The Chronicles of the Underrated: Angie Stone
What is the best characterization of neo-soul singer/songwriter Angie Stone? Underrated artist extraordinaire. She’s never received her just due.
In every genre of music, there are three big tiers of artists. The top tiers of artists are those that are commercially/relatively commercially successful and often beloved or at least respected by critics. The bottom tiers are those who have been unable to make it and generally are loathed by critics. Then there’s that middle tier – the underrated who haven’t been able to achieve gargantuan success, but definitely have achieved critical success and acclaim. For one of R&B’s most soulful presences Angie Stone, underrated characterizes her perfectly. As hard as it may be to believe, Stone has never set foot in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 Albums Chart – GASP*!
Stone’s Moderate Success and Lack Thereof…
Stone has had some success, so writing her off as all ‘critical’ with no ‘commercial’ would be an overstatement. That said, Stone’s success, given a high level of musical sales at the time she achieved such, are modest. Stone has earned two gold-selling albums, first with 1999 contemporary soul classic Black Diamond and with its 2001 follow-up Mahogany Soul. That wouldn’t be the last album released by Stone, who recently dropped her seventh studio album Dream. So why hasn’t Angie Stone ‘caught on’ commercially? Why were mere gold albums in a time where platinum and multiplatinum efforts flourished her ceiling?
One reason is because when Black Diamond dropped in 1999, Stone was already a mature artist. By mature, that means that Stone was closer to 40 than to 20 or 30 – aka “old” by pop music standards. For those unaware, Stone was a 60s baby (born in 1961), meaning much of her musical influence would come from the 70s when she was a teen and would truly have the independence to make her own musical choices. The 90s initially weren’t regarded for its soulfulness in the old school context because the beginning was marking the new hip-hop infused New Jack Swing movement. When Stone bowed as a solo artist, neo-soul – of which she’s a proponent – was earning its wings.
Here’s the kicker. While Stone was a huge force in the movement – you can’t hear about neo-soul without some reference to Stone – others took off with it and had more success. The then 38-year old Stone was unable to achieve the platinum success of younger neo-soul artists, male or female. Alicia Keys for example, who arrived after Stone as a 20-year old classically trained musician, would go on to become the subgenre’s most successful artist. Even successful examples (though less successful than Keys) such as India.Arie and Jill Scott, would surpass Stone in sales. It’s not fair considering Stone’s distinct, rich alto, but the business and life of course aren’t always fair.