7 Recurring Themes In Soul Music

I love music's ability to tell great stories and reflect on the human condition. Gospel seeks to uplift our faith while the Blues gives depression a voice of relief. Heavy Metal embodies rebellion and breaking the rules, but Emo seems to give insecure, adolescent boys reason to buy skinny jeans and paint their fingernails black. Reggae often conveys thoughts of revolution and Country ranges from losing your hound in the bayou to having your achey-breaky heart broken. 


Soul music can take you through a labyrinth of emotions and situations. Recently, my iTunes library and I had a soul music marathon for hours and it sparked a revelation--there are several recurring themes infused into soul music: 

#1 The Party 
It's one of the most carefree themes in soul music. It's all about painting the picture of where you want to be. This is where you shed the troubles of the day and move your feet. If you're lucky, you may meet the person of your dreams (or maybe just the evening). Foreign Exchange's "Take Off the Blues" can help get your two-step game right while "On a Cloud" by Platinum Pied Pipers & Karma will have your hands in the air--waving them like...well, you get the idea. 
#2 The Quest 

I'm not talking about the Tribe--this theme is primarily the fellas' lane of soul music discovery. If you happen to spot that sweet little 'La Di Da Di' on the dance floor, a tight game wrapped in an instrumental may give you courage to step to her sans embarrassing lines. Songs chronicling the pursuit of the opposite sex are often fun and playful...a cousin to the Party theme. Musiq has built his career on introducing himself and campaigning for the digits with songs like "Just Friends (Sunny)" and "B.U.D.D.Y."

#3 The Booty 

Apparently you said the right thing, or didn't say the wrong thing, because you're back at the lair and it' (©2000 Jay-Z). This particular theme dabbles in all genres of music--but in the soul realm, the possibilities are endless. You can take it to the old school with "Between the Sheets" by the Isley Brothers or keep it new age with "Lay Down" by Floetry. Recent additions to the theme of carnal pleasures include Maxwell's "Bad Habits" and the blatantly funk-hop classic, "The Panties" by Mos Def.

#4 The Love 

This is more than a theme in soul music, it is the lifeblood of all things creative. When you take that infinite power and channel it through a passionate voice and skillful musicians, magic happens. Whether you're as far away as Marvin Gaye's "Distant Lover" or standing in the "Here and Now" with Luther Vandross--the theme of love finds its way into the soul of virtually every tune.  

#5 The Pain

Sometimes love can go sour and spoil your life plans. This is where soul music becomes therapeutic. Ironically, the ones that cause the pain are the most prominent contributors to this soul music theme. Tank and his string of Begging 2.0 slow jams speaks to a man's remorse. This theme also illustrates the pain receiver's angst that led to Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows" ode to vandalism.

#6 The Healing 

After the pain subsides, the healing can begin. This is another place where I feel soul music does exceptionally well. The theme of healing is a testament to our resilience and strength. As N'dambi pointed out, she "Can't Hardly Wait" to be through--so it's safe to say that her healing has begun. There are also more subtle, yet equally poignant tracks like Joy Jones' "Over" and Eric Roberson's "Still." 

#7 The Empowerment

Soul music is the soundtrack of our exciting beginnings, heated middles and tragic ends. When the dust settles and we understand that life goes on, that's when the theme of empowerment rolls in with strong, uplifting lyrics and power chords emitted into the sky. Earth, Wind and Fire called it a "Shining Star" back in the day. In the '09, Choklate proclaimed you were "Incredible" in a long-lasting, controlled voice. Soul music's intonations of encouragement even welcomed prolific rhymes from Mos Def and Georgia Anne Muldrow in "Roses." I believe this soul music theme allows you to come full circle, head into a new party and start over.

These recurring themes in soul music run parallel with the life cycle of relationships. They encompass the highs, lows, environments, introspections, graphic depictions and mental restoration. It's deep. It's life. It's from the soul to our ears and hearts--we wouldn't have it any other way. I encourage you to put your music library on a soulful joyride through these seven avenues of expression. I'm willing to bet you will find songs that correspond with every beautiful and ugly corner of your world.

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4 Responses

  1. Wow, I was almost down with this except for the fact "reocurring" isn't a real word.

  2. Oh man...all these themes and NO mention of Kindred the Family Soul??

  3. Thanks for the spellcheck, Ummmmm. The mistake has been corrected.

  4. It's great to see a list of themes. I'm glad that healing and empowerment were separated. These two are often collapsed in posts like these.


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