Bilal is a son of the funk. Though born in ’79, he rolls with the swagger of a proper 70’s child drawing influence from Blaxploitation films and funkmasters Sly Stone, George Clinton, and Curtis Mayfield among many others. Bilal also draws heavily on the experimental aesthetic of the 80’s, particularly Prince and his tendency towards overt sensitivity in his lyrics.
This combination makes him equal parts rock-star, pop-star and all around badass. Don’t get it twisted, though. Bilal is more than just a throwback kid- he draws on his influences to create a lush production atmosphere to complement his crooning falsetto just right. It’s what has made him a staple of the neo-soul genre for years.
A follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2001 debut- 1st Born Second- Love For Sale was supposed to be Bilal’s second release with Interscope records. Fans had waited five long years for- an anticipated- second great piece of work from their man. And then label politics happened. The album was leaked onto the internet in 2006 just months before its slated release date. Due to the leak, Interscope decided to push back the release and later- after deciding that the album had little commercial value- decided to shelve Love For Sale indefinitely.
Rumors have circulated that Interscope thought the album was too off center to sell commercially. Some say the label leaked the album themselves so they’d have a reason to hold back its release. Bilal has stated himself in a 2010 interview that he thought there was some truth to the claims but it’s unlikely we’ll ever know for sure.
I normally put the vocals and instrumentals in different categories but they really are inseparable on this album. Bilal handles the production on each of the 12 tracks, creating a dynamic soundscape that- at times- simultaneously bumps, bounces, and grooves. Like J Dilla, legendary producer and his fellow Soulquarian- Bilal tends towards off kilter drums that hit right at the spot you least expect, a technique that’s most effective on White Turns to Gray.
But what really counts is that he’s a smooth mutha (shut your mouth). And by that, I mean Bilal uses his voice as part of the instrumental. He sings in a soulful falsetto that sometimes floats atop, sometimes weaves between and sometimes sits beneath his hand-crafted musical creations which often helps bring out the myriad intricacies on each track.
What to listen to:
Sweet Sour You: this one was so dope, the alt-funk/alt-soul/alt-alternative band Sa-Ra Creative Partners picked it up and released it on their own album (with bilal’s permission, of course).
All I need: this is the masterpiece of masterpieces, the magnum opus of all magnum opuses, the craft of the masterminds who craft masters. Just watch and be amazed.
Hands of Time: Referenced earlier. This is what this album is about, people. This right here.