The Way He Drops the Beat

Bilal Raises the Stakes with Airtight's Revenge

Art & Music, Featured

Bilal. The brother’s name is synonymous with silky, jazz-bluesy falsetto tones and the music movement of the mid-nineties – early new millennium known as “neo-soul”. Bilal is now back on the scene – nine years since his debut album dropped and four years since his sophomore project, Love For Sale, was leaked – with Airtight’s Revenge, an album both so complex and complete it defies categorizing.

In 2009-10, we children of the neo-soul movement jumped for joy as some of our idols dropped new albums, and others made comebacks after years of being neither seen nor heard. With the exception of a few superfluous covers, this new soul music has indeed been food for the soul. However, Bilal offers us a different type of nourishment – and entire unique project – new sounds, new lyrics, new matter – none of which we realized we needed until he brought it to our attention. From the opening strains of the first cut, Cake and Eat It Too, I’m reminded of why I anticipated this album so greatly. 1st Born Second musically was in the same vein of great neo-soul sound, often credited to the Soulquarians collective (of which Bilal is a member), but musically and lyrically this album takes things one step further, with quotable phrases in every track.

A purveyor of love music Bilal offers as the first single, Restart, which speaks of a relationship in need of repair and renewal. He says, I’ll be outside cooling off/But no matter how far I roam, I’m coming home/ Have we come too far to turn it all back around?/Or is it too late to start again?/You know I lost my whole direction, but it’s you that I want. In this we hear the voice of a man – grown ass at that – committed to the work of repairing a long-term relationship. It’s a refreshing deviation from the typical, “We fucking or what?” love songs of today. This is an album for the 30-somethings, and musically crosses genres with its driving drum beat and heavy instrumentation. Continuing in the theme of love, Bilal gives us the hot track, All Matter, and asks What is love? He answers his own question: Cool on the outside/hot in the middle/you ain’t even gotta try/all you gotta do is realize/ it’s all matter. Again, this isn’t a song for the kiddies, but fodder for grown folks going through love pains to think and reflect on.

Bilal displays his classical music training with Flying, a street tale about the fate of a young girl turned trick after the feds arrest her dope-dealing father and kill her mother during the bust. Bilal tells the story, straight no chaser, saying, He had her walking the town selling ass/they was making money till she broke her back one day/How you do that?/Upside down on the pole when you smoking crack. Behind this lead, Bilal sings his own background vocals and the end product is choral music. Furthermore, the guitarist on this track (and the entire album) mimics and harmonizes with Bilal’s own instrument, giving the song layer upon layer of sound. The combination of the lyrics to the overall sound of the song is profoundly different from anything I’ve ever heard. This track will make you rewind it a million times asking, “Did he just say what I think he said?” Yes he did.

Bilal shares much of his personal self on this album, in tracks like Little One an honest, tearjerker track written to his two sons, and critiques our fast-paced, fame and money-obsessed society in Robots and The Dollar. The startler on the album though is Who Are You, where Bilal delves into the human condition and labeling ourselves by standards we aren’t entirely sure how to measure. Ever tell you bout the girl who thought she was a Christian…/Now she’s searching through her heart trying to find the answers to this life/this heaven, this hell/this heaven, this hell. Just when you think the track is ending with I’m just a human being/be what I want to be/that’s who I am/spiritually, Bilal gives us an added 1:20, flips the track to reggae, and and sends our mind trip on its way.

With all this, I think what made this writer fall head over heels with this album was the bonus track. Don’t misunderstand: every track on this album speaks to me and the album in its entirety is the musical equivalent of a Toni Morrison novel: heavy, soulful, and paradigm shifting. However, the bonus track, Lost My Mind, reminds me that Bilal knows how to make a stone cold groove, often better than the rest. After all he’s made me think and feel, in the end he equilibrates the whole experience through his special brand of love music that, plain and simple, makes me feel good.

Thanks Bilal.

Airtight’s Revenge is available now for download, via iTunes, and on Amazon.com.

One Comment on "The Way He Drops the Beat"

  1. Cake Convention Jan 11, 2011 · 2:32 pm

    Thanks for this interesting post. I will be sure to get the word out about this site :) Excellent post. Can’t wait to see the next blog post.

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