Bilal (American singer)

Bilal Sayeed Oliver (born August 23, 1979),[3] better known mononymously as Bilal, is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. He is currently an independent artist residing in New York City.[4]

Oliver in 2007
Oliver in 2007
Background information
Birth nameBilal Sayeed Oliver
Born (1979-08-23) August 23, 1979 (age 40)
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • record producer
  • Vocals
  • keyboards
  • guitar
Years active1999–present
Associated acts, Bilal on Twitter

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,[5] while his bootlegged second album Love for Sale also found wide acclaim among critics and listeners.[6] 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.

Early lifeEdit

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.[7] Bilal attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.[8] He attended and Graduated from the High School for Creative And Performing Arts (CAPA) in 1998.


1999–2001: Record deal and 1st albumEdit

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.[9] 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.[10] The album peaked at number 31 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, and it has sold 319,000 copies.[11] 1st Born Second received universal acclaim from music critics; and holds a score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic.[12] The album earned rave reviews from publications including The Village Voice, Chicago Sun-Times, and USA Today,[13][14][15] and it also received comparisons to the music of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone, Prince, and Curtis Mayfield.[12][16][17][18]

Bilal performing in Budapest, Hungary, in 2008

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".[19] Bilal managed to gain a sizable following and high attendance at his live shows,[3] 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.[3] 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.[20]

2001–08: Love for Sale and aftermathEdit

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.[21] 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.[21] Interscope shelved the album indefinitely, hinting that it saw little commercial potential in it. The event sent Bilal into a period of distress,[22] and he was considering quitting music; however, Love for Sale received over half a million downloads on the Internet,[23] and Bilal began touring, despite there not being a proper release of the album.

2010–present: Airtight's Revenge and follow-up albumsEdit

In 2008, Bilal began recording for his next album.[24] 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.[25]

In 2012, Bilal revealed plans for a new album under a new label, eOne Music.[26] During several interviews, he described the new project as "a lot warmer and [more] sensual" than its conceptual predecessor.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30]

With the release of A Love Surreal, Bilal immediately achieved commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on iTunes' R&B Chart.[31] 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,[32] 4.5/5 stars from Allmusic, and 4/4 stars from USA Today.[33]


Studio albums
  • The Return of Mr. Wonderful (2007)
  • The Retrospection (2012)




  • Grenique[34] on "Let Go", "You Say" and "Love Within" from Black Butterfly




  • Scratch, on "Square One" from The Embodiment of Instrumentation
  • Talib Kweli on "Waitin' for the DJ" & "Talkin' to You" from Quality
  • Da Ranjahz & Ras Kass on "Da Dopest"
  • Jaguar Wright on "I Can't Wait" from Denials Delusions and Decisions
  • Tweet on "Best Friend" from Southern Hummingbird
  • Cherokee, on "A Woman Knows" from Soul Parade
  • John Ellis, on "John Brown's Gun", "Nowny Dreams" and "The Lonely Jesus" from Roots, Branches & Leaves



  • Boney James's "Better With Time", from Pure
  • Robert Glasper on "Maiden Voyage" and "Don't Close Your Eyes" from Mood
  • Max Herre on "Playground" from Max Herre


  • Robert Glasper on "Chant" from Canvas
  • Luvpark on "Fade Away" and "Luvtheme" from Luvpark












  • The Roots on "It Ain’t Fair" from "Detroit (film)" Original Motion Picture Soundtrack/Audio
with Common
  • "Funky For You" (Common & Jill Scott) from Like Water for Chocolate
  • "Nag Champa (Afrodesiac for the World)" from Like Water for Chocolate
  • "The 6th Sense" from Like Water for Chocolate
  • "Heaven Somewhere" from Electric Circus
  • "Aquarius" from Electric Circus
  • "Star69 (PS With Love)" from Electric Circus
  • "Faithful" (Common & John Legend) from Be
  • "It's Your World/Pop's Reprise" from Be
  • "U, Black Maybe" from Finding Forever
  • "Misunderstood" from Finding Forever
  • "Play Your Cards Right" from Finding Forever
  • "Joy and Peace" from Black America Again
  • "Home" from "Black America Again"
  • "A Bigger Picture Called Free" from "Black America Again"
  • "Letter To The Free" from "Black America Again"

Awards and nominationsEdit

Bilal has been nominated for four career Grammy Awards, winning one.



