The Soulquarians is a neo soul and alternative hip hop-informed musical collective. The collective, formed during the late 1990s, continued into the early 2000s, and produced several well-received albums.
Producer and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of hip hop band The Roots acted as the “musical powerhouse” behind several of the collective’s projects during the late 1990s and early 2000s, including The Roots’ Things Fall Apart (1999), D’Angelo‘s Voodoo (2000), Erykah Badu‘s Mama’s Gun(2000), and Common’s Like Water for Chocolate (2000). In an interview for Spin magazine, Common discussed the production of those albums, stating “It was one of those time period that you don’t even realize when you’re going through it that it’s powerful”.
The name of the collective is derived from an astrology sign. The founding members of the collective — Ahmir Thompson a.k.a. Questlove from The Roots, D’Angelo, James Poyser, and J Dilla — share sign of Aquarius. Questlove, D’Angelo, Poyser, and J Dilla came together after discovering they had a common interest for the unconventional — offbeat rhythms, irregular chords, and other traits often exhibited by the underground urban musicscene. Also around this time, a connection was established between D’Angelo and Welsh bassist Pino Palladino over their mutual love of Motown and other classic soul music, and Palladino became active in the project, playing on the majority of their discography and serving as a member of the Soultronics touring band that supported D’Angelo’s Voodoo tour.
Many of these artists have performed on one another’s records, creating a community of likeminded musicians forging a style that doesn’t have a name yet. Organic soul, natural R&B, boho-rap–it’s music that owes a debt to the old-school sounds of Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and George Clinton without expressly mimicking any of them. It refreshes these traditions with cinematic production techniques gleaned from hip-hop and with attitude that is street- smart but above all highly individual, celebrating quirks instead of sanding them down for mass consumption. Instead of crooning about booty and blunts (sex, drugs, etc.), the subject matter on these albums is idiosyncratic and personal, ranging from the spiritual crises of [Lauryn] Hill, D’Angelo and Maxwell to the socio-political concerns of the Roots and Mos Def.
Being a collective, they included a rotating list of members, including Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, Bilal, and Raphael Saadiq. In a 2003 interview, Questlove unequivocally stated that there were no plans for a Soulquarians album release for the foreseeable future. This was interpreted as a silent breakup of the outfit. However, according to an interview with Common, the collective continued to exist.