Bilal has made a name for himself as an affiliate for many of today’s popular rap acts. In addition to two spots on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, the soul singer has also worked with Common, Lupe Fiasco and The Roots, among others. This doesn’t even count his albums released on both sides of the industry spectrum. His 2001 debut 1st Born Second came out of his built relationship with Dr. Dre, something that presumably played a role in future work with K.Dot. Nearly ten years later, he drops the incredibly underrated Airtight’s Revenge independently and its 2013 follow-up A Love Surreal. That very longevity and body of work afforded Bilal for opportunities to show the world what he can do on his own time.
In Another Life, his fifth studio LP, the former soulquarian remains consistently mellow throughout; happy and sad at different times. The album is classified as neo-soul, but, Bilal shifts genres effortlessly. He transcends traditional musical definitions with his tone of voice and delivery. Producer Adrian Younge deserves credit for his role in crosscutting these barriers with the production. However, Bilal stands out in particular for his vocal range and shrewd musical ear.
Bilal is a musical chameleon. He emulates Prince (“Pleasure Tory”) and Jimmy Cliff (“Love Child”) with equal effectiveness. Therefore, he serviceably establishs different vibes accordingly. “Pleasure Toy,” for instance, is palpably multidimensional. The production is a swing jazz and R&B fusion, giving featured artists Big K.R.I.T. abilities to tip the scales with his verse, ultimately leaving no musical stone unturned. There’s a lot going on, but it all works cohesively. And, while K.R.I.T. holds his own rapping, so too does K. Dot on “Money Over Power,” succinctly and without stealing the limelight.
On the production side, Younge has his own awe-inspiring moments. The album closer, “Bury Me Next to You,” is infectiously laid-back and downtempo as Bilal sings an off-key stream of consciousness: “If beaming eyes love / And broken hearts collided / Like ashes in the sky / And twisted in formations are lost / In the melancholy sounds of everlasting harmony.” These lyrics aren’t exactly the most profound, but when paired with the right production, the combination is aurally pleasing. More often than not, the Bilal and Younge combo proves effective.
These moments of shared greatness, though, aren’t exactly constant, as both artists’ deviations occasionally prove costly. “I Really Don’t Care” isn’t the most endearing track on the album, lacking both staying power and replay value with it’s airy beat along with unenthusiastic lyrics. Similarly, “Lunatic” is an abrupt, uptempo change of pace, and while catchy, seems a tad overwhelming in the grand scheme of the album. In each of these instances, both the conservative and experimental approaches aren’t foolproof.
Overall, In Another Life is an easy, efficient listen, that caters to all facets of Bilal’s musical identity. Positives outweigh the negatives, and Younge deserves props for his tight, crisp production throughout. The moments of true beauty are haphazard, but the album’s overarching simplicity makes it a welcome change of pace for fans of most musical genres.