On his tight renaissance piece, Bilal also finds revenge and redemption.
It's been a long time and a lot of stress since Bilal Oliver was introduced to the world with '1st Born Second'. The Dr. Dre endorsed neo-soul singer has been patient over the years and after '1st Born Second' his second album 'Love For Sale' never did sell as Interscope shelved the release. So armed with a chip on his shoulder and a lot of time on his side Bilal releases his third album but his second official release with 'Airtights Revenge'. An album that shows that although one of the best soul artists in the game has been sitting on the shelf he hasn't been collecting dust. Bilal is polished and ready to shine after almost a decade of helping other artists glitter with all his gold.
After blessing Rap and R&B hooks for years from Game to Tweet or Solange to Clipse. Bilal has stood out on tracks like Jay-Z's 'Fallin'' and many Common hits including 'The Light' and many Talib Kweli standouts, most notably 'Waitin' For The D.J.' Now after years of being everyone elses guest, it's time for Bilal to make himself welcome.
Bilal is one of the frontier acts in the stellar rise of neo-soul. Like all the genres acts he is undeniably unique. 'Airtights Revenge' adds more modern, polished neo soul to the matrix of classic albums over the last few years. 'Airtight' sounds as cool as Maxwell's epic 'BLACKsummersnight' all while sounding like classic soul from decades gone by like Rapheal Saadiq's classic, 'The Way I See It'. It's Bilals versatility and vocal range that separates this man from the boys however. Bilal's trademark falsetto, free form, almost at times female sounding voice makes him able to stand next to original neo-soul acts like Erykah Badu too.
This album was recorded by Bilal in response to his label pains and the result is a star, pregnant with classic, diverse soul pieces. Bilal wanted to express through love songs and dark tales his frustrations with the shelving of 'Love For Sale' and his difficulties with Interscope. The tone of this album is further expressed in it's artwork. A passionate, rageful red background, with Bilal mimicking the dress and stance of Malcom X in the famous photo where the human rights activist was peering out of his window with a gun. This isn't the first time an album cover has mirrored this. Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One adopted the pose for the Malcom X slogan named album 'By All Means Necessary'. Still however on 'Airtight's' cover Bilal is holding a microphone behind him, his greatest weapon. This cover could connote Bilal looking in on the industry that he was pushed out of from behind the curtain, keeping his precious asset, his microphone protected at arms length.
The more literal way of interpreting this singers message is through the music however. Bilal's label experiences have tagged his songs with a strength and mature outlook on his subject matter. Bilal has grown up and produced one of the best sounding albums out there at the moment. The joint 'Flying' is a great story that mirrors the record industry. Bilal laments about metaphorical characters that relate to his life and the trials of the music business singing, 'could of been a star, but you know how it is, you can't do s*** when your injured, less these h*'s out here is younger every day'.
Again 'Airtight's Revenge' sounds as smooth as Maxwell's latest classic, especially on the song 'All Matter' which builds with drums like 'BLACKsummers Night's', 'Phoenixrise' and Bilal like a phoenix himself rises from the ashes of his nine years of release problems with record labels. While the records opening cut, 'Cake And Eat It Too' sounds like Dr. Dre himself put that shiny silver suit back on for a 70's esque beat with plenty of bounce. It's Bilal and Steve McKie however that man the boards on this gem with Oliver's slow almost jazz esque singing. The lines 'I just can't do it again' reinforce Bilal's point. While he offers others wise words of advice to up and comers in the industry, "when you give into desire, theres no telling what it brings, one pathway can take you higher, or it just might bring you down".
The track 'Little One' hits the high notes all whilst pulling the guitar and heart strings. It's about Bilal's son with autism. The lyrics are beautiful and hopeful with starting with, "they say its gonna take a miracle to bring you back again, they say there's nothing they can do, but I'm not the only one that sees the possibility in you, you know your mother sees it too." The track 'Move On' follows and continues in the same musical vain as 'Little One' but with a different baseline. On these atmospheric, sad songs Bilal is instrumental, lacing these potent stories in perfect harmony.
Even when Bilal gets experimental he yields great results and positive conclusions. On analysis, tracks like 'The Dollar' feel so much like scientific soul it's like they actually were crafted in a lab. The song also has a film noir esque soundtrack feel to it, with dark but hopeful lyrics like, "life has no meaning at all, and its all set up for you to fall, they'll make you believe it, but don't you believe it, no, no".
The six minute gem 'Who Are You', feels like a song in three acts of different levels. The first act is an incredibly cool instrumental piece, with some great singing serving as the meat of the sandwich. The track ends with Bilal repeating the words 'Let me take you higher', which further shows how uplifting neo-soul music like this can be. Speaking of which the second to last track 'Who Are You' sounds like some 'Prototype' , elevator music that takes you higher. Further showing that neo soul is a time machine that takes you back decades and forward to the year 3000 all at the same time. Also the futuristic but classic sounding track 'Robots' is so out there and diverse it could sit with versatile Janelle Monae's show tune, futuristic, 'Metropolis' work.
After years of spending time stuck in the 'Fast Lane', with this album, the 'Soul Sista' to his debut, Bilal finds his own lane. Sequels rarely best their originals but on this official sophmore set Bilal proves he's the fresh man, delivering something better than his '1st Born'. Although this album is Bilal's way of venting his frustrations with his former music home, this album is no middle finger to Interscope. Bilal's incredible deliverance and performance on this album gives Interscope instead that regretful feeling of seeing an old ex that they should have never let go of move on so well. It's all about love and Bilal's got plenty to give. What's their loss is the next labels gain. On 'Airtight's Revenge' Bilal awakes the classics, sounding like 'Instant Vintage' but at the same time he still makes himself and his message heard 'NOW'! TIM DAVID HARVEY.