In 1968, the dynamic soul duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell scored a top 10 hit called "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing." Some 34 years later, this song title pretty much sums up what Angie Stone is all about as a vocalist and artist. When it comes to delivering sweet soul music, Stone is indeed the real thing. She's a throwback to the vintage r&b stylings of such vaunted '60s and '70s vocalists as Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye.
"I don't go for the trendy commercial approach. What I do is basic soul music - no frills added," she says unapologetically.
Stone has been lumped in with other so-called "neo-soul" singers such as Alicia Keys and Macy Gray. But perhaps no contemporary artist embraces this now classic musical style as fully as the thirty-something Stone.
Like her heroes, the New York-based, South Carolina-raised singer/songwriter has also found popular success. Her 1999 debut album, Black Diamond, went platinum thanks in part to the popularity of her pop and r hit single "No More Rain (In This Cloud)." The album was also nominated for a Grammy.
Stone was originally signed to Arista Records, but when Arista founder Clive Davis left the company, she followed him to his new J Records label. Released last November, her J Records debut, Mahogany Soul, again plays homage to her musical influences while staking out a singular artistic vision.
Mahogany Soul does include one element that you won't find on an old Wilson Pickett or Spinners' album: sampled music. Her samples, however, are used to pay tribute to the legends of soul. For example, her song "Wish I Didn't Miss You" contains a sample from the O'Jays' "Backstabbers."
Stone also isn't afraid to bring lyrical substance to her music. Her song "Brotha" is notable for its support of black men during a period when the sexes often seem to be at war, especially in the world of hip-hop.
"The song is very important to me because I think we are at an all-time low in terms of male bashing and female bashing," Stone told the Los Angeles Times. "That's not a healthy message to be passing along to the younger generation. You don't want everyone coming up thinking that every woman is a [prostitute] or every man is a dog or no good."
Stone grew up in a religious household and joined her first gospel group "when I was knee-high to a duck's tail." She's been singing and writing poetry ever since, but in the '80s, it was rap that grabbed her attention. The former high school basketball star formed an all-female hip-hop trio before becoming a trailblazer in the neo-soul movement. Along the way she helped co-write and co-produce an album with r&b artist D'Angelo. The two were also lovers and D'Angelo is the father of Stone's 4-year-old son. She also has a teenage daughter from her marriage to rapper Rodney C.
Not surprisingly, the straight-talking Stone includes several songs on Mahogany Soul about romantic disappointment. But her relationship with soul isn't likely to disappoint or end anytime soon.
"I didn't stick with soul, it stuck with me," she told a journalist. "If it's in you, it's impossible to abandon it. And why would you ever want to?"