Just over two years ago, in March 2013, Bilal released his fourth album A Love Surreal, on BBE Music. A Love Surreal was billed as the most ambitious album of Bilal’s career. The music on A Love Surreal had been inspired by the art of legendary surrealist painter, Salvador Dali. It seemed that Bilal was intent on reinventing himself and his music. This was risky, as Bilal had just got his career back on track with Airtight’s Revenge, which was released in 2010.

Airtight’s Revenge had rejuvenated Bilal’s career, upon its release in 2010. The last few years hadn’t been easy for Bilal. Love For Sale, which was meant to be Bilal’s sophomore album, was scheduled for release in 2006, had been leaked on the internet. Interscope, Bilal’s record company pulled the release of Love For Sale. For Bilal, this was a huge disappointment, one that had him considering his future in music. Then came Airtight’s Revenge.

Airtight’s Revenge was released to critical acclaim. While it didn’t sell as many copies as Bilal’s debut album 1st Born Second, at least Bilal’s career was back on track. The man who was once the subject of a record company bidding was back.

Having rescued his career with Airtight’s Revenge, Bilal began thinking of his next album. Very few within the music industry thought that Bilal would release the most ambitious album of his career. That’s what he did though.

A Love Surreal was released in March 2013. On its release, critics hailed A Love Surreal an ambitious and groundbreaking album. Bilal’s comeback was complete, with what some critics believed was one of the best albums of his career. However, the only problem was following up such a successful album?

Just over two years later, and Bilal has returned with In Another Life. It was recently released on BBE Music, and is the his fifth album in Bilal’s career. His career began in 2001, in New York when he was the subject of a record company bidding war. However, Bilal was born and brought up in one of America’s most musical cities, Philadelphia.

Bilal Oliver Sayeed was born in Philadelphia, in 1979. That’s where he spent the first twenty years of his life. Philly’s is also where Bilal’s career began. However, it wasn’t until he moved to New York, that his career got going.

Aged just twenty, Bilal moved a hundred miles from Philly to New York. He soon 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, after considering his options, Bilal signed to Inerscope Records.

Now 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. That wasn’t the end of the success of 1st Born Second. Bilal enjoyed his first it single.

Three singles which were released from 1st Born Second, Fast Lane, Love It and Soul Sista. The most successful single was Soul Sista, which reached number eighteen in the US R&B Charts and number seventy-one in the US R&B Charts. Things couldn’t get much better for Bilal. He had just enjoyed his first single and released what many consider is a landmark album.

Since then, 1st Born Second is perceived as one of the best R&B and hip hop debut albums of the past thirty years. With Bilal’s star was in the ascendancy, other artists were keen to collaborate with him. This was how Bilal spent the next few years.

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. 

He 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. So Bilal went look looking for a new label.

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 on his new album. 

Despite deciding to experiment on Airtight’s Revenge, Bilal brought in many of the artists he’d previously collaborated with. Nottz, 88 Keys and Robert Glasper all joined Bilal for the recording of Airtight’s Revenge. While Bilal wanted to experiment, he wasn’t willing to sacrifice his trademark brand of Nu-Soul. One difference was Bilal’s decision to use effects to take detours into spacey jazz and funky jams. For Bilal, this seemed to reinvigorate his career, and allowed his to forget the frustrations of Love For Sale. 

Bilal’s decision to combine the music of his past, with a more experimental sound paid off. Airtight’s Revenge 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. However, it would be three more years, before Bilal released the followup to Airtight’s Revenge.

Three years after Airtight’s Revenge, Bilal returned with his fourth album, A Love Surreal. Bilal fused soul, funk and jazz over fourteen tracks and fifty-six minutes. This wasn’t just soul, funk and jazz as we know it, but Bilal’s bold, 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.

Critical acclaim accompanied the release of A Love Surreal. Critics were won over by A Love Surreal, referring to the album as one of Bilal’s finest moments. It seemed Bilal continual quest to reinvent his music, and take it in a different direction had paid off. He had released one of his finest albums. However, given the quality of A Love Surreal, following it up wasn’t going to be easy. So Bilal brought decided to collaborate with songwriter and producer Adrian Younge.

