Music has yet to meet a cookie cutter with a sound like Bilal’s. His voice has the elasticity of a Slinky; his beats explore worlds of R&B, soul, neo-soul, hip-hop, jazz, rock and funk. And lyrically, the Philly native is a one-of-one.
“When people come to listen to my s**t, they're not listening for this thing that they heard already,” says Bilal of his idiosyncratic music sensibilities. “They're always looking to hear something that's kind of pushing and stretching [boundaries].”
The 35-year-old crooner pulls off the difficult task of recording an album that’s simultaneously familiar and futuristic with In Another Life, his collaborative album with retro producer Adrian Younge. The 12-song set (out June 30) pairs socially aware words with vintage instrumentals cooked up via Younge’s analog studio, giving that intangible feeling of old-school vinyls. And creatively, Bilal takes it there; “Pleasure Toy” is a loose reference to a vibrator, while “Lunatic” might accurately depict the manic voices inside of Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof’s racist brain.
Piggybacking his standout contributions to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly LP, Bilal sat down with BET.com to preview six songs from his new project, which is now streaming on Pandora. —John Kennedy (@youngJFK)
“I Really Don't Care”
Bilal says: It gives me the feeling of an old Motown Stevie Wonder record, when he was young. It has a real romantic vibe. The incredible thing is that it feels like we were trying to really mix pretty with dark. In every song, if I'm singing really pretty, the music is really dark. Or if the music is dark, then I'm singing pretty.
Bilal says: That was written from this perspective of a suicide bomber or a crazed vigilante. I wrote that after watching CNN, seeing all of the craziness. Remember the guy that went into the movie theater and shot all of those people? Or the guy that went into the school and shot all of those kids? Everything that's going on in America. I wrote from that perspective, the mind of a twisted vigilante.
Bilal says: I like the music on there so much that I don't come in until the middle of the song; it's got a long intro. But I had a lot of fun. That one is written from the perspective of high school, when I was trying to take people's virginity. The whole song is about that. This guy getting a girl's virginity and telling her she can tell everybody she's a star now. [Laughs] I hope the ladies aren't that mad at me.
“Pleasure Toy,” Featuring Big K.R.I.T.
Bilal says: That song started off as a joke and it kept going, getting more in-depth until it was a song. A lot of the songs, I would just go into the booth and start singing the first s**t that came to my head. “Pleasure Toy” is the only song on the album that has drum programming. It's from an old school 808 machine that Adrien had in the studio. I was like, “This sounds like some old ’80s porn s**t.” [Laughs] I was like, “Yo, this music is the dildo. We're the dildo to somebody's situation. I'm just here for sex, for pleasure.” Women don't need men for s**t else. They don't really even need men for that. So I'm like, "S**t, I'm a dildo. You need music, motherf**ker!" Next thing you know, I'm singing that s**t.
“Money Over Love,” Featuring Kendrick Lamar
Bilal says: Society [says] “you really can’t have love until you can afford it. Money is more important.” Everybody has this concept of before I get married, I gotta be successful... because a woman is not gonna feel like a woman with a broke motherf**ker. After I recorded [To Pimp a Butterfly], I was like, "You're really on a political thing right now." If I'm going to have [Kendrick Lamar] on anything, that song would be perfect, because it's speaking about something that's prevalent right now. I just could hear him on it. I didn't even tell him the concept of the song, but when you hear the verse, it's like we wrote the song together. We're from the same bloodline — we think the same s**t is funky.
Bilal says: “Satellites” was written in the concept of an ancient alien coming back to Earth to check on his project — if you want to call the alien “God” or “Jesus Christ” — what would he make of his creation? If someone came here with special powers in today’s time, the police would be called — even if he was doing incredible s**t. And if the alien looked like me or Blacker, he's dead... The alien would be like, “I come to save you,” and they'd be like, “Get your a** out of here.”
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