Call it the Kendrick Effect: the work of a modern-day Midas whose every collaborator seems to be producing some of the best work of their respective careers. Indeed, 2015 seems to be the year of the Kendrick Lamar sphere of influence. From Kamasi Washington’s masterpiece The Epic, Thundercat’s recent The Beyond/Where Giants Roam to Lamar’s own transcendent To Pimp a Butterfly, nearly everyone associated with the young rapper is hitting a creative peak.
Bilal wasn't idle during the period that separated A Love Surreal and In Another Life. Those 28 months, the shortest between-albums span of his career, involved a stack of secondary discography entries -- illuminating spots on releases by Robert Glasper, Kimbra, Otis Brown III, and Kendrick Lamar, among other artists. At some point, he was placed in the path of Adrian Younge, supreme architect and creator of vintage-modern psychedelic soul and dirty hip-hop.
Bilal's years spent in career limbo feel like a relatively minor blip in the wake of the many artistically ambitious personal releases and guest projects the uncompromising singer has managed to string together in recent years. The instrumental role Bilal recently played on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly has given some much-deserved shine going into his latest record, and In Another Life is primed to receive that attention. Gifted composer and producer Adrian Younge brings his revivalist approach to '60s and '70s cinematic song orchestration to the album, laying out freshly recorded, retro-style soul and funk soundscapes for Bilal to drape his multilayered vocals and fragmented love tales over.
There’s no telling which Bilal you’ll get from one moment to the next—will it be the thoughtful singer who craves breakfast in bed or the bizarre performer who screams his way through Led Zeppelin and Radiohead covers? In the years following his debut, 2001’s 1st Born Second, Bilal has done everything to shed the neo-soul label with which he’s been associated. "I’m a jazz musician. That’s what I went to school for," he recently told Complex.
Bilal has made a name for himself as an affiliate for many of today’s popular rap acts. In addition to two spots on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the soul singer has also worked with Common, Lupe Fiasco and The Roots, among others. This doesn’t even count his albums released on both sides of the industry spectrum. His 2001 debut 1st Born Second came out of his built relationship with Dr.
Bilal has labored at the fringes of the R&B world since his 2001 debut. He has relentlessly pursued an iconoclastic sound, putting his classically trained falsetto to work against a shifting fabric of influences, including classic soul, ’90s R&B, hip-hop, jazz, and funk. In a career of left turns, Bilal has again zigged when everyone else is zagging.
We devour music at such a feverish pace that, more and more, great collections of songs fall through the cracks. Over the summer, we caught up with another punk band who’s almost as ambitious as Titus Andronicus, a critically and commercially approved R&B singer who somehow isn’t in the ….