Sunday, May 13th, 2007 Bilal blessed the Buddah lounge once again with a soulful performance that inspired the crowd in numerous ways. His presence is so sensitive and thoughtful that his passion and desire to love oozes amongst all that are within his presence. Before he displayed his gift, a local male vocalist by the name of Yaw (http://www.myspace.com/yawsmusic) graced the stage with jazzy, funk collective ballads that reminded me of Luther kissed with a hint of Jimmy Hendricks. I have heard of this young man before but wasn't blessed to see him live until this night. His background vocalists were pure perfection while he mesmerized all with his confidence and religious social justice lyrics. The night was full of enjoyable moments. Once Bilal graced the audience he performed songs from " 1st Born Second" and his unofficial second album, which was leaked a year and a half ago via the Internet. The audience recited every line vigorously as Bilal said playfully "damn, ya'll know this shit too." They cheered with excitement and Bilal gave a sentimental introduction to the song "Sometimes" that bared the melancholy but inspiration line "I Will Win" repeatedly. While performing this ballad, Bilal became overwhelmed with emotion and danced his heart out as if he was at the door of a spiritual breakthrough and landed in the audience. Audience members hugged, kissed, and adorned him with affection and guided him back towards the stage. The night was a pure spiritual journey full of moments reminiscing on past loves, desired love, and current love. The audience was full of poets, performers (the cast for the Chicago rendition of the play The Color Purple), activist, teachers, and more. I was able to sit down with Mr. Bilal Oliver to discuss the current status of his life.
JL: What do you hope the audience gains after they watch you perform?
B: My mom always tells me stories about when she used to go see shows and concerts and how good they were. I know Dreamgirls the movie just came out but mom says all the time that the movie is good but it doesn't compare to the play, the play was amazing. I won't people to walk away from one of my shows and talk about my performance like that. I want to be able to touch someone so deeply that years down the line that moment in time is fresh on his or her mind and they are speaking my name to their great grand kids. That's powerful and a blessing. That's why I give my all. I care about those people out there listening to me.
JL: Why do you feel that you are still able to sell out a concert despite the fact that you haven't released an official album since 2001?
B: I think it is the music. I really put a lot into my first album and I had to make sure that I told a valid story that represents my struggles in life. I guess that is what has allowed my album to defy time thus far. When I perform I see people singing along with their eyes closed and I can tell they fell whatever in the hell I am talking about. That's beyond music, that's a spiritual connection. I think that is why people still support me. I had a second album but it was leaked to the Internet so the label shelved it. I worked hard on that shit too.
JL: How do you feel about your music leaking as an artist knowing that you put so much into it and you don't get anything back?
B: It's a catch 22 you know. I was able to bless my fans with another collection of whatever I was going through so I was able to give them a piece of me. But I'm not getting paid for it. That part hurts my pockets because I have children I need to feed but hey some things are out of your control. To be honest with you the label was going back and forth with whether they wanted to put the album out or not so either way the audience got it. I don't know if the label would've stood behind me with that release or not.
JL: As an artist what are some of the things you go through with a label in terms of defining the theme you want to incorporate within your music?
B: Well I like to be free. I like to change up a lot. I know that when the label signed me I was doing music one way but now over the years I have grown and now I like to do things another way and there is the problem. I guess sometimes as an artist labels don't like change. You have to stay in a fucking box that they put you in or the one you made for yourself when you were presented to them. It's all a game full of a power struggle. I admire Prince and what he did to get out that shit.
JL: Why don't you start your own label?
B: Man just saying that requires money. I'm not ready for that move yet but I have seriously considered that. I want to but I'm stuck in a deal right now and this situation has me locked down so I can't expand right now.
JL: What is bothering you most within your surroundings?
B: Man when I look at Philly I see how everything is changing and I don't know if it is going on in Chicago but everyone is moving around. I see everything getting upgraded and all the black people have to move out to the suburbs. It hurts. You know not everybody can afford a car to do all of that traveling. My old neighborhood has changed. When I go see my mom things are different. I don't know where the city will be in 10 years. It's scary. I just wish I could get all my people out of the ghetto and just do well for them. We've gotta take care of each other.
We stand in the lobby of his hotel as he looks out along a busy Chicago street in deep thought about what he just said. He shakes his head, pulls up his pants, straightens his hat, and sighs. It's a sign of disbelief, disappointment, and sensitivity. I realize this man is just that, a man that is witnessing a world cry for more love and affection but go unheard. Within his music and his presence he resembles a drop of hope. We both look grateful and I walk away slightly more spiritually awake than what I was before.