than the slickly produced tunes sung by many other R&B artists.

Singer-producer Raphael Saadiq, perhaps best known as the lead singer of the early '90s trio Tony! Toni! Tone!, says that's a tough sell in today's youth-oriented market.

"Sometimes when you've got Ja Rules, you've got Ashantis, you've got a lot of different things that already consume radio they (programmers) don't see a spot or a vision for that," says Mr. Saadiq, who recently released his first solo album, "Instant Vintage."

Mr. Wilbekin says neosoul singers aren't likely to appeal to music buyers who've grown up on rap and on sexually charged singers such as R. Kelly.

"Their videos are kind of more wholesome, sensitive and romantic, so they're not going to get the heavy rotation that a Nelly or Jay-Z is going to get," he said.

In many ways, that's true for the women, too. While Lauryn Hill, Miss Keys and Erykah Badu have had multiplatinum success, others, such as Jill Scott and India.Arie, have seen more modest sales.

Yet the women have managed to make a bigger splash. Although Miss Scott's album sold little more than 1 million copies, it was nominated for three Grammys, and she plays high-profile engagements like Radio City Music Hall.

"Why do I think female artists have been more celebrated? I mostly chalk that up as a timing thing," says Mr. Lewis. "You just had a whole lot of male artists who were just there setting the mood, it seems, whereas female artists you would go to for real lyrical content, real substance."

The musical style of singer Donell Jones, like Mr. Lewis,' has been compared by some critics to greats of the '70s, such as Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. Mr. Jones, whose new album, "Life Goes On," had a strong sales debut, believes that men just need to put out better music.

Perhaps its no surprise that the male neosoul artist with the sexiest, most street-wise image D'Angelo is also probably the most successful. His most celebrated video featured him almost nude; he's also collaborated with top rappers and has appeal from the suburbs to the street.

Yet D'Angelo's last disc, the Grammy-winning "Voodoo" in 2000, wasn't a huge commercial success. It sold just over 1 million copies and yielded only one major hit single.

"That's the sad part," Mr. Wilbekin said.

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