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Bilal to play El Rey on Friday, premieres Tensei remix

A photo of R&B artist Bilal

Bilal occupies a unique niche in the realm of contemporary music. He has never cultivated the eccentric mystery of D’Angelo, nor has he actively aligned himself with a hip-hop hall of fame quite like Erykah Badu. Rather, he exists somewhere in between: experimental but engaging, collaborative but resistant to overt affiliation, too jazzy to be a pure soul artist, too soulful to be a jazz musician, too electronic to be branded retro.

Unlike his more Top 40-friendly peers, he is an artist in an era of craftsman. And he’s engendered the respect of his peers like few others. M.O.P. once boasted that its “guns sang like Bilal.” More recently, Slaughterhouse henchman Joell Ortiz dropped the song “Sing Like Bilal.” Raphael Saadiq has covered him -- while the artist born Bilal Oliver has himself crooned over beats from J Dilla and Dr. Dre. He’s collaborated with Common and Badu, Guru and Game and Ghostface Killah. Even coke rap kingpins Clipse enlisted him to croak the ravaged paranoid hook to “Nightmares.” He is royalty lacking an ego that insists on coronation.

After the dissolution of his deal with Interscope, he hit the independent route, wisely signing a deal with the great left-field R&B house Plug Research. Whereas Interscope deemed his music too noncommercial, Plug Research has allowed him to chase his weirdest impulses to consistently interesting ends. One of its alumni, Flying Lotus, directed a video for “Levels” from last year’s “Airtight’s Revenge.”

In the wake of the record, Bilal has logged heavy hours on the road, ensuring continued goodwill among his fervent fanbase. His next tour date in Los Angeles is Friday at the El Rey.

Bilal’s prepping a remix record (slated for release later this year), wrangling heavy hitters such as Black Milk, RJD2, Jake One, Exile, Moodyman and Brainfeeder artist Strangeloop. Less widely known but equally impressive is Tensei’s remix of “Robot.” Premiering today on Pop & Hiss, Tensei turns the original into a slice of automaton funk that finds the happy medium between midperiod Kraftwerk and the Low End Theory. In the ongoing battle of man versus machine, the mortals take this round.

Download: (Pop & Hiss premiere)
MP3:Bilal featuring Adad -- "Robots (Tensei Remix Alternate Version)"

 

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The wide-ranging world of Shafiq Husayn

-- Jeff Weiss

Photo: Bilal. Credit: Eric Coleman

 
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