4 / 5
New York’s Bilal Oliver has been a relatively unknown quantity for the greater part of his career, a time span that stretches back to his debut album in 2001. He had been a hot item back in the early oughts, when his sophomore album, Love For Sale, was slated to be on Interscope and was to feature production work from such luminaries as J. Dilla and Dr. Dre. When Bilal opted to scrap those plans and produce an album built around his own instrumentation, Interscope balked and the album went unreleased.
Such a reversal has set back any number of artists in a similar situation, so when 2010 rolled around and Bilal released another album, it was nice just to hear new music from him. Since then, however, he’s put in time working – albums, singles, and appearances on the tracks of much bigger names. He climbed back up the industry ladder rung by rung until he hit a breakthrough this year; Kendrick Lamar’s cultural touchstone To Pimp A Butterfly features quite a bit of work from Bilal, and it’s thrust his name back into the limelight.
All that “comeback from a career-ending event” stuff is heartwarming, to be sure, but it doesn’t mean a damn if it’s not capitalized upon. In Another Life capitalizes. Bilal’s tastes run through a swampy concoction of soul, funk, jazz, and R&B, and the work displayed on the album showcases that perfectly. The singer found exactly the right producer in Adrian Younge, whose gritty soul-sampling work brought Ghostface Killah out of the mid-career doldrums on the two Twelve Reasons To Die albums.
The same core beats can be found on In Another Life, but Younge retools it to be lighter, more soulful than street-level. While the synth-and-snare crackle of “Sirens II” could easily have hosted GFK’s cluttered, menacing flow, it’s a more than ample bed for Bilal’s smooth, streetlight voice. It’s this particular formula that provides the best moments of the album: “Sirens II”, “Star Now”, “Satellites”, “Lunatic”, and the Kendrick Lamar “hit ya back” epic “Money Over Love”.
Call it a comeback. This is the apex (so far) of everything Bilal’s been working towards, and if there’s any justice it’ll get him more work in higher profile settings. If you’re a fan at all of any of the kitchen sink of genres that Bilal is bringing to the table, you owe it to yourself to check In Another Life out.