For the recording of In Another Life, Bilal decided to bring onboard songwriter and producer Adrian Younge. The pair collaborated on In Another Life. Adrian’s addition is noticeable straight away. While Bilal’s usual jazz and soul sound is clearly apparent, Adrian gives several tracks on In Another Life a much more indie vibe. That’s to be welcomed, and gives the track a much more eclectic sound. One thing that stays the same, is the theme that runs through In Another Life.

On In Another Life, Bilal’s in a reflective mood. He ponders the uncertainty and paranoia of modern life. Throughout In Another Life, constantly, Bilal probes and questions. This results in some heartfelt, frustrated and impassioned vocals as he asks a similar question to Marvin Gaye, What’s Going On? Helping him in his search for answers, are some guest artists.

Among the are Def Jam’s Big K.R.I.T. He adds a verse on Pleasure Toy. Kendrick Lamar, whose star is currently in the ascendancy, features on Money Over Love. The third and final guest artist is Kimbra, who features on turns up on Holding It Back. It’s a song that Bilal dedicated: “to the victims of injustice all over the World.” These are just three songs of the thirteen songs on In Another World, which I’ll tell you about.

Sirens II opens In Another World, which touches on one of the album’s themes, paranoia Thunderous drums are joined by bubbling synths and the bass. They’re joined by stabs of shrieking synth. Having set the scene for Bilal, he adds lead and backing vocals. There’s a sense of despair and resignation in his voice. Especially as he sings: “sirens have come to take you away.” Meanwhile, a shimmering Fender Rhodes adds a melancholy backdrop. So do synth strings. Adding a dramatic contrast are the rhythm section and synths. Bilal meanwhile, delivers a vocal that’s full of regret and soulfulness, against a genre-melting arrangement.

Lengthy washes of Hammond organ open Star Now. Before long, the rhythm section enter, combining elements of R&B, rock and psychedelia. Bilal’s vocal is very different from the previous track. He indulges in what’s best described as vocal gymnastics. His vocal quivers, trembles and soars above the arrangement as dramatically, he delivers the lyrics. Stylistically, it’s as if Bilal has sought inspiration from old Prince, as he paints pictures with his vocal.

Slow stabs of Fender Rhodes open Open Up The Door, before the rhythm section join in. They raise the tempo as Bilal takes charge of lead and backing vocals. Soon, he’s delivering one of his best vocals. It bristles with emotion, especially when he sings: “we grow stronger every day…we’ve come to far to give up.” Later, synths strings are added. They prove the finishing touch to what sounds like a vintage slice of soul. The only difference are the drums. They’re more Nu Soul than the vintage soul that’s obviously inspired Bilal. That’s no bad thing, and allow Bilal to stamp his name on Open The Door.

As a piano opens I Really Don’t Care, the arrangement takes on a  jazz-tinged sound. As the arrangement drifts along, the rhythm section accompany Bilal’s dreamy vocal. It’s reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. Proving a perfect foil for his vocal are the piano and bass. They frame Bilal’s joyous vocal as he sings of finding love second time around.

Briefly, Pleasure Toy’s introduction pays homage to Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing. Pounding drums combine with percussion and bass. Having set the scene for Bilal, he delivers a sultry, vamp that references Prince. Meanwhile,  Big K.R.I.T. lays down a rap. By now, the arrangement has a strong eighties influence. Soul, funk, hip hop and boogie play their part in this homage to the eighties and the artist formerly known as Prince.

So far, Adrian Younge has played a huge part in In Another Life. Not only is he the producer, but is a talented multi-instrumentalist who plays many of the instruments on In Another Life. One of the instruments he plays on Satellites, is the drums. He gives them a rockier sound than on other tracks. Having laid down the drums, Adrian adds bass and washes of Hammond organ. Bilal delivers a questioning, probing vocal. Stabs of horns sound as Bilal sings: “why the hell did I get you high…why the hell did I let you run out.” As Bilal’s vocal soars above an arrangement elements of funk, R&B and Southern Soul are combined to create a track that’s funky and soulful.

