By Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire)
I’m a cynic when it comes to astrology,” says the Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson. “But when the members of the Soulquarians [Thompson, D’Angelo, beatmaker Jay Dee, and keyboardist James Poyser] realized that we all share a love for “sickness” in our work—offbeat rhythms, unorthodox chords, stacks of haramony, an overall rebellious attitude to the status quo—and to top it off, that we’re all Aquarians, we knew it wasn’t just a coincidence. Perhaps the stars play a role in our genuine love for the unknown. -Questlove in Vibe Magazine September 2000
It takes a village to change a nation.
The Soulquarians were a collection of neo-soul artists from the late 90s/early 00s that have reshaped the landscape of Black art. The members are a Dream Team assortment of the left-of-center legends
The full list of members:
- Roy Hargrove
- Erykah Badu
- James Poyser
- Mos Def
- Talib Kweli
- J. Dilla
The genius was honed and insulated in Electric Lady Studios in New York City where the collective recorded The Roots' Things Fall Apart (1999), Common's Like Water For Chocolate, Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun and D'Angelo's "Voodoo" within a two year span, simultaneously. Each one of them received Grammy Award nominations, and all but Common's LWFC went platinum. From its inception, there was a concerted and conscious effort to continue the legacy of great artistic movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, the Motown era and most recently, the Native Tongues movement.
Common's "Heaven Somewhere" from his 2002 album Electric Circus may be the largest collection of Soulquarian artists on one song. Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Bilal, Common, Questlove and James Poysner. It was the album closer and unbeknownst to any of their millions of fans, also end of the Soulquarians. After four years of consistently producing classic albums, rumors that a proper Soulquarian album was in the works. According to ?uestlove during his interview at SiriusXM's Hip Hop Nation last night (May 12th), the image of an impending movement was simply the deceptive indication of its end:
A lot of times you’ll think that events are arriving when its actually the end point. If you look at an event like Woodstock you think ‘that’s the arrival'. Actually Woodstock was the end of that stop. If you look at Saturday Night Fever, that’s the end of that stop. When you look at Thriller, it’s kind of the end of that stop. I mean, we know what happens afterwards and it’s not THAT much of a decline, but, it was definitely a climax point.
Following Electric Circus, two of the Soulquarians' founding members (Common and Erykah Badu) had ended their relationship. D'angelo had vanished into obscurity. The Roots were starting to break out of the subculture into the mainstream with their appearance on Jay Z's MTV Unplugged a year prior (2001) and Questlove's involvement in Chapelle's Show a year later (2003) . The group was splintering off to chase creative endeavors outside of the collective and the seeds of this eventual breakup were sewn into the Soulquarians' foundation from the beginning:
Our sect rarely collaborated with each other in the past. Us ‘art cats’ have a tendency to get snobbish. Whereas Ruff Ryders, Roc-A-Fella, Aftermath, and Bad Boys cats get damn near incest-like when it comes to doing cameos and collabos, we were the only ones that couldn’t get it together.-Questlove in Vibe Magazine September 2000
Then September 18th, 2004 happened.
On the surface that day wasthe greatest day in The Soulquarian's short-lived history. On that day, Dave Chappelle organized a massive concert in Brooklyn, NY with a lineup that would STILL make most festivals shed envious tears: Kanye West, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu (with and without her wig), The Fugees (THE FUCKEN FUGEES!), The Roots, Common, Black Star, dead prez, Kool G Rap, Bilal, John Legend (cousin of the Soulquarian movement) and more than I can give justice to.
This was the resurrection of the left-of-center dominance with the Soulquarians spearheading the charge.
According to Questlove on SiriusXM's Hip Hop Nation last night (May 12th), September 18th, 2004 will forever be the day that one of the greatest movements of Black art in the past 15 years died:
Shooting it that day, I kind of felt like I was at the Soulquarians funeral. I kind of knew this was the last time…the idea of Mos and Common being around. Kweli. There was a point when the whole myth of that whole movement was a real thing. All of us used to always be together all the time. That day, I actually felt like it was the last time.
Erykah Badu announced she's working on an album late last year. ?uestlove stated that D'angelo's long awaited comeback album was "99% done" in January 2013. Common's set to release Nobody's Smiling later this year with The Roots' ...& Then You Shoot Your Cousin being released May 19th. When was the last time all three acts released an album within a year of each other?