If for some reason you feel you’ve run out of Philadelphia-related things to be proud of, add native singer-songwriter and producer Bilal to your list. Bilal is a prolific musician with five well-received LPs and numerous collaborations which have catapulted Beyonce, Common and countless others to the top of the charts. His work spans many genres and his stage presence is performance art in and of itself. Bilal is, without a doubt, one of Philly’s greatest contemporary artists.
The singer-songwriter released his fourth studio album, “In Another Life,” June 30. The album is special to the singer for a few reasons. It marks Bilal’s first album made with just one producer: the soulful, highly sought after Adrian Younge. Younge’s production gives the album a cohesive, nostalgic sound that welcomes a few guests who undoubtedly compliment Bilal’s vocals. Rapper Big K.R.I.T. and singer Kimbra contributed verses that felt like the salt needed to embellish an otherwise perfectly cooked dish. Kendrick Lamar, perhaps the most celebrated musician of 2015, even makes a brief appearance to add an electrifying verse on “Money Over Love.”
The album is an exceptional collection of tracks with a clear flow and direction. Bilal perfectly utilized his collaborators to showcase his artistic vision. Although he now lives in New York, he paid homage to his hometown by having his record release party and concert at West Philadelphia’s World Cafe Live.
Opening for Bilal was Maryland-based R&B singer Temika Moore. She took the stage with a percussionist, a guitar player, a MacBook Pro and began performing music that sounded similar to some of Bilal’s early work with a more modern polish.
Moore played a set of material mostly from her 2012 album “The End of Me,” including her most well-known song “I’m Not OK.” The intimate but uncrowded venue allowed Moore to begin an ongoing conversation with the crowd, during which she jokingly said, “Being a singer has its moments, sometimes we’re not always on point, I’m just being honest.” Her statement of humility seemed to be almost out of place, seeing that her performance was spotless.
After a short break, Bilal’s five band members walked onstage and began playing him in as he waited in the green room. The heavy beat of “Star Now” thumped for about a minute until Bilal walked onstage in sunglasses and a long overcoat. Next, they jumped right into “Sirens II,” a familiar tune to those who have heard Jay Z’s recent hit “Picasso Baby,” as both tracks sample Adrian Younge’s song “Sirens.”
As the drummer began the third song, Bilal stopped him to talk to the audience. He thanked the crowd for coming out on a dreary, stormy day and explained that the album meant a lot to him. He then continued his set, playing mostly new material.
The crowd sang along when Bilal played one of his biggest hits from his first album “Sometimes.” He then played a new track, “Lunatic” and explained “I try to get in the mind of someone who would shoot up a school full of kids,” in a spoken-word fashion. Right after, he turned to his drummer, Eric Jensen, and screamed “This is a f-cking drum solo!” to which Jensen replied with a spastic, technically astounding solo.
Bilal finished his roughly hourlong set and let his band play him out similarly to his entrance. He returned for an encore, which turned into a freeflowing jam with an incredible vocal solo. Bilal will continue to tour in the U.S. and internationally, though it will be hard for him to outdo the show he put on for his Philadelphian homecoming.