Bilal : First Born Second

Stellar debut from former D'Angelo backing singer turned conscious soul soon-too-be superstar...

Or ‘Beloved Intelligent Lustful And Livin’ It’. Or his parents first born but ‘the second coming of the soul movement’. No need for assertiveness training

or ‘Find your inner confidence!’ classes then for the latest Philly soul wonder.

Bilal Oliver is a 22-year-old former backing singer for D’Angelo and member of the Soulquarians who are collectively Timbaland and Missy‘s worst nightmare: sandal-wearing, vinyl-collecting, old school instrument-owning ‘headz’ and de facto keepers of the neo soul flame. Like his former boss, Bilal clearly has an exhaustive collection of Prince back catalogue. And like his boss many hours have passed in the bathroom mirror perfecting that falsetto.

But Bilal is more than that. He’s rapper, coffee shop poet, lover man and conscious politico all rolled into one. And he’s a neo soul head who understands the need for a car with a good stereo. You only have to listen to the Dr Dre -produced ‘Fast Lane’ to hear Bilal wants these beats to be bumped on the freeway . On the playful scat of ‘All That I Am’ which allies an appealing hook with a rough philosophical scat debating Iceberg Slim and ‘ the soul of the black man’ and also on ‘Sometimes’, a funny, chilled Erykah-style musing on life’s disappointments, he’s accessible and knowing (he wants to know, for one, why he [I]”did all the work last night”[/I])

But he really lights the place up on ‘For You’ a towering, thundering manifesto which is half hiphop, half Earth Wind & Fire tuning up, and on ‘Love Poems’ where our hero tries to renegotiate a relationship contract, ditching the commitment clause while somewhat unrealistically keeping full booty ‘rights’. Lyrically it’s intriguing: his ladyfriend’s monologue provides a balanced view of which Relate would approve. Oh, and it’s a great tune.

You can tell how refreshing an album this is because when he decides to

explore the world of cliche, it really stands out. ‘When Will You Call’ is an accomplished but dull-as-ditchwater trip down the mannerisms of so much jazz inflected ‘mature’ soul. It’s there because he’s trying to show he can do everything. Sometimes everything is not all you need. Do we really need Bilal doing Bob Marley on ‘Stars In Their Eyes’ as on ‘Home’? And there is a batch of somehow incomplete ideas like ‘Reminisce’ and ‘Queen Of Sanity’ which he’d have been better of polishing for later use.

But, greatness beckons. On the outro ‘ Second Child’ he sings [I]”born as a second child/All I got was hand me downs”[/I]. And he’s turned those hand-me-downs into something new.

Michael Odell