Bilal’s career is odd: He is indelibly associated with the rise of early-’00s neo-soul, and while he hasn’t become as famous as some of his contemporaries, he also didn’t disappear down a wormhole like D’Angelo. Bilal’s elastic, glorious voice has been a reliable presence on Roots records and other rap projects over the last 10 years, but his solo career, hampered by the usual setbacks, sputtered. His name seemed destined to be forever preceded by a “ft.”
A Love Surreal, released last winter, is only his third in 12 years, a batting average only slightly higher than D’Angelo’s. The album doesn’t reflect any bitterness or discontent, however; it is a lush, relaxed album, one that pivots neatly between styles. “West Side Girl” is grotty, sexy and Prince-ly; “Slipping Away” gazes at the stars like Donny Hathaway; “Lost For Now” even sounds remarkably like Big Star.