REVIEWED & INTERVIEWED: Bilal at Park @ 14th – Washington, DC – 2/11/10

Neo-soul stalwart and quintessential voice of modern R & B Bilal performed on Friday evening at Washington, DC’s Park at Fourteenth nightclub at an event promoted by Benny Blaq Entertainment. Famed for his breakthrough 2001 debut album 1st Born Second with dominant R & B charters “Fast Lane” and “Soul Sista,” it has been an arduous journey filled with progression as an auteur but commercial regression that has the artist at a period of calm, peace and contentment on 2010 major label follow-up Airtight’s Revenge. The record, named for an Iceberg Slim novel shows the soul crooner with a cold pimp’s heart and weary, yet thankfully still vital and lovelorn soul.

In discussing the artist’s career, he states that the most difficult yet rewarding part of his career was surrounding the Interscope Records withheld Love for Sale. “I grew a lot on that record, I produced most of the tracks, and wrote all of the material and felt the most comfortable as an artist there.” It’s non release from Interscope opened the door for being signed by Shafiq Husayn’s Plug Research imprint, where his three year process to this album has reached fruition. Regarding Airtight’s Revenge, he states “I don’t really have a favorite song on the album. I was able to sit back and make records that I like, and I didn’t think about if this was going to sell. I just had fun.” His creative freedom shows on tracks like his production with Steve McKie, “All Matter, the soulful burner that he claims as his favorite to play in the live setting.

As far as looking at future released, Bilal has taken a decidedly left coast turn, and is intensely intrigued by increasingly vital LA dance music scene, namely the emotive and moody jazz tinged bass productions of rising DJ and producer Flying Lotus. As well, he has grown in appreciation of the work of progressive jazz maven Sun Ra, and between listening to the fusion work of Sun Ra and his Arkestra as well as the works of bass pioneers like Flying Lotus and those in his circle, he intends to take his music in an intense, emotive yet dance friendly direction.

In the live performance realm, the ease and comfort of Bilal is noticeable. In now finally achieving the creative and artistic freedom that artists with expansive and innovative visions like him demand, he is a true success by his own means and on his own terms.