SXSW Music Interview: Bilal
“I’m a jazz artist by trade,” states the Philly-born Grammy winner
Don't call Bilal a neo-soul act.
"I'm a jazz artist by trade," states the Philly-born Grammy winner.
While his decade-spanning output doesn't carbon copy jazz in the snobby traditionalist sense, his albums paint over broad canvases with a multitude of brushes: watercolor instrumentation bleeds into a ballast of deep-groove Seventies funk and R&B squelched cadences. As a true disciple of the genre, Bilal Sayeed Oliver kept his jam group open in Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq, and J Dilla lining credits on 2001's soulful debut 1st Born Second. A musical lifetime later on In Another Life (2015), the singer kept his production pool small, producer Adrian Younge "spawning the magic" of the album after the two met at SXSW.
"I went up to sit in with Adrian's band Venice Dawn," recalls Bilal. "Being a jazz musician, it's better to just communicate and have conversation through music, without the words."
By channeling Younge's reinterpretation of Sixties/Seventies funk and soul, In Another Life felt like "rediscovering analog instrumentation" from Bilal's pre-digital years. Hi-hats splash while tom-toms crackle ("Sirens II"), keys ripple ("Spiraling"), and guitars fuzz ("Money Over Love"). Following the political strain of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and D'Angelo's Black Messiah, Bilal complements Younge's "cinematic sound" in his tracking tales of black boy joy ("I Really Don't Care"), a crazed gunman ("Lunatic"), and civic decay ("Satellites").
Through In Another Life, Bilal reimagines jazz alongside contemporary savant Robert Glasper, Thundercat, and Kamasi Washington.
"Jazz has endless possibilities," asserts Bilal. "Like hip-hop, it's making something from nothing and it depends on the artist or musician to make jazz come to flesh."