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There are exciting times in music; a return to purity, risk-taking and truth-telling. Yet it has been some time since we have seen the likes of Bilal Oliver. His prodigious debut album 1st Born Second is a symbolic raising of the bar, worthy of critical examination. Herewith the work of a man born on the cusp of the eighties: the launch of MTV, Prince's Dirty Mind, Reganomics, the digital revolution, the lingering stank of Parliament's Motor Booth Affair and "Rapper's Delight". At barely twenty-one years old, Bilal Oliver is clearly possessed with that oldest instrument: the voice. 1st Born Second, a work of resounding superiority, recalls Donny's soul and Mahaila's sanctified. Like Nina Simone, Bilal is classically trained, he in jazz and big band arrangements and opera voice. This child of hip-hop seeks to approach swing and scat with the same expansion and technique as Ella Fitzgerald. He writes his music, lyric and note. Because of all these things--exquisite turns of phrase, embodiment of the feminine, and a rooted understanding of pitch, emotion and the note--Bilal is sure to be one of the most significant artists of our changing times.
Bilal Sayeed Oliver is named so because his mother is a devout Christian and his father, orthodox Muslim. Raised in Philadelphia, Bilal frequented hole-in-the-wall clubs till sunrise with aspirations of scoring film. His eventual classical training at New York City's Mannes Music Conservatory ensured him the ability to sing opera in seven languages as well as an extended musical vocabulary.Just six years ago, at a Philly barbershop, Bilal met brothers Fa and Damu Mitume, creators of Moyo Entertainment. After hearing his demo the Mumes asked Bilal if he was interested in becoming a recording artist. Eventually Bilal moved to Brooklyn and began gigging around the city. His tape landed in the hands of Erykah Badu, for whom he appears and produces on her new album, Mama's Gun. He is now also a venerable member of the collective Soul Aquarians, along with folks like Badu, Mos Def, Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, Q-Tip, D'Angelo. "They're like our forefathers," he says. "They were doing this not so long ago, but I was just coming up. I'm like their child. Hence,1st Born Second.
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