When speaking to some cats about the music game, it’s wise to take heed of the ones who know it’s not a game. Music is quite serious.
“I think we need to have a certain level of excellence and understanding of music. I think that’s why America’s approach to music is [to follow] whatever the trend is, and then it’s discarded for the next thing that’s new. In other places in the world, people cultivate culture. I think that’s a very important aspect of art in general,” said singer-songwriter Bilal. Now that we’re in Black History Month, it’s only right that he go on to highlight the importance of Black music.
“We have a beautiful way of changing tragedy into inspiration. That’s really been our song in American history. We’ve been able to manipulate art to make it heal, and that’s inspired people in how they create art across the world.”
So far his track record has indicated that he’s not playing around. His discography alone would be strong enough to support his feelings. Listed as a featured artist on tracks from underground stalwarts like the Roots, Common, Talib, Guru, Jadakiss and Robert Glasper to royalty like Dr. Dre, Raphael Saadiq and the Carters (Beyonce and Jay-Z) is impressive. Now if you add his experience to the equation, then his musical opinions may qualify as expert commentary.
Bilal cut his teeth as a singer in the church and watched and learned about jazz with his father, who let him experience live music in clubs. Now frame that with scholarly training; he went to the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts and then went to the New School in New York. His enriched educational experiences serve as support for making art a mainstay in school curriculums. “With music, I got at a young age purpose and vision. I tapped into my creativity and used and expanded my mind.”
Utilizing his energy, talent and hustle, Bilal took full advantage of what New York had to offer, and soon thereafter, he found himself on a major album with a debut album, “1st Born Second.” Then along came the drama that can and has shut down the career of many an artist. For some reason, his second album, “Love for Sale,” didn’t impress the suits at his old label and was shelved indefinitely. Or so they thought.
The music got out and took on a life of its own. (Trust and believe me when I say that joint is the truth! But as a sidebar, search for the project called “The Dresden Soul Symphony,” released Oct. 24, 2008. On that joint, the musicians reinterpret soul hits with classical music backdrops. The featured vocalists are Joy Denalane, Bilal, Dwele and Tweet, and it was conducted by Jun Mrkl.)
After that, his shows remained just as steady as before, and because of the increased catalog, they got stronger. As did his loyal fan base, which waited for nine years with baited breath for a new official project that was called “Airtight’s Revenge.” Album number three has come much sooner, and on Feb. 26, he dropped “A Love Surreal.”
With album numero tres, the march to his legacy continues and as he says, “I’d like to see myself as a key contributor to our music, but the main thing for me is to speak to you in my own voice. The struggle will be there because I make risky music, but I know that with my work ethic and passion, I’m privileged to love what I do; what will come to me in my career will come.”
For anyone who missed the Jill Newman Productions album release event at the Highline Ballroom, then next month you can get redemption. Bilal and more than a dozen musicians will gather at New York City’s Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium to honor Prince. The Music of Prince Benefit Concert is the ninth installment of philanthropist Michael Dorf’s annual series that will donate funds to various programs promoting music education for underprivileged youth. Thus far the efforts have generated $700,000. The lineup includes the Roots, Talib Kweli, D’Angelo, Elvis Costello, Booker T., Alice Smith and the Blind Boys of Alabama, amongst others.
The whole thing goes down on March 7. Tickets are on sale now, with prices ranging from $48 to $150.
It’s perfect timing for the television airing of “Stevie Wonder With Friends: Celebrating a Message of Peace,” which premiered Saturday on Centric at 9 p.m. The musical celebration took place last October in New York at United Nations Headquarters in honor of the 67th anniversary of the U.N.’s peacekeeping and crisis management efforts. The show featured Wonder performing duets with musicians across the spectrum, including Sting, Valerie Simpson, BeBe Winans, Stephanie Mills, Janelle Monae, Elle Varner, Doug E. Fresh and more.
“We are honored to celebrate all the amazing work the United Nations does around the globe,” said Debra Lee, CEO and chairman of BET Networks.
Beyond his incredible music career, Wonder has consistently used his voice to create a better and more peaceful world. The effect that Wonder’s music has literally impacted the world can be gauged by the testimony of global dignitaries like Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who said in his official message for U.N. Day 2012, “The United Nations is a unique and indispensable meeting place for diplomats. The United Nations is also a peacekeeper disarming fighters, a health worker distributing medicine, a relief team aiding refugees, a human rights expert helping deliver justice … No single leader, country or institution can do everything. But each of us, in our own way, can do something.”
And why is the timing on point? Well, Wonder has been in the news this week for speaking out on the reckless behavior of a chart topper who has failed to realize that his self-hatred should not be spewed to influential ears. In this case, it’s Lil Wayne, who went way over the lines of decency and shock value. In a constant search for wit, analogies and word play in his songs, the rapper delivered an inexcusable line about Emmit Till. No need to repeat the verse, the song or the label, because if it reached the ears of the public, it’s an example of the fact that all publicity is good publicity. But it should be noted that it was intended for release on a major label during Black History Month no less. No respect.
“You just cannot do that. … I think you got to have someone around you that–even if they are the same age or older–is wiser to say, ‘Yo, that’s not happening. Don’t do that,’” Wonder said about the lyric. “Sometimes people have to put themselves in the place of people who they are talking about. Imagine if that happened to your mother, brother, daughter or your son. How would you feel? Have some discernment before we say certain things. That goes for me or any other writer.”
I’m out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.