For generations, folk music has been used as a form of expression for African Americans to describe their experiences and struggles as Black people in America. Throughout different periods, this music genre, which originates from negro spirituals sang by enslaved Black people, has been used by African Americans as protest music. Folk music has also been extremely influential in developing other musical genres, such as blues and jazz.
Along with influencing the creation of other music genres, folk music and the elements of folk music have been found within different genres of music. One example of this passing down of folk elements in music would be the influence of popular folk singers on the music of neo-soul singers. According to Rasheedah Quiett Jenkins, there is a strong musical connection between female artists Nina Simone and Tracy Chapman and neo-soul artists Erykah Badu, India Arie, and Jill Scott.
The primary way that Jenkins asserts that the neo-soul artists have inherited their predecessors’ Folk practices is through their song lyrics. One significant folk aspect of Nina Simone and Tracy Chapman’s songs is the practice of protest singing and the acknowledgment of their experiences of Black people, and specifically as Black women. Although the music of Badu, Arie, and Scott sometimes lack the political elements of Simone and Chapman’s songs, one theme that holds the same is their use of their music to describe their experiences as Black women. Like Simone and Chapman, Badu, Arie, and Scott use their music to describe more political elements of their life and empower and accept themselves and provide those same feelings to their listeners. Despite the difference in genre, neo-soul artists can continue and pass along the traditions and elements of folk music by telling their stories as Black women.