Bilal breaks the dollar, headlines Echoplex Thursday night
Bilal is your favorite rapper's favorite ringer. He's the hookman extraordinaire called in at the last minute to make the songs sound silkier than these guys -- who admittedly were extraordinarily silky.
In 2001, the Philadelphia-raised, New York-city based crooner released "First Born Second," a neo-soul touchstone that blended classical rhythm and blues with hip-hop, reggae, rock and jazz. A lot of jazz.
Alongside D'Angelo, Maxwell, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, it stamped the 22-year-old as one of the prominent soul artists of his generation. Co-signed and produced by the Soulquarians and Dr. Dre, Bilal's talent lived up to the lofty expectations. And then came a nine-year stretch without an album.
Unlike many of his peers, personal idiosyncrasies had little to do with his absence. Label clashes with his bosses at Interscope led to his long-awaited sophomore effort, "Love for Sale," being permanently shelved. But rather than watch his career go to seed (2.0), he thrived on the guest-spot circuit, working with J Dilla, Common, Clipse, Talib Kweli, Jay-Z, Scarface and Erykah Badu. Even M.O.P. boasted of making their "guns sing like Bilal."
Freed from major label strictures and signed to respected local indie Plug Label Research, Bilal returned with September's "Airtight's Revenge." Unlike his previous efforts, it features no guest appearances -- just Bilal getting ludicrously soulful and endearingly experimental. He conjures a formless floating funk that befits his lifelong love of jazz and musical schooling at the avant-garde haven, the New School for Social Research.
The record is a soothing anodyne to the often over-processed come-ons that pass for contemporary R&B. With a voice reminiscent of Sly Stone, Bilal sings so well that he ostensibly sprang fully formed out of one Don Cornelius' paisley ties.
He headlines the Echoplex Thursday night with the perpetually extraordinary J*Davey and Quadron. In honor of the occasion, he's premiering the poignant poverty lament, "The Dollar."
-- Jeff Weiss
Download: (Pop & Hiss Premiere)
MP3: Bilal-"The Dollar"
Photo: Bilal. Credit: Coleman for Mochilla