The Underrated: Bilal

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-There are some artists who never get the credit they deserve and end up slept on throughout the years. The Philadelphia native Bilal is one of those artists. With a special knack for utilizing his smooth vocals, which can range from the deep baritone at times to the soft falsetto, Bilal is one of the best artists of our time. His vocal range, the soulful flare in his voice and his ability allowed him to gain the fans attention through some guest appearances on Common's album Like Water For Chocolate, most notably on "The Sixth Sense"; which is knew of his greatest guest appearances ever. Once he got signed to Interscope Records, it seemed like Bilal was on his way. His debut album 1st Born Second hit in 2001 and is a cult classic now, but was slept on when it dropped. It began the journey of Bilal. Today, we take a look at Bilal, his influences, and his music.


Uh...if you haven't heard his music, you need to. I mean, there's really nothing else I can say about him. He's legit.

...oh, you're still here. Well, might as well talk a bit about why you should listen to more Bilal in your life. He's like a mix between Curtis Mayfield, Prince and The Roots (probably because of his Philly roots). So, if that doesn't get you excited, check your pulse. The man makes music you can vibe to and just coast with, grow with, love with. It's always positive vibes mixed in with reality.

I'll be honest. Speaking about Bilal is one of those things I'm not good at. He's just so great that I lose all writing composure when talking about him. There aren't that many artists who do that to me, so rare company indeed.

Like Prince, the Philly native constantly evolves his sound while still being true to himself. In this age, where artists are quick to hop onto the next gimmick to maintain relevancy, Bilal just hops on a track, SANGS, and gives it back to us to love and enjoy.

Again, you need to hear his music. Don't read my words, just listen to his. Damn, never thought I'd ask people to not read what I'm saying.

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-I love the music of Bilal and will always be a fan of his. After his work on Like Water For Chocolate, I had to go out and buy his debut album. From the neo soul sounds of "Soul Sista" to the reality groove of "Sometimes" to the sad but honest "When Will You Call" to the anthem for the ladies "Queen of Sanity", Bilal managed to stake his claim and instantly became a favorite of mine. I was enjoying his rhythm, his vocal ability, and his knack to seemingly make every song better. After his debut, he would remain quiet for the most part on the solo end, instead supplying many artists with features and hooks. His working relationship with Common remains my favorite thing for both, as it has spawned classics.

Bilal and Common honestly worked well together on the universally slandered Electric Circus album, which was the most daring work the two had ever done. Of course, we found Bilal on Common's two comeback albums of BE and Finding Forever, and he didn't disappoint on either. His work on BE is still flawless to me in my mind, as his voice stacked with John Legend's on "Faithful" is still classic and his hook and melody on "It's Your World" is honestly my favorite thing about the entire album. On Finding Forever, Bilal provides the melody and hook for "Black, Maybe", and the result is something that is almost timeless. Another slept on song from Common and Bilal is the track "Play Your Cards Right" from the Smokin' Aces soundtrack. That track is a feel good song for some reason and I think Bilal carries it, like he does a majority of the songs he features on.

Speaking of features, Bilal would get a lot of hook work on some of the more respected hip hop artists' albums, including an epic turn on the Clipse classic album Hell Hath No Fury with "Nightmares". One of my personal favorite Bilal moments is his accompanying background vocals and bridge on Talib Kweli's "Talkin To You" from his 2002 album Quality. Bilal is at his smoothest on that particular track and every time I listen to it, I tend to skip Talib and only listen to Bilal. He commands that song and that's one of the things I enjoy the most about him. He's not just a complement to the song, he commands and leads the song usually when his vocals hit. The same could be said for his vocal contributions to Erykah Badu and her more recent albums, his work with Solange, and his hook work on the classic To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. Bilal made the songs that he assisted with THAT much better and as a result, he made the album better itself.

However, my favorite project from Bilal is one that was never officially released. Interscope seemingly fucked up the release for his sophomore album, and as a result deemed the album as something that they couldn't market and it was shelved after apparently leaking to the internet. One has to wonder how much damage the leak did honestly, as the existence of this album is not as wildly known anyways, so I'm sure Interscope COULD have put it out and marketed it, they just chose not to. Unfortunately, they missed out on an opportunity to make Bilal bigger, as the 2nd album Love For Sale was truly a classic and I'd say better and more concise than his debut. With self production carrying the whole thing mostly besides a track or two, Love For Sale seems Bilal at his most musically focused and aware, with classic tracks like "Lord Don't Let It", "White Turns To Grey", "Make Me Over", "All For Love", and the interesting "Hollywood". That album is one I think every Bilal fan should know and have, and I think that Interscope robbed us of getting the full impact of what this album could have done.

Bilal's been in the game for almost 18 years now, and he's on his fifth official album, well fourth if you don't count Love For Sale. The rest of his albums are experimental and shows Bilal flexing his creative muscle and pushing his range to the highest high. Airtight's Revenge holds a special place in my heart as an album and I think it's a blend of psychedelic rock, jazz, and sweet soulful funk. Bilal is such a versatile artist that he needed to make an album that fit him and this was it. "Cake and Eat It Too", "All Matter", the moderately successful single "Little One", "Think It Over", and countless other songs from this truly made it a near classic album. For those keeping track, that's 3 in a row (including Love For Sale). To be fair, I wasn't a HUGE fan of the album A Love Surreal, but it had enough dope music on it to be enjoyable. I like the production as always, but some of the songs fell flat to me. Truly, there's a chance that Bilal just wanted to experiment some more and we know that doesn't always work as well for some of us. Still, the greatness of "Climbing" and "Butterfly" could never be denied.

His most recent album "In Another Life" was great and a return to form in some way. Still experimenting, but more in his comfort zone, Bilal delivered hugely on this album. With production mostly coming from the underrated Adrian Younge, there's a consistent cohesion in the album that lacked in his last release. Each song represents something and the way he delivered this project was exciting. My favorite track from this album has to be "Spiraling", but you can't go wrong with anything on this project. It's up there with his debut and sophomore in terms of quality.

 That's the thing about Bilal. He's truly underrated because in his genre of music, no one can do what he does and they aren't as consistently great as he is. He is an underground legend in some ways and he should be recognized as a legend regardless for his contributions from an artist standpoint. If you're looking for some good music and don't know where to turn, always give Bilal a listen. No matter who you are, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Period.



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