Briefly, the tempo drops on Money Over Love, which features a guest appearance from Kendrick. Just drums accompany Bilal, who sounds like D’Angelo. Then producer Adrian Younge throws a curve-ball. Out of nowhere, the arrangement takes a rocky twist. Influences include the Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Prince. Later, Kendrick ups the ante, as he trades vocals with Bilal, who also adds harmonies. Hooks certainly haven’t been spared as funk, rock and soul is combined by Bilal and Kendrick.

As Love Child begins, it sounds not unlike The Beatles’ Fool On The Hill. Then it’s all change. Sharp bursts of drums drive the arrangement along and accompany Bilal’s heartfelt vocal. Subtle washes of organ and bubbling synths are added. So are female harmonies. They accompany Bilal as he sings about a man whose unable to see his “Love Child” because its mother has run away. Midway through the track, it takes another brief Beatles-esque twist. Then it’s a return to the jaunty arrangement, as this cinematic sounding track reveals the rest of its secrets.

Slowly and deliberately, Holding It Back, which features Kimbra begins. Just the rhythm section, Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes combine. This provides the perfect backdrop to Bilal’s and then Kimbra’s vocal. Their vocal are tinged with confusion and joy. They play the part of lovestruck lovers well, “not knowing which way is up.” As they deliver heartfelt, soulful vocals, they bring the lyrics to life, and are responsible for one of the highlights of In Another Life.

The soulful sound continues on Spiralling. Again, the drums have a rockier sound. They’re joined by bursts of horns, Fender Rhodes and the rest of the rhythm section. Bilal’s vocal has a wistful sound, especially as he sings: “she’s spiralling, she’s spiralling, out of control.” There’s a sadness in his voice as he delivers the lyrics, as if they’re personal to him. Later, as the arrangement heads to its dramatic high, Bilal delivers a brief, dramatic, Prince-like vamp. It’s like a cathartic outpouring of emotion, and is the finishing touch to the track. 

Bury Me Next To You closes In Another Life. Washes of Fender Rhodes, sit in the background as the bass, guitar and drums take centre-stage. Bilal’s vocal is tinged with sadness and hurt, as the arrangement meanders along. Meanwhile, instruments flit in and out. Everything from a saxophone, slide guitar and synths are joined by flutes and a piano. They all play a supporting role to Bilal’s melancholy vocal.

That’s the story to Bilal’s fifth album In Another Life, which was recently released by BBE Music. In Another Life saw Bilal collaborate with Adrian Younge. The part he plays on In Another Life can’t be underestimated. Not only did he record and produce In Another Life, but he cowrote the twelve tracks on the album. Adrian, who is also a multi-instrumentalist, played on In Another Life. He plays everything from drums, bass and guitar, to Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, flute and saxophone. The other thing Adrian brings to In Another Life, is the ability to switch between genres.

Granted Bilal’s flitted between genres on A Love Surreal, but on In Another Life sometimes, Adrian adds a rocky hue. Occasionally, In Another Life takes a psychedelic twist. Mostly though, Bilal sticks to soul, jazz and funk. To do that, Bilal seeks inspiration from Prince, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, D’Angelo, Stevie Wonder. However, there’s also a nod to The Beatles and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. All these artists have influenced Bilal on In Another Life. So have his guest artists.

Three guest artists feature on In Another Life. This includes hip hoppers Big K.R.I.T. and Kendrick Lamar. They take In Another Life in the direction of hip hop. The other guest artist is Kindra, who plays a starring role on Holding It Back. She was the perfect foil for Bilal’s vocal, and just like Adrian Younge, and Bilal’s other musical friends also play their part in In Another Life’s sound and success.

Just like A Love Surreal, In Another Life is a genre-melting album, one that showcases Bilal’s versatility as a singer. He constantly ponders the uncertainty and paranoia of modern life, In Another Life picks up where he left off on A Love Surreal.

Two years since the release of A Love Surreal, and Bilal returned with a worthy successor, In Another Life. Over eleven of In Another Life’s tracks, constantly, Bilal probes and questions the uncertainty and paranoia of modern life. This results in some heartfelt, frustrated and impassioned vocals from the Philly born singer. Just like Marvin Gaye On What’s Going On?, Bilal looks for answers to the big questions, on this fitting followup to A Love Surreal, In Another Life.



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