Bilal Sayeed Oliver is a tough man to put into any sort of box. He delivered guest features on Kendrick Lamar‘s exploration of modern blackness earlier this year but he also guests on jazzy Radiohead covers. While his debut album 1st Born Second earned him critical praise for his blending of soul and modern R&B, he has spent almost his entire career since then shedding that skin in favor of something more flashy. His latest solo effort, In Another Life, out now is something you would expect from the man who defies expectations.

Bilal has said many times that he wants to avoid the “neo-soul” label, and he recently opened up to Complex about his definition of his own musical genre, saying “It’s black music, because I’m black. I’m a jazz musician. That’s what I went to school for.” Although the album undeniably takes cues from the slew of recent Afro-centric albums including Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly and D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah, Bilal manages to eschew making his album focus about race, instead focusing on the diverse musical genres at hand, all viewed through the lens of his own “blackness.”

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The album is nothing if not eclectic. Bilal only enlists three guest verses, calling on Kiwi artist Kimbra and T.P.A.B. mastermind Kendrick Lamar along with Meridian, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. but despite the singular artistic vision, the record is scattered. As you listen through the album, often times you are overwhelmed with an unmistakable feeling that Bilal is also hearing these instrumentals for the first time; he just happens to be holding the lyrics that go along with them.

“Lunatic” has the signer squealing over crunchy funk guitars and Parliament-style basslines but immediately following it is the soulful Lamar featuring “Money Over Love” which slinks along under a falsetto verse elegizing “fast cars and diamond rings” before Lamar hops in with rapid fire “Backstreet Freestyle”-esque frantic rapping. In many ways, the album feels like a week long jam session compressed into 12 quick songs, only lasting 38 minutes in total. “Spiraling” would have sounded just as home on a D’Angelo album as it does here; the best moments on the album come on songs like the former where the instrumentation takes a back seat to Bilal’s best feature, his silken voice.

Listened to as separate tracks, Life is a puzzling collection of tracks; it is only when seated and heard within the bigger picture that the enigmatic heart of the album reveals itself. Maybe the man who defies convention has finally found his own.

You can get In Another Life here:

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