So you wanted to know who the Nate Dogg of neo-soul was? The guy who’s done more significant guest work than solo work? Bilal is that dude. The difference: One can sniff out Nate Dogg’s stamp from a mile away, but Bilal’s cameos (Common’s “It’s Your World/Pop’s Reprise”, Erykah Badu’s “Soldier”) are apparitional at best.
That speaks to Bilal’s voice as an aesthetic. On his third album, Airtight’s Revenge, Bilal’s silky notes float in between guitar riffs and piano arpeggios in a way that makes you want to scream somebody’s been listening to Prince! Yet, it’s an atmosphere that only Bilal can create, and for a sec, we see why artists who want Bilal on the hook, want only Bilal and no one else.
This effort is the result of an underappreciated singer who is given the opportunity to carry his own project. Bilal’s first album 1st Born Second dipped under the radar after an ephemeral appearance on the Billboard 200, and the bootleggers got to his second album, Love for Sale, before the record shelves did. So, what makes the album's first single “All Matter” doubly refreshing is not just the fervor of Bilal’s voice, but more importantly the singularity of it.
Bilal comes off strongest on the emotional cuts. Whether it’s words of advice to his seeds (“Little One”) or letters of breakup to past lovers (“Think It Over”), the soul singer’s heart is that invisible instrument that often deserves the most liner note recognition. Bilal even gets wayward on “She’s Flying” when he sings, “How do you that?/ Upside down when you’re smoking crack…somebody get this ho up off the flo’.” Add the residue of an indie label like Plug Research and you get folky electronic soul that palpitates.
Airtight’s Revenge may very well be the definition of creative control. It’s full of quirks and sounds that would have been deleted by mainstream censors. Quirks and sounds that make the album the truest Bilal release to date.
Airtight's Revenge available tomorrow