There are few voices that are as instantly distinct and powerful as the cult-worshipped master of soul Bilal Oliver. A voice and steez packed with as much flair as unpredictability, Bilal’s fine-tuned, off-the-wall intonations have soared and sauntered across beats of all different sizes and shapes. His impeccable ‘1st Born Second’ album, released on Interscope in 2001 (and recorded at the ripe age of 22), harks back to the ingenuity and stylistic grace of rare soul legends - comparisons to Curtis Mayfield and Prince ran rampant, and for good reason. A few years later in 2006, his hugely-anticipated-and-highly-pirated ‘Love For Sale’ lit up the internet to unparalleled degree but, as one of the biggest mysteries in neo-soul history, never quite lit up the charts. The masterpiece – which featured a wide, colourful range of Bilal’s own smooth jazz-inflected productions - was never released, despite the hype machine righteously making immense waves around it. Regardless, ‘Love For Sale’ still stands tall as a veritable classic, and any self-respecting music collector holds a prized copy close.
Outside of his solo work, the vibrant member of the otherworldly Soulquarians collective has also made his way on to beatific records across the board – from Talib Kweli to Common to Musiq to Robert Glasper to Beyonce. Most recently, he’s been locked in the studio with all manner of exciting producers working feverishly on his forthcoming LP for Plug Research, due out in September. Ahead of his live spot here next Wednesday for Benji B’s Deviation party we caught up with the man himself to talk direction and why its taken him so long to get back to the UK...
How does it feel to be returning to the UK for your first gig in 6 years? Why do you think it’s taken so long to get back over here?
It’s taken me so long to get back over there because I wanted to wait until I had some more material to share with you guys. I’m really excited about this new material and this is definitely an album that I always saw myself playing over there for you guys anyway.
Your next project, is forthcoming on Plug Research in September, can you tell us a little bit about it, who you’re working with on a production tip?
I worked with Nottz, 88Keys, Shafiq Husayn of Sa-Ra and Tone Whitefield… It’s not a lot of producers on the album, the album has a specific sound and everybody that worked on the album - we really wrote every song from the ground up. ‘Airtight’s Revenge’ (the album’s title) means love when I say it. My revenge means love. I still have more love to give. That’s the thing about this album, it happened by accident. I was doing this album for myself until my friend Steve heard the music and convinced me that the world should hear it.
How’s it sounding? What can we expect?
The music is doing what I’ve always done as far as mixing genres… It’s a little more guitar driven than usual but it’s a mix of a lot of different sounds and styles.
You’ve worked with a whole heap of collaborators in your time, who do you consider some of the best? And who would you still love to work with?
J Dilla is one of the best casts I’ve worked with … I love working with Questlove, Shafiq, Erykah … Pretty much everybody that I’ve worked with in the past, I’d love to work with again. I’d love to work with Flying Lotus, Danger Mouse, Madlib, The Gorillaz… Thom Yorke.