Born in 1979, and raised in Philly, Bilal Oliver Sayeed’s career began when he was just twenty. Having left Philly, Bilal moved a hundred miles to New York, where he began to become a familiar face within the city’s music scene. Soon, he knew artists across the hip and Nu-Soul scene, including Common, Erykah Badu and The Roots. Then when he was taking part in an after-school jam session, Bilal was discovered by Aaron Comess of the Spin Doctors. Aaron arranged for Bilal to record a demo, which was shopped to record labels. Eventually, Bilal signed to Inerscope Records, where he released his debut album 1st Born Second in 2001. Since then, much has happened to Bilal. He’s released two further albums, 2006s Love For Sale and 2010s Airtight’s Revenge, and at one time, was considering quitting music. Now, three years after 2010s Airtight’s Revenge, comes his fourth album A Love Surreal, which will be released by BBE Records on 4th March 2013. Inspired by the art of legendary surrealist painter Salvador Dail, A Love Surreal is Bilal’s most ambitious and innovative project to date. Before I tell you about A Love Surreal, I’ll tell you about Bilal’s career so far.

Having signed to Interscope Records, Bilal began work on what became 1st Born Second. It featured contributions from the Soulquarians and saw Bilal work with producers Dr. Dre and J. Dilla.1st Born Second proved was critically acclaimed and commercially successful, reaching number thirty-one on the US Billboard 200 and number ten in the US R&B Charts. Eventually, 1st Born Second sold 319,000 copies. Then there’s the three singles which were released from 1st Born Second. They were Fast Lane, Love It and Soul Sista, which was the most successful single. It reached number eighteen in the US R&B Charts and number seventy-one in the US R&B Charts. Since then, 1st Born Second is perceived as one of the best R&B and hip hop debut albums of the past thirty years. Having established a reputation as one of the most innovative artists of the millennia, Bilal spent the next few years collaborating with other artists, before recording his sophomore album.

Following the success of 1st Born Second, Bilal was keen to broaden his musical horizons. This lead to him collaborating with Jorge Ben, Dead Prez and Talib Kwell on a reinterpretation of Fela Kuti’s Suffering and Smiling. This was released as part of Red Hot and Riot’s well received compilation, where each artist covered a Fel Kuti song. During this period, Bilal collaborated with an eclectic selection of artists. From hip hop through jazz, R&B and Nu-Soul, Bilal worled with numerous artists. Among them, were Common, John Legend, Guru, J. Dilla, Jermaine Dupri, Jaguar Wright, Robert Glasper and Beyonce. This would give Bilal the inspiration for his sophomore album. However, Bilal’s career took an unexpected twist, which resulted in him questioning his musical future.

Bilal’s sophomore album Love For Sale was due to be released in 2006. Unlike his debut album 1st Born Second, Bilal was producing Love For Sale. The exception was Something To Hold On To, which was produced by Grammy Award winning songwriter and producer Nottz. Once Love For Sale was completed, the entire album was leaked on the internet. This resulted in Interscope shelving the album. They thought there was little point releasing an album that was already freely available. For Bilal, this proved to be a double edged sword. Given how hard Bilal had worked  on Love For Sale, Bilal was questioning his future as a musician. It got so bad for Bilal, that he almost quit music entirely. Luckily, fans and critics alike, loved Love For Sale. Soon, Bilal was touring Love For Sale. This encouraged Bilal to continue his musical career. Four years later, came Bilal’s third album, which was aptly titled.

After Love For Sale was shelved, Bilal left Interscope. Again, Bilal collaborated with other artists. Whether it was hip hop, Nu-Soul or free jazz, Bilal was the go-to-guy. He worked with everyone from Sun Ra, The Roots, Scarface, Jaz-Z, J-Dilla and 88 Keys. Then in 2010, Bilal was ready to release his third album, the aptly-titled Airtight’s Revenge. Rather than sign to another major, Bilal had signed to a smaller, independent label, Plug Research. It seemed that signing for a smaller label, with a lower profile allowed him the freedom to be slightly more experimental. While Bilal didn’t sacrifice his trademark brand of catchy Nu-Soul, he used effects to take detours into spacey jazz and funky jams. For Bilal, this seemed to reinvigorate his career, allowing his to forget the frustrations of Love For Sale. For Airtight’s Revenge, Bilal brought in many of the artists he’d previously collaborated with. Nottz, 88 Keys and Robert Glasper all worked on Airtight’s Revenge. The result was an album that was well received by critics and a commercial success. It reached number 101 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-one in the US R&B Charts. Nine years after his debut album 1st Born Second, Bilal was back, after the frustration of Love For Sale. Three years later, Bilal is back, with A Love Surreal, which I’ll now tell you about.

