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.