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Bilal spreads out on his new CD

Kevin C. Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT)

ST. LOUIS — Soul singer Bilal emerged as a promising new act in 2001 with his album "1st Born Second," though hardly any of what came next was according to plan.

As his fans are painfully aware, it took almost a full decade for the release of his proper follow-up, last year's "Airtight's Revenge." Along the way, a widely bootlegged album called "Love for Sale" surfaced.

Bilal says the release of "Airtight's Revenge" was "a relief."

"I felt like my music was getting out there whether I wanted it to or not," he says. "I had to leave the label and find other avenues to make music. That's what made it take so long."

He says he would like to officially release "Love for Sale" one day but doesn't know when it might happen.

"Airtight's Revenge" is the first time Bilal has put out a record where he "didn't think in terms of making a radio song."

"I was just putting out some raw material, so it felt cool," he says. "This is one of those bare-bone records. I wanted to make a record about the world and the struggles, and that's what I did. I wasn't really thinking about anything other than that. I also wanted to make tunes that were creative and to not think about songs in terms of, 'Oh, this might be too long,' though looking back I could have shortened it up."

In releasing "Airtight's Revenge," Bilal put out what he calls his "rebel record," inspired by legends such as Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin and Radiohead.

He experimented freely with soul, rock, electronic and jazz elements, something he'd been wanting to do for a long time.

"I worked with different sounds that might not be deemed too soulful, but these were all the things I wanted to do, which is kind of not the norm," Bilal says. "That was one of my biggest issues around the time of 'Love for Sale.' I produced that record and had different elements, and the label didn't understand it. But this time I said (screw) it. I'm doing everything I wanted to do and try all the different things I wanted to try."

"Airtight's Revenge" instantly knocks Bilal out of the "neo-soul" category where he was lumped when he first arrived, much to his chagrin.

"I don't like any kind of categorization, but I know that's the way music registers to people," he says.

Previously, Bilal has performed live with a DJ. This time, he's coming with a full band.

"It's a whole different energy," he says. "With a live band, you can go so many different places. With a DJ, it's pretty much a set show. We'll be able to do the music more freely. It's going to be a journey."

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