from a career near-death experience dealt by the majors, the Philly
soul/jazz/funk singer delivers one of the year’s finest R&B platters,
BY RON HART
Every generation of soul music seems to have its great
“lost” album, from David Ruffin’s David to Q-Tip’s recently emancipated 2001 avant-R&B classic Kamaal the Abstract. In the grand scope of this decade about to
come to an end, that hidden treasure was Love
for Sale, the sophomore album from Soulquarian upstart Bilal Syeed Oliver.
Originally scheduled to be released in early 2006, the daring and adventurous
full-length, written, produced and performed pretty much entirely by Bilal
himself with the exception of contributions from the likes of Dr. Dre, J. Dilla
and Nottz, was delayed and then ultimately, and inexplicably, shelved by the
Philadelphia-born singer’s label at the time, Interscope Records. Not, however,
before it was leaked onto a torrent site by an industry insider, and to this
day the album resides in online purgatory.
However, after nearly a four-year-long sabbatical from the
game following the harrowing chain of events that abruptly ended his tenure
with Interscope and its distributor, Universal Records, Oliver made a
triumphant return to the music world in 2010, signing with the respected
beat-minded Los Angeles
indie Plug Research (Flying Lotus, Daedelus, Dntel) and releasing his third LP,
Airtight’s Revenge, this September.
Working once again with Nottz along with the likes of Steve McKie, Shafiq
Husayn, Conley “Tone” Whitfield, underground hip-hop string arranger
Miguel Atwood-Ferguson and 88 Keys, the 11-track set is an intense, combustible
extension of the vibes originally featured on Love for Sale, and easily one of the finest R&B albums to come
out this year.
BLURT had the opportunity to catch up with Bilal by email on
the happenings surrounding the release of Airtight’s
Revenge and the future of one of modern soul’s buried treasures.
inspired you to sign with Plug Research for Airtight’s Revenge?
BILAL: Timing. I was in Shafiq’s Studio working on a song
for his record and the label walked in and really liked what they heard. They
then called me every day until the record was theirs. It was also a way for me
to be able to do exactly what I wanted to do creatively. No pressures to make that
single or radio hit. No pressures to do anything but be me. I needed folks that
would allow this.
your decision to sign with an indie propelled in any way from your experiences
I always knew that I wanted to do my thing and didn’t want
to be boxed in as “neo-soul” or anything else that was going on at
the time. I was really discouraged about how things went down at the label but
then Love For Sale was well received
by my fan base even more so than 1st Born Second and I was able to
tour off a record that essentially never came out. So after that I had
confidence that my audience would always appreciate me keeping it real with
them and doing my music, so it was great to go indie and sign with a label that
What was your approach, creatively, to
this new LP and how do you feel it differs from your last two albums?
I took my time with this record. It was recorded over like
three years. We put the finishing touches and tightened everything up over the last
year, but these tunes were written all over the place: some in New
York City, some in Philly, some in LA, some in Amsterdam. I produced a lot of these joints
myself with my good friend and drummer Steve McKie.
What is the story behind the title for Airtight’s Revenge?
Airtight is a nickname Common laced me with a long time ago.
This album is my humble revenge on an industry that tried to keep me locked out
for a while. It’s all love for me. Revenge is love to me. My message and
story are about spreading love, but this is now the end of an era as well as
the beginning of a new one.
you made any moves about acquiring the rights to Love for Sale? Where does that album stand in that regard?
That album is owned by Interscope. There are songs no one
has heard yet and versions I like better than what was leaked. Maybe one day
they will let them go. As of now, I don’t see that happening anytime
still in contact with your Soulquarians brethren?
Have The Roots approached you about playing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon?
I’ll be on Jimmy Fallon Nov 2nd. Amir [?uestlove] is my
brother. I used to jam in his house back in the day and we speak all the
time. We are all just a phone call away.