A lot of artists go through tough patches in their career, never to re-surface again due to lack of creativity and fear of rejection. Neo-soul and jazz singer/songwriter Bilal isn’t one of those.
After hitting a very tumultuous and almost career-ending road bump in 2006, Bilal had lost interest in his music and wasn’t sure what would come of his career. However, September 2010 proved to be a milestone in the artist’s career with the release of his third album, Airtight’s Revenge, which cements his long-missed musical contributions to a more than welcoming fanbase.
Now that he’s back in business with a brand new album, we chatted with Bilal all about it…
BallerStatus.com: Why do you think fans will love your latest release, Airtight’s Revenge?
Bilal: I don’t know (laughs). The only thing I do is make music and try to be as honest as I can while making it. I don’t know why people do what they do. But all I know is that if they like my past work, they’ll definitely like this new joint.
BallerStatus.com: Any particular story on the album’s title?
Bilal: Well “Airtight” is an old nickname of mine and the revenge part just comes from an album that was bootlegged on the Internet in 2005 that I was working on, Love For Sale. That was a really a trying time for me and my career. I lost the deal I was on, the music got leaked to the Internet, and a lot of things stopped for me and my career. So, I started to really assess things and change a lot. It was basically one of those hardships that usually end a lot of careers, but I just kept on striving and persevering.
Actually, people who heard the bootlegged album gave me lots of good feedback online about the music. That sort of made a rebirth or a change in how I approached my career. So really, the revenge part is talking about that situation and how it fueled me and strengthened me in a different way.
BallerStatus.com: What went into making this album and how does it differ from previous ones?
Bilal: The music on this album is a little more personal, I would say. I wrote a song about my children on there. I also think I used a lot more guitar than I used in my previous albums.
BallerStatus.com: Why did it take you four years to release your next album after the drama that happened with your bootlegged one?
Bilal: I was getting my sh** together. A lot of crazy stuff was happening in my career, such as the aforementioned situation with my bootlegged album and getting dropped by my label. I needed to really get my musical groove back after dealing with that. Didn’t want to rush anything either.
BallerStatus.com: So what finally compelled you to release another album?
Bilal: I’d say it was about two years ago. I started to perform a lot and in those performances, I got good reactions from the audience. So what I started to do while traveling to different gigs was work on music on my computer using Garage Band. Then the drummer from my band heard it and convinced me to lay one of the songs down in his studio. From then on, I just wanted to lay tune after tune down. ‘Til this day, I always like to play around on Garage Band first. It sort of starts on the piano and then I go to the Garage Band and make, like, a little sketch of something I can sing to and then go from there. It allows me play around with the shape of the song more. I guess that’s what got me started in the studio again and sparked my interest in composing new tracks.
BallerStatus.com: Your music is described as soul, but artists like to think of their music as something else many times. In your words, how would you describe the type of music you create?
Bilal: From my perspective, I would call it “genre blending”, because I blend a lot of different sounds and types of music, almost how a hip-hop producer would do. They draw from a lot of different elements and styles of music. I have that same kind of concept in my head when I go and make a song. I draw from jazz, soul, rock, R&B classical, gospel … pretty much whatever I’ve been exposed to. I try to mix that all together to make my sound.
BallerStatus.com: How have you evolved as an artist since your first album, First Born Second, which came out in 2001?
Bilal: Well, I write about a lot more of different type of things. My concept of writing is about trying to get more into an epic view on life. I always want to make more retrospective pieces. I’m older now and see things different, so that’s been the biggest change in me as an artist.
BallerStatus.com: When you compose your own music, do you have a specific process you do with every song or is it just a random creative act for you?
Bilal: Well, as on my album that was bootlegged, I started to approach my music more in the stance of a singer/songwriter approach, where I write the songs and then go create a track around them. I started this process on my second album, but this album was entirely done this way and I plan on using it for next ones, too.
BallerStatus.com: How would you say the music scene has changed since you first started in the industry?
Bilal: Well, everything is digital now. I’m not one of those types of people that have a problem with the changes of the times. I like to use all of those things and mix it in with things that I already know and make something new. That’s kind of what I did on this record. I used live instrumentation musical elements that I know about and then used the digital aspect in different sounds that I just learned about and mixed it all together. That’s kind of where I am musically at the moment.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve worked with quite a few people in the past, including J Dilla. Which collaboration was your best or most memorable and why?
Bilal: Yeah, J Dilla was one of the most memorable ones and I have lots of them with him. He’s just one of those artists who always inspires you no matter what.
BallerStatus.com: Are there any other artists you’d like to hook up with right now?
Bilal: There are a few. Man, I’d like to hook up and do something with Herbie Hancock, Flying Lotus and a whole lot more.
BallerStatus.com: So are you already thinking about your next album?
Bilal: I’m always thinking about new ideas and different concepts that I can use down the line with new albums. So, yeah, I guess you can say that.
BallerStatus.com: Think you’re going to wait as long as you did for this one?
Bilal: I think it’ll take me at least two years. I would never put out another album like a year later. That’s just too much. I work fast, but not that fast.
BallerStatus.com: Now that your album is out, what’s next for you?
Bilal: I’m just really focused on doing a lot of touring for this album. I’m looking forward to going to different cites and just playing and rocking it out every night.
BallerStatus.com: Can you talk to be about your role as a member of the Soulquarians? What’s happening with that?
Bilal: I don’t know what’s happening with that. We all are buddies and look at everybody as family and talk and see each other a lot and still work with each other on different projects. But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure (laughs).
BallerStatus.com: What would you like to achieve with your musical career?
Bilal: Basically, success and longevity in this industry. Really, a place in music history would be very nice.