* * * BILAL "1st Born Second" Interscope
"Born as a second child, all I got was hand-me-downs," sings Bilal Oliver on the cacophonous "Second Child," which renders the cumulative pain and anger of injustice against blacks in stark, jazz-funk lines. Closing his debut album with this dire collective howl, inspired by such giants as Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, the 21-year-old Philadelphia native underscores his multi-faceted awareness of history, not to mention how a song can slice straight through the gut.
Musically, Bilal makes the most of what he's gotten from his predecessors, whether the old school of Marvin Gaye and Prince or the new breed of hip-hop soulsters he credits as inspiration. Featuring such like-minded guests as Mos Def, Common and Erykah Badu, this sprawling, 17-track album is steeped in jazz and soul, blends in funk and hip-hop, and has him alternately rapping and crooning with almost religious fervor.
At 76 minutes, the collection seems to go on forever, but it takes time to show the listener everything this alternately playful and serious artist is about.
Like most young guys, he focuses on romance, in such numbers as the daydreamy single "Soul Sista" and the wistful lament "Sometimes."
Yet he also vividly illuminates such negatives as the consequences of buying into gangsta mythology (the Dr. Dre-produced "Fast Lane"). With his deft, low-key style and his willingness to examine gray areas, Bilal brings real humanity to an oft-trod territory, and he quietly makes a promise of greater things to come.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.