Bilal is one of those artists that soul afficianados either love or hate. His second ‘released’ studio album entitled Airtight’s Revenge is a continued exploration of his unique production style and vocal gyrations.
A jazz vocalist before his studio album days, Bilal is a continuation of the collective known as the Soulquarians that dominated the neo-soul scene back in the late 90s and early 2000s including D’Angelo, James Poyser, Questlove of The Roots, and the late J Dilla. Working with the likes of Common, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and more, Bilal managed to put out a soul classic of an album back in 2001 entitled 1st Born Second. Launched into mainstream success behind the single “Soul Sista” featured on the Love and Basketball soundtrack, Bilal established a dedicated fanbase.
Upon working on his second effort entitled Love For Sale, Bilal ran into label trouble and bootlegging leading to it not being officially released. The underground success of the album managed to satisfy his die hard fans and create the buzz needed for him to continue though. This fueled a whirlwind of collaborations spanning almost 9 years with the likes of Erykah Badu, Tweet, Beyonce, Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Little Brother, and Solange.
Taking 3 years to craft, Airtight’s Revenge is his rebirth of soul. Bilal’s jazz vocal influence is definitely what tattoo’s this effort more than anything. His voice has such range and the capacity to sound so different from song to song that he is able to emote virtually anything given the topic of the song. Of course, being a brilliant songwriter helps this as well.
The track “Little One” is a clear example of his signature style. An emotional dedication to his autistic child, this track (produced by Conley “Tone” Whitfield) is highlighted by a haunting piano riff and his unmistakable falsetto to carry a beautiful composition that is ever so touching.
Dark and filled with fully fleshed out short stories, Bilal’s tales are street and hard yet soulful. Whether it is the funky and quirky “The Dollar” or the prostitute themed “Flying”, each song will take you on a separate journey that will certainly take more than one listen to fully appreciate. Always accompanied by a complex musical sound, each song will keep you off balance with touches of either off balance percussion or hints of string arrangements and electric guitars.
The oddity that is his sound is evidenced by “Levels” which is played out as more of a futuristic jazz tune with bassy thumps and a confident piano. As the song progresses, Bilal sings over a creshendo of sound at times that either hypnotizes or confuses. This is an example of how Bilal’s vision is either a cult hit or a disappointing failure.
Will a clear direction, a commanding grasp of his desired style, amazing lyricism and quirky vocals, Bilal has delivered a soul album that is sure to remain fresh sounding through the test of time. Compared at times to Prince or Gil Scott Heron, Bilal’s sound blends funk, jazz, blues, rock, and soul in a way that never sounds the same. Probably to be categorized as one of those albums that will take most a number of listens to warm up to the brilliance, Bilal’s Airtight’s Revenge is one of this year’s unmistakable standouts that should not be missed.