The Root Interview: Bilal on Making a Comeback

Bilal gets his payback on the new album Airtight's Revenge.


To call Bilal’s new album, Airtight’s Revenge, a comeback album would be misleading, even if it somewhat feels that way for the Philadelphia-raised, New York-based singer.

It’s not as if Bilal (his full name is Bilal Oliver) has been sleeping at the piano since first making noise with his 2001 album, 1st Born Second. Just Google him and see the extensive list of collaborations, guest appearances and live performances he’s done in the past nine years. Those who do more research might also discover that Airtight’s Revenge isn’t even Bilal’s first album since his debut, but rather his third one after a widely bootlegged second album, Love for Sale, which never was officially released. 

Still, despite all his activity, Bilal does feel Airtight’s Revenge, which was just released, is a reintroduction of sorts to the same audience that hailed him as a budding star in the neo-soul scene nine years earlier. Bilal sat down with The Root to discuss his new album, the album a lot of people never heard (Love for Sale) and other random tidbits, like his love for karaoke.

The Root: You’ve been touring quite a bit to promote this new album; do you still get a lot of fans asking where you’ve been?

Bilal: Yeah, I get that question a lot. But I basically tell them I’ve been doing my music. I’ve been doing spot dates for nine years. I’ve been working on a lot of other people’s projects. I haven’t been staying stagnant … I’ve been on so many hip-hop projects these last couple of years; it’s kind of crazy. From Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek’s record [“Ends”], to Jay-Z [“Fallin'”], to the Clipse [“Nightmares”], to Scarface [“Can’t Get Right”], just mad stuff.

TR: Even by the standards of the old music industry, nine years is an awfully long time between albums. Do you think fans are more impatient than they used to be for new music? 

B: Yeah, a little. I could understand why people would be impatient for me. It’s been so long, I kind of started to get impatient. But right now, people are expecting people to come out with an album every year; I don’t really dig that. People really just over-exhaust things and they just want more. There’s so much stuff out there.

TR: Well, how long did Airtight’s Revenge take you to make?

B: I’ve been kind of working on it for three years, on and off. A lot of the music I really wrote at home, just sitting down at a piano and writing. Maybe five tunes in, I thought, “Oh, this is an album.”

TR: Before this album, though, there was another album only your diehard fans know about. What happened to Love for Sale? Why wasn’t it ever given a proper release? 

B: It was a record I was working on for Interscope. I had just about finished it, I was in the process of mixing it and it was bootlegged. When it was first happened, I was really f***ing mad. Then it kind of turned around for me. I started to get a lot of Internet buzz, and I tried to get the label to put the record out, but they winded up shelving it, and we kind of started to have disagreements on creative direction and we just decided to part ways, basically.