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GWEN IFILL: When the lights go up on tonight’s Grammy award ceremonies in Los Angeles, the veterans will take center stage: Irish rockers U2 and music legend Bob Dylan each have multiple nominations. But also sharing the spotlight: A new generation of young and gifted storytellers.
INDIA ARIE: Keep your expensive car and your caviar all I need is my guitar.
GWEN IFILL: 28-year-old Georgia native India Arie with seven nominations, a throaty, poetic singer and guitarist whose song "Video," gently mocks the scantily-clad superstardom of huge pop stars like Britney Spears and Destiny’s Child.
INDIA ARIE: I’m not the average girl in the video. My worth is not determined by the price of my clothes. Whatever I am doing, I will always be the India Arie.
GWEN IFILL: Also dominating the nominations, 21-year-old Julliard-trained pianist and vocalist Alicia Keys, this year’s most commercially successful new discovery.
ALICIA KEYS: Sometimes I love you sometimes you make me blue sometimes I feel good at times I feel used loving you darling makes me so confused I keep on fallin’ in and out of love with you…
GWEN IFILL: They are the standard bearers for neo-soul, a limber and poetic melding of the rhythm and blues and jazz embraced by their parents’ generation.
SINGER: You rock the party that rocks the party.
GWEN IFILL: And the straight- talking hip-hop sensibility that drives the lucrative teen market. Hip-hop, in turn, appropriated some of its most compelling hooks and melodies from ’60s soul– what’s known as sampling. Also part of the neo-soul set…
SINGING: Oh, how does it feel?
GWEN IFILL: …D’angelo, who’s been credited with launching the trend in the mid-90s.
SINGING: Maybe you will see ooooh.
GWEN IFILL: Falsetto crooner Maxwell.
SINGING: Don’t stop.
GWEN IFILL: Balladeer Brian McKnight. Erykah Badu, a previous Grammy winner, nominated again this year for best R&B song.
SINGING: Sometimes we all gotta swim upstream.
GWEN IFILL: Philadelphia native Jill Scott.
SINGING: Black brotha I love you.
GWEN IFILL: And Angie Stone, whose song, "Brotha," celebrates black men.
GWEN IFILL: What they all have in common: A thoughtful, melody- driven style with less flash, more story; a style that calls to mind the heyday of soul singers like Marvin Gaye…
SINGING: Needed the shelter of someone’s arms…
GWEN IFILL: …And Stevie Wonder, who could dominate a stage with just a voice and an instrument. Arie has already crossed over with appearances in advertisements for the popular clothing chain, the Gap.
SINGING: Give a little bit of my love to you.
GWEN IFILL: Even Coca Cola has embraced this new wave, showcasing mini-performances and calling them "Nu Classic Soul." Soul music then, neo-soul now. Whatever the name, record companies with an eye on the bottom line are counting on the new movement to turn around slowing music sales and capture new audiences.
GWEN IFILL: For more on tonight’s Grammy awards, I’m joined by Kedar Massenburg, president and CEO of Motown Records, which garnered 15 nominations this year, including seven for its star, India.Arie. Motown has been in business for more than 40 years, and will be honored next month by the recording academy. Mr. Massenburg, welcome.
KEDAR MASSENBURG, Motown Records: Thank you for having me.
GWEN IFILL: We have been hearing a lot about this neo-soul movement which includes, of course, some of your recording artists and some others.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Explain to our viewers exactly what we’re talking about here.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Well, when they classify artists at neo-soul artists, they classify them basically based on sounds of traditional soul music that you might hear on Motown and might have heard on Philadelphia International coupled with the sonic of hip-hop, as well as more substantive subject matter, more conscious lyrics.
GWEN IFILL: So when we listen to India Arie singing these songs where it’s just her and her guitar, she’s singing these very lyrical songs compared to say, Al Green, or somebody from the real.. the soul movement?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Yeah, well, what happens is that these artists that they put in this category are kind of reminiscent of some of the old artists, whether they be jazz greats like Billie Holiday that they might compare Erykah Badu to, or D’Angelo with Marvin Gaye or even India.Arie. I mean, that’s where you basically get the term from, you know? Neo classic soul because it’s new soul music today from the classics.
