Born: August 23, 1979
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Zodiac Sign: Virgo
Bilal Sayeed Oliver is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is currently an independent artist residing in New York City.
Bilal is noted for his wide vocal range, his work across multiple genres, and his live performances. He has released four albums commercially to critical success, while his heavily bootlegged second album Love for Sale also found wide acclaim among critics and listeners. He has been well received, both nationally and internationally, with an extensive list of collaborations including Kendrick Lamar, Common, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Guru, Kimbra, J Dilla, Robert Glasper, The Roots, and many more.
Bilal was born as Bilal Sayeed Oliver in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a religiously mixed household, his mother being Christian and his father Muslim. When he was 11 he became choir director at his mother's church, and at 14 he formed a group and performed gigs at the Blue Moon Cafe in Philadelphia Bilal attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He attended and Graduated from the High School for Creative And Performing Arts (CAPA) in 1998.
Bilal began to familiarize himself with the music scene in New York City, meeting big talents such as Common, The Roots, and Erykah Badu. Eventually, he was discovered by Aaron Comess from the Spin Doctors during an after-school jam session. It was with him that Bilal recorded his demo that landed him a record deal with Interscope. In 2001, he released his debut album 1st Born Second, which featured contributions from the Soulquarians as well as high-profile producers such as Dr. Dre and J Dilla. The album peaked at number 31 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, and it has sold 319,000 copies. 1st Born Second received universal acclaim from music critics; and holds a score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic. The album earned rave reviews from publications including The Village Voice, Chicago Sun-Times, and USA Today, and it also received comparisons to the music of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Prince, and Curtis Mayfield.
The album showcased a wide variety, from the emotionally charged fan-favorite "Soul Sista", which peaked at No. 18 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Songs charts, to the political viewpoints of "Fast Lane" and "Second Child". Bilal managed to gain a sizable following and high attendance at his live shows, as well as much acclaim and respect from his peers, many of whom noted his range and ability to sing in a freeform style, and his classically trained falsetto. The soulful feel of the album caused Bilal to be labeled as "neo-soul." Bilal stresses that this term does not fit, and throughout his career, his expansion in music and pushing of boundaries proved his point.
In the following years Bilal continued to appear on projects by other artists of both high profile and avant garde, while recording and developing his follow-up set to be released on Interscope Records and featuring contributions primarily from producers Dr. Dre and J Dilla. These plans proved to be changeable and the final result, Love for Sale, was an album that appeared to be built around Bilal's own musicianship. Bilal switched it up on Love For Sale, which includes live instrumentation and a vibe completely new and different from its predecessor. However, his anticipation was shot down after receiving disapproval from Interscope. Unwilling to start from scratch, Bilal continued to push his LP. However, near the album's completion, the album was leaked in its entirety on the Internet. Interscope shelved the album indefinitely, hinting that it saw little commercial potential in it. The event sent Bilal into a period of distress, and he was considering quitting music; however, Love for Sale received over half a million downloads on the Internet, and Bilal began touring, despite there not being a proper release of the album.
In 2008, Bilal began recording for his next album. After nine years without a properly released album, Bilal made a comeback on September 14, 2010 with Airtight's Revenge, a sophomore LP released under independent record label Plug Research. Bilal describes the album as a retrospective album: an album that explores his experiences and things that he's learned since his last release. An experimental album, Airtight's Revenge blends jazz, hip-hop, electronic, rock, soul, and blues into one raw, genuine collection of music.
In 2012, Bilal revealed plans for a new album under a new label, eOne Music. During several interviews, he described the new project as "a lot warmer and [more] sensual" than its conceptual predecessor. The new album, titled A Love Surreal, has a more acoustic sound, as Bilal worked closely with his entire band. To set up the album's release, on December 5, 2012, he released a mixtape titled The Retrospection via Facebook.
Six days after the release of The Retrospection, Bilal released "Back to Love," the first single off A Love Surreal. A video was released for the song on January 8, 2013, telling the story of a drug-addicted love doctor who ironically uses the advice he gives to his patients to help his own relationship. The song sets the tone for the album, which Bilal says embodies "the whole process [of love]: meeting, the break-up, [and] the get-back-together." A Love Surreal was released on February 26, 2013.
With the release of A Love Surreal, Bilal immediately achieved commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on iTunes' R&B Chart. On Billboard, the album debuted at No. 17 on the Independent Albums Chart, No. 19 on the R&B Albums Chart, and No. 103 on the Billboard 200, ranking higher than its predecessor, Airtight's Revenge. The album also received numerous high reviews, including an 8/10 from SPIN magazine, 4.5/5 stars from Allmusic, and 4/4 stars from USA Today.
Bilal's next two albums, A Love Surreal (2013) and In Another Life (2015), were also critically successful.