Have you ever experienced a voice so distinctive, so lyrical and so unique that its reverberating fullness, rich tone and velvety texture are immediately seared into your memory? That is how I felt when I first heard Bilal’s debut album, “1st Born Second” almost ten years ago. The talent and creativity of this classically trained, one-part neo soul artist, one-part avant-garde jazz musician, all-parts awesome singer has made him a collaborative go-to favorite of popular music stars like Erykah Badu, Talib Kweli, Darien Brockington, Boney James, Musiq, Common, Mos Def, Beyonce, Solange, Jay-Z, Tweet, Cherokee and Robert Glasper to name a few.
So, for Bilal Oliver to be arguably one of the most prolific singers and legitimate talents to grace the music industry in at least the last decade, why then is it that we’ve heard so little of his solo work in that time? In the crooner’s defense, it was never intentional for his hiatus to be this extended…and it certainly was not to last longer than The Bush Administration’s two-term tyranny time in office. Thanks to his critically acclaimed first musical endeavor, there were high hopes for his sophomore album “Love for Sale”. Regrettably however, the project had to be tabled by Interscope Records after being leaked all over the internet. And although Bilal was undeterred, moving on and performing on a plethora of songs from heavy hitting artists over the years (both live and in studio), compiling those various collaborations into an eclectic mixtape of sorts called “The Return of Mr. Wonderful” and lending his vocals to the best soul revival-slash-orchestraic masterpiece I have ever heard, “The Dresden Soul Symphony”, the void that the falsetto’d, freckled one left with not having released an album of his own in that ten year span, was a vast and palpable one that no modern artist has yet been able to fill or replicate.
But before the non-believers relegate this highly respected if mainstreamly-obscure creator of musical brilliance to the realm of one-hit-wonder-dom, know that he has not been resting on his laurels. Having recently put the finishing touches on his highly anticipated and forthcoming masterpiece, “Air Tight’s Revenge” is slated for release on his own independent label Jazzman Music later this year. The premiere single on the album called “Free” reintroduces the listener to the artistry and range that Bilal is known for, and is chocked-full of the instrumental influences that make his work decidedly soul.
Now admittedly, I am quite biased when it comes to Bilal. Although I am not the first nor will I be the last to sing the praises of this musician who actually creates the drummer’s beat to which he dances and sings, the brother had me at “Soul Sista”.