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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Kedar Massenburg: The Father of Neo-Soul


When we list the urban music moguls of the 90’s like Sean “Puffy” Combs, Jermaine Dupri, Master P, and Russell Simmons, we are often remiss in acknowledging Kedar Massenburg. An overlooked king of the culture, the music executive established a swift and mighty presence that is worthy to be praised. Responsible for the careers of music’s most revolutionary artists, Massenburg trademarked the music we know as “Neo Soul”, changing the sound of R&B forever.

William “Kedar” Massenburg rose from humble beginnings in Brooklyn to become master of his own empire and author of his own legacy. Equipped with street smarts, educational principles, and $1,700, he purchased a fax machine, copier, cell phone and desk to launch Kedar Entertainment. In 1995, Kedar Records signed its first artist, Erykah Badu. With hustler’s ambition, Massenburg implemented grassroots marketing techniques which included passing out 1,000 copies of an unknown single “On & On” to people outside of the 1996 Soul Train Awards. With Badu’s unique blend of jazz/hip-hop/soul, she released her iconic debut album, Baduizm in 1997.

Cultivating relationships to rally support around his artists became Massenburg’s signature approach. As manager of then-emerging artist, D’Angelo, he invested heavily in opportunities to gain support and solidify the 1995 single, “Brown Sugar:” and LP of the same name, as a critically-acclaimed masterpiece. When Chico DeBarge’s soulful new music caught Massenburg’s ear, he signed to Kedar Records to release his comeback album. Long Time No See in 1997. Defining the sound of his musical roster, Massenburg coined the term Neo-Soul. A melting pot of Rhythm, Blues and Soul music, peppered with Jazz, Hip-Hop, Gospel and Funk, fellow 90’s artists Maxwell, Lauryn Hill, and Raphael Saadiq, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Angie Stone took their place within the founder’s circle.

In 1998, Massenburg became the President & CEO of Motown Records at age 35. Balancing the label’s legendary roster, Kedar introduced a new class of artists to regenerate and push the legacy forward. For six years, Massenburg revived Motown Records with releases from Badu (Mama’s Gun), Brian McKnight (Back At One), 702 (“Where My Girls At”), and new signees India.Arie, Akon, Profyle, and Kem. From 1997-2004, Massenburg was also the long-time manager of Joe. Under Massenburg’s stewardship, the singer-songwriter released his most successful albums to date; All That I Am, My Name Is Joe, and Better Days.

R&B would not be where it is today without Kedar Massenburg’s vision for the evolution of music and his ear for the preservation of soul. We salute his contributions as they paved the way for the new millennium’s mainstream soul stirrers.

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