1st Born Second, Bilal Moyo Music/Interscope Records

If anyone has paid attention to my reviews, you can tell I have little patience for music caught up in the fads and clichs of the day. Often, there”s too much “bling” and too little creativity or soul. So when I come across an album like Bilal”s debut 1st Born Second, I”m elated and optimistic the hip-hop and R&B genres aren”t headed straight for the gutter, at least not yet. Bilal uses his abundant vocal talents as well as production from some of the industry”s best to deliver one of the strongest R&B releases of 2001.

A native of Philadelphia, it”s safe to say Bilal has been influenced by the city”s musical luminaries, both past and present. When coupling that with the influence of others like Prince, Stevie Wonder and a strong education in jazz, Bilal”s musical style can be better understood. His abilities have earned him spots singing with D”Angelo and Common in addition to membership in the Soulquarians, a collective of hip-hop and R&B”s more innovative artists and producers. All of this is even more impressive when you realize he”s only 22 years old.

One track of the 17 found on the album, “Soul Sista,” has been in circulation for a while now through the “Love And Basketball” soundtrack and commercials for the WNBA. On “Soul Sista,” Raphael Saadiq tries to evoke the same vibe he created producing D”Angelo”s “Untitled (How Does It Feel?).” Bilal finally finds that special someone and displays his intense affection through song. Although the track doesn”t quite reach the same climax achieved by “Untitled,” it still contains its fair share of sultry soul.

Bilal picks up the pace with the Mike City produced “Love It.” City”s work on Carl Thomas”s “I Wish” proved he could make hits and it looks like he has another one. The topic is a love so intense that Bilal sees his “future wife-to-be” and someone who he”d “take one [a bullet] for like the president.” The last line sounds a lot better in context and with its tight beat.

“Reminisce” features guest rhymes by Mos Def and Common with production from Detroiter Jay Dee, thus making it a total Soulquarian affair. With Mos throwing in a line from the hip-hop classic “T.R.O.Y.,” a tale of a love lost unravels. Memories of the relationship haunt all three men to the point they start hallucinating about seeing their former loves. Mos, Com and Bilal all do a good job of painting pictures with lyrics. And, as it does almost every time, Jay Dee”s beat gets in your head and has you vibing before you know it.

With his first release, Bilal has already set the bar rather high for himself. His willingness to do the unexpected musically, (“Home” is a reggae track), and his vocal jazz training set him apart from many of his R&B peers.

More impressively, people in the music business are feeling his sound. Dr. Dre lent his production talents to “Fast Lane.” Let”s remember Dre turned down an offer to work with Michael Jackson. This positive reception is blunted by the inevitable Prince/Stevie/D”Angelo comparisons. Although Bilal”s style does have similarities to these people, does it make him less of an artist? Given the seeming lack of quality in today”s R&B, I”d welcome more people cut from this creative mold. I already know we have too many of the other folks.

Grade: A-

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