  1. ^ Price, Emmett George (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Music. 3. ABC-CLIO. p. 656. ISBN 0313341990.
  2. ^ Good, Karen Renée (October 2000). "Next". Vibe. New York: 106. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c Kellman, Andy. "Bilal Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  4. ^ "Bilal Biography". Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  5. ^ "Bilal Music Profile". Metacritic. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  6. ^ Anon. (January 31, 2013). "Bilal 'A Love Surreal' CD Release, Tuesday, February 12 at Highline Ballroom" (Press release). Carolyn McClair Public Relations. Retrieved July 20, 2020 – via All About Jazz.
  7. ^ Swan, Rachel. "Rough-Style Romancer | Music | Oakland, Berkeley & the Bay Area". Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  8. ^ "History". Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  9. ^ "Bilal". Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Herrera, Monica. Bilal To Release Electro-Jazz Rock Album In 2010. Billboard. Retrieved on January 3, 2010.
  12. ^ a b 1st Born Second (2001): Reviews. Metacritic. Retrieved on August 12, 2009. Archived 2009-08-16.
  13. ^ Columnist. "Review: 1st Born Second". Chicago Sun-Times: August 12, 2001. Archived from the original on August 12, 2009. (Transcription of original review at talk page)
  14. ^ Jones, Steve. "Review: 1st Born Second". USA Today: D.08. July 31, 2001.
  15. ^ Cepeda, Raquel. Review: 1st Born Second Archived October 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine. The Village Voice. Retrieved on August 12, 2009.
  16. ^ Columnist. Review: 1st Born Second. The Independent. Retrieved on August 12, 2009.
  17. ^ Product Page: 1st Born Second. Muze. Retrieved on August 26, 2009.
  18. ^ Caramanica, Jon. Review: 1st Born Second[permanent dead link]. Blender. Retrieved on March 29, 2010.
  19. ^ "1st Born Second by Bilal @ - Shop, Listen, Download". July 31, 2001. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  20. ^ "Bilal Talks His Comeback, Neo-Soul & Dr. Dre To the.LIFE Files!". Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  21. ^ a b "Bilal: I Wanted To Quit Making Music!". The Urban Daily. August 19, 2010. Retrieved September 14, 2013.
  22. ^ "Blog Archive » Bilal Talks Sophomore LP, Why He Was Never So-Called Neo-Soul". Gangstarr Girl. September 13, 2010. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  23. ^ "BIO - BILAL". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013.
  24. ^ McKie, Steve (September 14, 2010). "Meet Bilal's Producer Steve McKie". NODFACTOR.COM (Interview). Interviewed by Jerry L. Barrow. Archived from the original on July 22, 2020. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  25. ^ "Music - Review of Bilal - Airtight's Revenge". BBC. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  26. ^ [EXCLUSIVE] Bilal Finds New Label, New Attitude - Entertainment & Culture. EBONY. Retrieved on March 7, 2013.
  27. ^ Artist to Artist: Bilal–Supersonic Soul. Soul Train. Retrieved on March 7, 2013.
  28. ^ Hey everybody, as.... Facebook. Retrieved on March 7, 2013.
  29. ^ V Premiere! Bilal "Back To Love" (Video). Vibe (January 8, 2013). Retrieved on March 7, 2013.
  30. ^ Video: Bilal’s “Welcome to A Love Surreal”. Potholes in My Blog. Retrieved on March 7, 2013.
  31. ^ "BILAL's A LOVE SURREAL is #1 selling on ITUNES in R& B! | BILAL". April 14, 2013. Archived from the original on July 22, 2013. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  32. ^ Mlynar, Phillip. "Bilal, 'A Love Surreal' (eOne) | SPIN | Albums | Critical Mass". SPIN. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  33. ^ "Listen Up: Bilal, Mavericks, Ivan and Alyosha". February 26, 2013. Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  34. ^ "Black Butterfly: Grenique: Music". Retrieved April 20, 2013.
  35. ^ "Letter to Hermione (Ft. Bilal)". iTunes. Blue Note Records. Archived from the original on October 12, 2013.

External linksEdit