At Gigantic Studios in Manhattan, Bilal’s three year-old son Ramsey is bouncing from lap to lap in pure bliss. "I like 'All Matter'" he says to daddy during his listening party. Gotta give it to the little tike because the jazzy single (there's a Robert Glasper version floating around as well) is a strong candidate for best song on a pretty potent soul album. On Bilal's third LP Airtight's Revenge, a reference to a Donald Goines character, the 30 year old soul singer channels his inner Frank Zappa. He plays in a sparkling puddle of jazz, rock, punk, and soul, driven by his mission "to break away from the neo soul vibe." With the majority of the concepts coming from his home piano, Bilal and his cast of matchstick producers (Steven McKie, Shafiq Husayn, Nottz) are taking revenge on an industry obsessed with categories and OKP is here to follow the footprints track by track. After a private listening session, here's how the album breaks down, song by song.
"Cake And Eat It Too"
An original GarageBand ditty according to Bilal. His voice is smooth on this cut. The track is very Dark-Side-of-the-Moonish and by that I mean horns and strings that could double up as tools and appliances, a guitar that sounds like an alarm clock, and some other instrument that sounds like a soulful cash register.
This track was originally supposed to be called "Failure." Glad this morbid title was changed. As for the track, it has an indie rock sentimentality. Bilal's voice still sounds soulful; it actually sounds like five doo-wop singers trapped in a space machine headed to 2020. Very trippy.
This is little Ramsey’s favorite song from the intro. Something about this cut is very urgent, almost as if Bilal is singing to get out of jail. It really is that type of desperation, which absolutely works. The drums here are zoological. They have the effect of meaningful raindrops in a sea of consciousness and they echo the song's theme, "it's all matter." The song is bleak but it melts the heart.
This Nottz produced song came to fruition on Bilal's piano. "The song leaves on a bad note," he added during the listening party. "I think I need to make a part two." The beat on this song is too basic. The piano contrasts with the drum. Although humorous (he sings, "how do you hang upside on the pole while smoking?"), he may have to write a part two for a different reason.
This joint was done with Shafiq Husayn. Defibrillatingly (I just made up a word) rapid. Disjointed but cool.
Ode to Bilal's two young sons, one who has sickle cell and the other who has autism. The one traditionally soul song on the album, poised with a sentimental bass and lonely guitar riffs. A very watery-eyed ballad.
Bilal said he wrote this when he was fifteen. There’s definitely the ghost of Led Zeppelin here mixed with jazz tonalities. It’s very twangy and even breaks into 80's drum and bass. Bilal compares it to a cut Bunny Sigler would do.
In this very aristocratic cut, Bilal's lyrics comment on how we're all these mechanical beings on the same mission to climb the same undefined ladder. Here, the electric guitar sparks off and is allowed to play in a bubble bath of synthy sounds.
The story behind this song goes like this: Bilal and his mom are walking down the street in Philly when they see a bag of crack on the ground. Before either of them could say, "Oh my god, somebody dropped a bag of crack on the ground," somebody swooped in front of them, picked the bag up, and yelled, "Oh my luck day!" That’s the inspiration behind Bilal's 1970s time-warped vocals and the phrase "Oh my lucky day" actually becomes the chorus. Good track despite the discontinued drums and staccato rhythms.
"Who Are You?"
An acoustic guitar plays over raindrops. This song definitely channels the zeitgeist of Classic Rock. It sounds like a song Bilal would sing on his front steps. The breakdown is emotional. "I'm a saint, I'm a sinner… I'm a Muslim, I'm a Christian," he croons before the track drowns out on a Reggae riddim.
"Think It Over"
This one was crafted with 88 Keys/Hezekiah. It’s a breakup song and soulful square dance at the same time. A nice laid-back way to end a solid album.
There it is - Airtight's Revenge. The majority of the album was recorded in Philly where Bilal had been working on the project since 2008. Bilal admits that the leak of his last album Love for Sale affected him for a spell, but since he has signed with Plug Research he has been determined to break away from the neo soul mold and with his new album he has done just that. is definitely more guitar-driven and rocked out, than keyboard driven crooning. Guess we can say goodbye to the cowry shells for now…