The Underrated: Bilal- First Born Second

By @TrueGodImmortal 

1. Intro 
2. For U
3. Fast Lane (featuring Jadakiss and Dr. Dre)
4. Reminisce (featuring Mos Def and Common)
5. All That I Am
6. Sally 
7. Sometimes 
8. Love It 
9. C'mere (Skit)
10. Soul Sista
11. When Will You Call 
12. Queen of Sanity
13. Love Poems 
14. You Are 
15. Home 
16. Slyde
17. Second Child 

The year was 2001. After appearances on Guru's Jazzmatazz and Common's classic Like Water For Chocolate, the Philly born singer released his debut album with Interscope Records on July 17th. The album initially hit with the first singles "Love It", "Soul Sista", and the Jadakiss and Dr. Dre featured "Fast Lane", which was heavily played over the radio at the time. While the singles made a bit of a wave for Bilal, it is the album that is truly flawless in essence, with production from Megahertz, Dre and Vidal, Aaron Comess, the Soulquarians(J Dilla, Questlove and James Poyser), the extremely talented Raphael Saadiq and the legendary and previously mentioned Dr. Dre (who did two tracks here). With a solid production line up, as well as the ability to produce music himself, Bilal presented us with a look into his world and his mind with his first album.

The knocking bass and heavy drum production style of Megahertz, who was a growing producer at this point, begins the album with "For You", as Bilal seems to speak about a relationship of some sort, and it shows characteristics of being quite unhealthy based off the lyrics. There was true depth in the words, and while this song is a simple opener to the album, it is without a doubt a solid track. The aforementioned "Fast Lane" follows, and on the original version of the album that I still have somewhere, Jada and Dre are nowhere to be found. Regardless, the song itself is a treat to listen to and the version without Jada or Dre, centers the focus on Bilal, as it should be. The Dilla produced "Reminisce" is one of my favorite songs here, as both Common and Mos Def provide solid verses, but Mos steals the show to me with this couplet:

"Wait up, it wasn't you/ 
realize it was a mirage I was running to/
damn, can the effects of love and time/
cause the mind to trick the eye/ I wonder how you're getting by/"

While Mos steals the show, Bilal comes strong and carries the song essentially with an infectious hook and cadence. Following this, the anthem "All That I Am" hits next, and Bilal weaves through abstract lyrics in his verses combined with a smooth hook to create yet another gem. The only song on the entire album that I'm not a huge fan is "Sally", as the Dr. Dre production is a bit off, but regardless the lyrics are interesting to say the least. Where "Sally" may have disappointed me however, the following track is my all time favorite Bilal song.

"Sometimes" is produced by the Soulquarians, and at its core, from the beginning, you can tell that Bilal is creating something epic. As the drums hit and Bilal starts singing, the lyrics hit with each and every line. Within the first minute of this song, the words capture you Instantly:

"I wish I wasn't me... sometimes/
I wish I was drug free... sometimes/
I wish I saw the exit sign first.. sometimes/
Wish I knew the truth without searching... sometimes/"

And even talks directly to his woman:

"I mean... its worth it since I did all the work last night.../ Sometimes... you ain't good to me.../ 
as I am good to you... and you don't see my intentions, the way I do... sometimes/" 

And follows:

"Hey slim, you should be nicer than you are... sometimes/
You take that complaining shit way too far..../
I mean... I thought it was cute in the beginning, but now.. I think/
You only do it, cause you know I hate it.... sometimes.../"

And gets extremely reflective and honest with himself:

"Wish I knew life without pain../
Wish I had the keys to this game... sometimes/
I pretend because I'm afraid to be....afraid to be... afraid to be... sometimes.../
I hope I live to see 25... sometimes.../"

After all these lyrics, Bilal goes off near the end repeating "I want to win!, I want to win", and smoothing it out to close out what is an amazing listen and one of the best songs I've heard honestly from any artist over the last 10-15 years. It's soul stirring, motivating and reflective all in one. The soulful "Love It" continues the listening experience and Bilal ends up serenading the lady of his affection and telling her that regardless of whatever, he loves her and she's the peace of mind he requires to keep going. The hook is truly infectious and so is the bridge on this track as well.

After a brief skit, we arrive at the amazing Raphael Saadiq produced "Soul Sista", where Bilal once again sings to the woman he loves and desires, uplifting his queen at all costs. The lyrics tell the story infinitely:

"Its all in her eyes, you and me.../ words just disguise, all the things that you be..../
What is deep? It's deeper than sea.../
So only it knows, this kind of vibe gets stronger in time"

As he continues to glide over the track verse and lyric wise, the hook is so infectious and I can't help but sing along with it every time. After this gem, there is the masterful "When Will You Call", as Bilal sings his soul out yet again, almost begging for a lover of his to pick up the phone and call him. It showcases true vulnerability and emotion in Bilal's writing as well as his voice as he provides a sense of urgency through the track. He expresses that his hurt, the measures he's taking (he refuses to eat or sleep until he hears from her) and gets his lady back. The song is another one that hits hard, but the one that truly gets me is the beautifully arranged "Queen of Sanity". From his the depths of his soul, Bilal sings to his queen and makes it known her place and value to him and his life in general. The lyrics are also powerful here. A snippet of some of the lyrics:

"If I could block the moon, and rob the sun from the sky/
My love for you would still shine through me somehow/
And if the rain won't fade away, my love would still soar/"

After this amazing track, we arrive at the solid "Love Poems", another track where Bilal manages to yet again coast and create something special. However, it is the Marsha Ambrosius featured "You Are" that truly elevates the 2nd half of this album. A smooth soulful track, this features both Marsha and Bilal at their best, and while Marsha is more so in the background for the hook and not a part of the verses, her presence is certainly felt on this track. This is another one of my personal favorites and the production here is excellent and well put together. The melodies and the harmonies on this track are probably the best on the entire album. The reggae inspired "Home" is a truly feel good song, and Bilal once again gives us a gem to appreciate. The production here is fun, the vocals are superb and the entire vibe of the song is yet again infectious. The background vocals on the bridge are also so dope, and I can't help but sing along with it.

As we reach the climax of the album and this listening experience, Bilal hits us with a pretty funky joint in "Slyde", which is very reminiscent of the old George Clinton style along with the present day style of funk. Bilal creates an undeniably fun track here and leads us into the final track of the album, the slow "Second Child", which is as close to a title track as you get on this one. This song is a bit darker than the rest and while a different way to close out this album, it works well enough here. All in all, as I revisit this album to write this, the album is timeless music. Bilal made something that is near perfection and it's very impossible to truly change that. When we look back at the best albums in R&B from the 90s to now, First Born Second will certainly be on my list. It is that good.

Have any comments or opinions? Be sure to post them under the comments and share your thoughts.



Popular Posts