Hip hop artists have been showing out in 2015. R&B flexed a little bit too. But other than heavy hitters such as Miguel and D’Angelo and popular newbies The Internet Leon Bridges (Sam Cooke’s musical progeny), we haven’t seen a huge resurgence in soul artists at all. And then, at the end of June, here comes well-known soul singer Bilal. He released his first studio album, 1st Born Second, in 2001, so he’s been around for a while. But even before that, he had already been associated with Erykah Badu, Common, The Roots and Jill Scott, and was featured on many of their projects and shows. Similar to many artists from that era, his style has remained the same and his sound remains loyal to that original vibe. And for that reason, this newest project was consistently good from beginning to end. In Another Life is a much-needed album in a time of constant threats on black culture from all fronts. This album is a cool, mellow valley among peaks of disturbing and problematic events that have shaped the first six months of 2015. I took a listen to a seasoned artist with fresh ears. Here are my gut reactions.
Check out his performance from this year’s Essence Festival In New Orleans.
1. In Another Life gives a nod to the similarly-titled track on D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. It had a similar vibe but with much more intelligible lyrics. No shade to D’Angelo. That’s bae. A majority of those lyrics were incomprehensible, but it still jammed. Each song on In Another Life bleeds into the next (a la Common’s Be or Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun). Producer Adrian Younge uses the same hi-hat, kick drum combo for many of the tracks to retain consistency and flow. He uses the “Picasso Baby” beat and variations of it generously throughout.
2. Brought back into the mainstream on Kendrick Lamar’s latest, To Pimp a Butterfly, Bilal returns the favor with a Kendrick feature on the track “Money Over Love,” a song rooted in tough decisions: between the love of money or the guilt of selling out. Kendrick’s verse is flawless — as usual.
3. As a black 20-something raised below the Mason Dixie, I can assure you I was brought up on some Al Green and Marvin Gaye. And reminiscing back on Saturday morning chores, I’m pretty sure track seven, “Pleasure Toy” feat. Big K.R.I.T., is what Marvin meant by “Sexual Healing.” This not-so-subtle callback to the ’70s is modernized by Big K.R.I.T. It’s a rather predictable feature but offers a solid verse nonetheless.
Watch as Bilal discusses his inspiration
4. The album is not devoid of the ever-present social justice issues; police brutality, mental illness and poverty. Bilal has never shied away from these issues in the past and the debut single, “Satellites” describes living on the outside looking in at the things we desire and either can’t afford or can’t enjoy due to circumstance. It illustrates daily life while living in those moments of despair. The video depicts the singer being accosted by the police, yet he somehow manages to translate these heavy issues into a light-hearted, airy song.
5. Track 10, “Holding You Back,” has that exact effect on the listener. At first you try to resist the notes and lyrics so obviously about sexual desire. You eventually give in, blessedly, to melodies of Bilal and Kimbra, to whom he donated his voice for her sultry “Everlovin’ Ya.”
6. Similar to “Pleasure Toy,” and flowing effortlessly from the track “Holding You Back,” “Spiraling” sounds like the footsteps Ron Isley must’ve heard in the dark so long ago. It reminds me of that one song from the ’70s I can’t quite put my finger on. Either way, it’s very “sexytimeyesplease.”
7. After listening to it 50leven times, I can say that In Another life is not exactly the groundbreaking album many were looking for from him, but at the very least, he matches the fervor for a return of R&B and soul music. 2015 will continue to be a great year for music. I invite new listeners and old head hip-hop snobs to join me.
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