Bilal : 1st Born Second

Soulman's smooth and very long debut

His name is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable; he is, apparently, [I]”Beloved, intelligent, lustful and livin’ it”.[/I]

Nu-soulman Bilal, 22, certainly has a lot going for him: good looks, fantastic pipes, and friends including Dr Dre, The Roots and Erykah Badu. Dre produces future single ‘Fast Lane’, a superb hard’n’squelchy epic that burns like liquid nitrogen; other highlights include the rootsy ‘Sally’ and ‘All That I Am’, that nails an effortless, ethereal tunefulness which eludes a lot of the other tracks.

And that’s Bilal’s big problem; there are so [I]many[/I] other tracks – 17 – dragging the whole show out to an excessive 76 minutes. Not enough of it’s worth an hour and a quarter of your life. The torpid waltz of ‘When Will You Call’ seems destined to invoke the response “Who cares?”; and rest assured that when Bilal offers up his ‘Love Poems’, they ain’t exactly Wordsworth.

There’s also a recurring, annoying big pimpin’ rhetoric which is a) tired as hell and b) ludicrous, when delivered in Bilal’s swooping falsetto against a background of exotic bedroom soul. Set in the context of the empowered women now running R-amp;B, it sounds suspiciously like an insecure man trying to show the chicks who’s boss.

So it’s not all good – about a third isn’t very good at all. But amid the disappointing stuff there are intriguing arrangements, innovative beats, and amazing flashes of inspiration. Bilal has soul, but he has a lot to learn. But then, one creamy curlicue from his voice is enough to convince that he’ll be around for the lessons.

Alex Needham