GWEN IFILL: You know, Angie Stone, one of the other neo-soul divas, was quoted as saying that "soul music was always there, that it was just resting." Was it resting because of the hip-hop explosion, which was kind of driving it off of the front page, as it were?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: It wasn’t that soul music was resting, it’s that hip-hop exploded. But when you look at the real popular hip-hop songs, they’re all sampled from old R&B soul music songs anyway. So what happened is that kids got used to hearing these samples or whatever and it kind of intrigued.. you know, wanted to hear the original songs. So hip-hop has helped soul music a lot.
GWEN IFILL: Who’s listening to and buying this music? You talk about the kids who are listening to this stuff for the first time.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Yes.
GWEN IFILL: Who are they?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: I think, when you look at a genre… a demographic of 18 and above… say, for example, you put a Erykah Badu in and she sounds like Billie Holiday, you bring a CD home and a parent says, "Hey, that sounds like Billie Holiday" until she hears the drums, and then the kid is like, "yeah but you’ve got drums that sounds like a DMX record." So you combine the two. So I think you have your late teens all the way up to your elderly parents.
GWEN IFILL: Now in the Grammy awards tonight, there are two categories for R&B. One is called traditional R&B and one is just called R&B. What’s the difference?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Well, I think the traditional R&B kind of refers to the artist that came before the Alicia Keys and the Erykahs and the D’Angelos and the India Aries. So I think they’re talking about like the Temptations, they’re talking like the O-Jays, that’s what they mean traditional. Songs that are recorded by traditional artists…
GWEN IFILL: Like Gladys Knight.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Exactly.
GWEN IFILL: Now since you’ve taken over Motown Records, Motown is not exactly what it was, I remember from my childhood in the heyday of Motown. So what exactly does this new movement do to revive a label like Motown or even to save it?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Well, I think when you say that Motown isn’t like it was, no label could be like it was because you have too much competition now. With the uprise of a lot of independent labels and a lot of the hip hop labels, I mean, there’s a choice. There wasn’t a lot of choices back then when you dealt with popular black music. Berry Gordy was doing what he does best as well as Philadelphia International. But when you talk about the revival of Motown, I don’t think Motown really ever left. It was just a sleeping giant, and I think we just needed to put some resuscitation to Motown. So the movement helps in terms of letting people know that these are the quality of artists that are on the label, from Brian McKnight, Erykah Badu, India Arie, of course, and a bunch of new artists that’s coming out. I think that helps.
GWEN IFILL: Connected to that, neo-soul… in the end if you say it’s not really brand new, that it’s just a great, new generation of musicians doing the kind of music we are familiar with, is it really a marketing term or is it an artistic term?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: I think… I think it depends. I think from a consumer perspective to have the need to categorize neo-classic soul artist is used on a marketing standpoint so that they understand most likely the type of artist that they’re getting under this genre is an artist that a lot of influence in the production of this album as well as the lyrical content as well as how they’re represented. And on the artistic side, I think that, you know, they hate to say that it’s a movement because they don’t want to be associated with a genre of music that they think might fade or whatever, because soul music is soul music and as we all know, there’s nothing really new under the sun, just a different twist.
GWEN IFILL: Is it also important… do these Grammy nominations or any Grammys you might win tonight, is that also important for the future of Motown?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: I mean, I think it’s important not just for the future of Motown, but it’s also important for the future of any artist that has been nominated. I mean, you don’t need the actual win to solidify you and your talent. The fact that we were nominated and that we have so many nominations– and I think this is the first time in Motown history that they’ve had that many nominations in one given year– it helps solidify that we’re definitely a company to be reckoned with in terms of R&B. If you look at the category of R&B and the R&B song of the year Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight and India Arie are all in it competing against each other. So that kind of tells the public that the quality of music that Motown is putting out.
GWEN IFILL: And Alicia Keys, which is that big gorilla in the room as well, right?
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Yeah, she’s in that category.
GWEN IFILL: Okay.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Definitely, there’s five of them.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Massenburg thank you so much for joining us and good luck tonight.
KEDAR MASSENBURG: Thank you for having me.