Divine By Design: Bilal’s “Airtight’s Revenge”
[Divine by design, it all intertwines] Blessed with a voice that defies easy classification, Bilal is a universe to orbit. With a reputation for changing lives through the power of one note — each song he brings into the world tells a compelling story of heartbreak and transformative love. There is an undeniable healing quality to the sound he crafts. With each listen, you are bound to be moved as he seamlessly traverses the spectrum of human emotion. He takes us on an intuitive journey that mirrors the ebb and flow we experience everyday when steeped in moments of deep pain and sorrow that somehow move into spaces of pleasure and possibility. He sings scripture; harmonizes survival manuscripts and belts testaments of life into the spirit of struggle. There is strength in his vulnerability and clarity in the dizzy of his madness. How can one possibly tether Bilal to genre? He explodes every expectation with the textured range of his voice. It is for these reasons, we celebrate the release of Airtight’s Revenge — the inaugural return of Bilal to the (spot)light. For those of us who frequently knock 1st Born Second, there was presence in his absence. However, Airtight’s Revenge reveals his growth and evolution as an artist and a man. In true Bilal fashion, the record is boldly experimental — fluidly mixing genre and complimentary juxtaposed sounds ranging from jazz to electronic to funk-infused rock. And while the overall energy of Airtight’s Revenge departs from the Soulquarian era, he retains the raw soulful quality that connects and unifies his diverse musical palette. Over the course of the record, Bilal exhibits maturation and impressive mastery of his craft (particularly on ballads like “Little One” and the stand out track “All Matter”). In addition, Bilal flexes his song-writing muscles in which the simplicity of his lyrics is beautifully nuanced by the electrifying current and frequency of his voice. As an example:
We’re all the same
and all so very different.
Divine by design
it all intertwines.
Aint nothin’ new
but it’s always changing, moving.
Still waters — soft yet so hard.
What is love, what is it?
Cool on the outside, hot in the middle.
You aint even gotta try, all you gotta do is realize.
It’s all matter.
— excerpted from “All Matter”
The sheer weight of his words defaults him into a league of his own. Each listener is guaranteed to develop their own intimate relationship with the record — only cultivated after several rotations. To echo Badu, the evocative nature of his music makes it emotionally taxing to hear at times. We’re charged with the task of re-training our ears to music that demands more presence than background noise. Indeed, we’ve come to compromise for songs that are far less activating (if at all). I hope I’ve made a strong enough case for you to consider purchasing Airtight’s Revenge (shout out to the hardworking folks over at Plug Research for making this project possible) and supporting music as imaginative and inventive as Bilal’s. Lastly, I encourage you to take some time to watch the insightful and in-depth interview conducted by the illustrious Sweeney Kovar and the brief videos below of Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, and Q-Tip recounting their intersections with Bilal and impressions of his talent and contribution to the musical landscape.