For Bilal’s fourth album A Love Surreal, he’s fused soul, funk and jazz over fourteen tracks and fifty-six minutes. This isn’t just soul, funk and jazz as we know and love it, but Bilal’s bold, innovative reinterpretation of it. Bilal refers to A Love Surreal as: “an audio art gallery or musical museum.” His inspiration was the work of surrealist painter Salvador Dali. So, Bilal decided to challenge himself to do two things. One was to come up with a suite of music that reflected Dali’s paintings. The other challenge was to create music that investigates the many nuances of love. This twofold challenge was completed, when Bilal finished A Love Surreal, which I’ll now tell you about.

Intro, which opens A Love Surreal has a warm, multilayered, experimental sound. It meanders dreamily into being, before chugging along, with percussion, keyboards drenched in effects. Experimental, fuzzy and even surreal describes this one-minute track which whets your musical appetite. You wonder what will follow?

West Side Girl sees crisp drums drenched in filters combine with guitars and bass, as Bilal scats. When his vocal enters, the similarity with Prince is uncanny. It’s not just his voice, but his delivery and the lyrics. He delivers a sassy rap, of lyrics that Prince would’ve penned in his prime. Meanwhile the arrangement mixes funk, Nu-Soul, pop and even elements of house. The result is a track laden with memorable poppy hooks.

The unmistakable sound of a Fender Rhodes opens Back To Love, which has a real jazzy sound. Here, Bilal delivers a heartfelt, impassioned vocal, filled with sadness. “How do we get Back To Love,” he asks, as the arrangement mixes jazz, soul, drama and emotion.

Winning Hand sees slow, moody and deliberate, drums pound, before a bass weaves its way across the arrangement. Bilal scats, before tenderly and gratefully delivers his vocal. Soon, riffing rocky guitars enter, adding a dramatic twist to the arrangement. It’s all change, as Bilal’s vocal changes, growing in power, as he and his band kick loose and demonstrate another side to his music. This change of style continues on Climbing. It’s a fusion of genres, influences and musical textures. Laden with drama and emotion, again, soul, jazz and rock combine. There’s a sense of urgency in Bilal’s vocal, reflected in the beats and searing guitars. Later, elements of free jazz and seventies West Coast rock can be heard, as Bilal continues to reinvent both his music and himself.

Longing and Waiting is one of the most atmospheric and evocative tracks on A Love Surreal. Slow, spacey beats and chiming guitars combine as the arrangement gradually reveals its secrets. Bilal’s vocal is swathed in filters, giving the track a sixties psychedelic feel, which reminds me of John Lennon. Later, crashing rock guitars punctuate the arrangement, before a Prince influence reveals itself. Bilal takes this fusion of influences, gives it a 21st century twist, to create a track that’s evocative, emotive and bathed in drama.  Similarly evocative and emotive is Right At The Core. It features an understated piano-lead arrangement. This is perfect for Bilal’s tender, melancholy vocal. Soon, his vocal grows in power, passion and emotion, cooing harmonies accompanying him, as he delivers one of his most heartfelt, moving vocals on A Love Surreal.

Slipping Away sees Bilal delivering another hurt-filled vocal. Again, the arrangement is subtle, guitars reverberate and synths bubble as Bilal delivers a heartbroken vocal. His vocal has a similar quality to Jeff Buckley’s on Grace. It almost becomes an instrument in its own right. As his vocal grows in power, emotion and hurt, guitars scream and riff, a piano pound and the track takes on a symphonic quality. By the end of the track you’re spent, exhausted at this cathartic outpouring of despair, grief and heartbreak.

