Atlanta’s 15 Most Important Soul Albums (of the Millennium … So Far)

Model Marcia Dore in Radio Raheem mode (Photo by Natrice Miller)

When the original iteration of Slo*Mo debuted back in 2013, we launched the magazine with a cover story that was ambitiously titled “21st Century Soul: Atlanta’s 10 Most Important Albums (of the Millennium … So Far).” As the name suggests, our goal was to throw a spotlight on records by ATL-based artists released since the year 2000 that made the most impact — ones that put the city on the map, moved the meter and helped to push soul music, as a whole, forward.

At the time, we managed to craft a list of heavyweight albums by a divergent collection of music makers from various corners of the soul spectrum. Now, as we usher in a new era for Slo*Mo, we thought it would be a great time to revisit and refresh our list — especially since several dope projects have been released since we first appeared on the scene.

Like last time, these picks were gleaned from our current (the 21st) century and are arranged in no particular order. But this time we’ve grown the selections from 10 to 15 slots. So (like last time), we invite you to take a look and see if our choices match yours … and if you spot some albums you don’t own or haven’t heard of, we hope you’ll go buy a few copies for your damn self.

“Release” — The Ananda Project (Release Date: 2000): When the bulk of the ATL soul denizens were looking back, mining the past for inspiration, Chris Brann — under the guise of his production outfit The Ananda Project — was looking to the future. A pioneer of downtempo, the first Ananda Project release (dubbed “Release”) is one of those rare electronic albums: It’s digital but sounds warm and soulful — the remnants of which you can hear in groups like Little Dragon, among many others.

“Chocolate Soul Vol. 1” / “Atlanta Soul” — Various Artists (Release Date: 2000/2005): OK, we’re squeezing two albums into one entry because this pair of projects — both compilations — helped shape the scene (locally, nationally and internationally) by offering early “looks” at groundbreaking artists like Anthony David, Khari Simmons, Julie Dexter and more (who you’ll find on this very list).

“Acoustic Soul” — India.Arie (Release Date: 2001): Why it made the list: In terms of outright success — both sales-wise and when it comes to critical acclaim — it’s safe to say that India. Arie is the top artist to emerge from Atlanta’s soul scene in the last decade and a half. Sporting a natural ’do, a bohemian-esque fashion sense and songs that dripped with positivity, Arie went on to influence the sound, the look and the mindset of a generation. And it all started in a very big way with her debut album: “Acoustic Soul.”

“The Colored Section” — Donnie (Release Date: 2002): While the vocalist known as Donnie is not yet thought of as a household name to the masses, you’d be hard pressed to find a soul head who doesn’t consider his first album — “The Colored Section” — a bona fide classic. Beyond just sounding amazing, “Colored Section” successfully showed how old-school styles could be melded with modern sensibilities without sounding gimmicky.

“Star Kitty’s Revenge” — Joi (Release Date: 2002): At a time when soul was thought of as safe, often-cerebral music, Joi came along and skeeted the scene with heaping helpings of danger, whimsy … and sex. Thank you Joi for that. We’re singling out “Star Kitty’s Revenge” because it contains some of her wildest (“Lick,” anyone?) and most iconic tunes.

“Dexterity” — Julie Dexter (Release Date: 2002): A U.K. native, singer Julie Dexter made a splash on the scene with her debut EP “Piece of Mind,” but she didn’t truly perfect her sound and cement her place in the industry until releasing “Dexterity.” Her second CD, “Dexterity” expertly blended soul with reggae and other international flavors — showing and proving that Atlanta was impacting a global soundscape.

“The Love Below” — Andre 3000 (Release Date: 2003): Whether you want to accept it or not, Andre 3000 is a soul artist. Sure, he made his name in the world of hip-hop, but his half of Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” masterpiece was basically a sonic billboard for Atlanta’s soul music scene. His songs were unique and reflected his style, but they were peppered with tones and rhythms undoubtedly absorbed from our fair city’s soul scene.

“Van Hunt” — Van Hunt (Release Date: 2004): It’s become almost cliché for some soul artists to try and incorporate “rock” music into their sound … and the results are often crappy. Van Hunt was one of the rare contemporary soul artists to successfully infuse a rock spirit into his music. His self-titled album worked by injecting the rhythm + bluesy tone of folks Ike Turner (along with the funk of icons like Sly Stone) … instead of cats like Poison.  

“Purpose” — Algebra (Release Date: 2008): No other soul album birthed from the city’s soul community has embodied the essence of Atlanta quite like Algebra’s first album, “Purpose.” In fact, listening to her 14-track debut is like mainlining the unique sound, the narrative, the vernacular, and general swagger that can only be found in what most of America still considers “the Black Mecca.”

“Acey Duecy” — Anthony David (Release Date: 2008): By the time “Acey Duecy” dropped, guitarist/vocalist Anthony David was a well- established force on the music scene — with albums like “Three Chords & the Truth” and “The Red Clay Chronicles” under his belt. But “Acey Duecy,” featuring a collection of his “greatest hits” and new songs, stands as his most important work because it offers the most expansive review of his diverse catalog and his talent.

“Clementine Sun” — Khari Cabral Simmons (Release Date: 2012): Bassist Khari Cabral Simmons picked up the baton left by trailblazers like Sergio Mendes and made songs that bridged the gap between soul and bossa nova. The “soul bossa” band he led, Jiva, gave audiences a first glimpse at his approach to songwriting and arranging. But his album, “Clementine Sun,” (mixed by Bluey of Incognito and featuring vocalists like the previously mentioned India.Arie, rising star Chantae Cann and more) presented the most sharply honed version of Simmons’ Brazilian-tinged vision to date.

“Mercury” — Darryl Reeves (Release Date: 2012): “Mercury” is, without a doubt, a modern jazz-funk classic, but it’s positioned on this list more so because it served as the launching pad for some of this decade’s greatest soul talents. We’re talking folks like Carmen Rodgers, Valencia Robinson and Gwen Bunn, among others; “Mercury” wrapped their voices around some truly groundbreaking songs and pushed them further and deeper into the musical zeitgeist.

“The Heartbeat” — Lil’ John Roberts (Release Date: 2014): Famed drummer Lil’ John Roberts earned a rep in the music industry playing for global icons like Janet Jackson, but he’s been a driving force for Atlanta’s local soul music scene for decades. On his debut solo project, “The Heartbeat,” Roberts channeled his years of musical experience and his long-standing relationships with myriad soul luminaries (like Eric Roberson, Anthony David, Chantae Cann, Kipper Jones and many more) to craft a beat-fueled sonic love letter to the city he helped evolve and grow.

“The Essentials” — Kameron Corvet (Release Date: 2019): A notable and prolific fixture of Atlanta’s soul music scene for more than a decade, singer/songwriter/musician Kameron Corvet has, year by year, been building a body of work that successfully straddles the line between soul, pop, jazz and hip-hop. And Corvet’s album “The Essentials” is the perfect one-stop shop to catch up with the best tunes from the Grammy-winner’s catalog.

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