The neo-soul movement exploded in the 1990s, with Erykah Badu, Maxwell, D’Angelo, Eric Benét, and Lauryn Hill leading the way. Updating the sounds of Marvin Gaye and Donnie Hathaway (among others) with modern hip-hop beats, these artists also incorporated poetry into their lyrics.
Another group that emerged from this scene was Floetry, which consisted of Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart. The duo launched a songwriting career in 1997, penning hits for Michael Jackson, Bilal, and Jill Scott. Eventually they gained the spotlight with their debut album, Floetic, in 2002. Combining Ambrosius’ singing with Stewart’s spoken word poetry, they scored an R&B hit with “Say Yes,” a sultry song with a heavy beat, cushioning Ambrosius’ deep vocals. After releasing a live album, they achieved more success with their next studio disc, 2005’s Flo’Ology. Splitting in 2007, they are now embarking on solo careers, with Stewart recording under the moniker “The Floacist.” Her debut, The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul, places her poetry in the forefront, with help from some fellow neo-soul artists.
Similar to Floetic, The Floacist injects an artsy, bohemian quality into her music; in fact, on the CD cover, she defines her sound as “Floetic Soul,” or “poetic delivery with musical intent.” She achieves this goal when she recites her verses over a catchy groove, accented with her singing or voices of guest artists. “Keep It Going” features The Floacist’s sexy, deep voice, complimented by Raheem DeVaughn’s smooth vocals. The guitar licks lend the track a jazz tone, effectively transforming the song into distinctive R&B. The first single, “Forever,” features Musiq Soulchild, a welcome addition to the song. His soulful vocals, sometimes overlapping The Floacist’s spoken word poetry, brings more emotion to the song. The two blend well together, emphasizing the lovely chord changes.
When performing on her own, she fares best when she sings as well as raps. “You” recalls Badu’s sound in that it combines romantic love with mysticism: “My third eye’s floating we’re on to something and it’s perfect timing/I’m all aligned, I want to do this, I want to do this,” she virtually whispers over a gentle beat that floats over the words. The next track, “Come Over,” continues the sultry, laid back vibe wit Lalah Hathaway providing backing vocals. Other songs such as “What R U Looking 4?” and “What U Gonna Do” lean toward hip hop, the latter track letting The Floacist display her rapping skills.
The chorus’ blaring keyboards, sounding like horns, are slightly reminiscent of Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Similarly, “Go Get It” combines poetry with rap, incorporating a keyboard riff from Teena Marie’s classic “Ooo La La La.” While not strictly hip hop, “Let Me” utilizes rap to create a memorable chorus, along with jazz-kissed chord changes. The final song, “Alright Then,” closely approaches contemporary jazz, demonstrating how neo-soul crosses musical boundaries.
The Floacist Presents Floetic Soul works best when it emulates Floetic’s prior work. While incorporating spoken word poetry into R&B is an interesting approach, it can become slightly tedious at 13 songs. Floetic impressed because of their ability to balance poetry with vocals, providing variety for the listener. The Floacist’s album does contain similar material, but more diversity would be welcome. She has released an interesting debut that should please Floetic fans, and this disc should establish her as a unique neo-soul artist. On future releases, The Floacist should further explore her singing voice and continue inviting guest vocalists to balance out the spoken word poetry.