Slipping Away is a much more uptempo track. There’s a slight country influence, thanks to the guitar that reverberates, weaving its way across the arrangement. With  drums providing the heartbeat, Bilal’s vocal is a mixture of hope and hurt. He delivers his vocal with tenderness tinged with hope, hope that one day he’ll “learn to love again” and “smile.” With its fusion of country, rock and soul, this reinforces how versatile an artist Bilal is, while delivering a soulful vocal filled with hope and longing.

Astray continues the fusion of influences, with rocky guitars, funk, pop and soul combining. Again, Bilal’s vocal is reminiscent of Prince in his prime. So is the arrangement, with its fusion of slow, spacious drums, riffing guitars and effects added to the cascading, melodic vocal and guitars. Like West Side Girl, Astray is a memorable, melodic track where Bilal hasn’t rationed poppy hooks.

Ethereal backing vocalists open Never Be The Same. They set the scene for a gentle, wistful vocal from Bilal. He’s accompanied by subtle, chiming guitars, with clever chord changes and understated drums. As Bilal decides: “it’s time to make a change,” his vocal is filled with emotion, fear and maybe, regret, as he lays bare his soul for all to hear. Quite simply, this is not only the most beautiful track on A Love Surreal, but the best track.

Butterfly sees Bilal joined by Robert Glasper, who Bilal has collaborated with previously. Robert featured on Bilal’s previous album Airtight’s Revenge. It’s another piano lead track, with a subtle arrangement. Bilal’s vocal soars elegantly above the arrangement. The piano adds a beautiful backdrop, while synths add a subtle and atmospheric hue. Later, Bilal scats jazz style, his vocal becoming an primal scream style outpouring of emotion and frustration. Meanwhile, the arrangement grows in drama, but neither overpowers nor dominates Bilal’s jazz-drenched vocal.

The Flow has a much more experimental sound as it starts to reveal its secrets. Then, when the arrangement unfolds, there’s everything from hip hop, jazz, rock, funk and soul. It’s a real fusion of influences. Hip hop beats, rocky guitars and stabs of keyboards accompany Bilal’s vocal, as it veers between hip hop, rock and soul. Always, Bilal’s vocal is emotive, mixing power and passion, during this genre sprawling track.

Bookending A Love Surreal is Outro, a track which is very similar to Intro. Like Intro, it’s a jaunty, fuzzy track, which meanders and chugs along. Experimental and atmospheric, it brings Bilal’s fourth album A Love Surreal, to a compelling and captivating close.

Three years after the release of Bilal’s previous album, Airtight’s Revenge, where he started reinventing himself and his music, this continues on A Love Surreal. During the fourteen tracks on A Love Surreal, Bilal fuses musical genres and influences. There’s everything from soul, funk and jazz, through hip hop, country, sixties psychedlia  and rock, including West Coast rock on A Love Surreal. The result is an album that’s a genre-sprawling, innovative album, inspired by surrealism. 

A Love Surreal, Bilal’s fourth album was inspired by the paintings of Salvador Dail. So, he set about creating his most ambitious album to date. He set about creating an album that was “an audio art gallery or musical museum.” This was A Love Surreal, a suite of music that reflected Dali’s paintings. The other side of A Love Surreal was to investigate the many nuances of love. This was quite an ambitious challenge, but one that Bilal succeeded in. He created his “audio art gallery or musical museum.” The fourteen tracks on A Love Surreal create the backdrop for a surrealist film that’s yet to be made. Instead, the music on A Love Surreal conjurs up images in your mind’s eye. A Love Surreal is an evocative, emotive and innovative album, where Bilal takes you on a surrealist journey via soul, funk and jazz, through hip hop, country, sixties psychedlia and rock. On 4th March 2013, BBE Music will release A Love Surreal, where Bilal continues to reinvent himself and his music, with an  innovative, genre-sprawling album, inspired Salvador Daii. Standout Track: West Side Girl, Back To Love, Astray and Never Be The Same.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: