Is it true you sing opera in seven languages?
I have but it’s not like I speak seven languages. Opera motherfuckers be reading that shit off paper. Anybody can pick up a Spanish page and sound that shit out [laughs]. I used to do that in high school singing in the choir cause writers write songs in different languages. But I wish I could speak that shit. My wife is Moroccan, so when I go to Africa I wanna speak Moroccan or French. My kids speak French but I don’t.
How many instruments do you play?
I’ve recorded on a guitar. I’m pretty much a keyboard player, though, but when I’m putting tracks together I can drum program. I get that from Dilla. He had this thing where no matter what he picked up he could bend his will into it. Just because you hear it so strong in your head you can throw the funk in it. If it’s something intricate then I’ll bring in somebody to play it over. But I wouldn’t say I’m like a Prince or anything. I played a lot of stuff on this album. I played keys and organ on most of it.
Now you’re in high demand performance and feature-wise. You have friends who were viewed initially as underground but have recently found mainstream success like The Roots and Kanye. So why didn’t you leverage for a major label deal instead of going the more laborious independent route?
Because I wanted to really do it on my own. Kanye came in the game as a producer. He had his sound and he could really say I want to produce this. I didn’t really have that leverage. Plus I do most of my shit off shows anyway. I just feel the industry is really changing now and I don’t wanna be apart of the mess. I’m going this way so I can continue to do my thing. And if it builds to a level of Jay-Z where I can go and get my own situation where I can say what I want and how I want it…but right now I’d just get lost to the crack game: “This is you’re A&R and this is your producer. You’re gonna work with this guy and this is your video.” The way the industry is going now you can do it independently. Shit, everything is viral.
“Kanye came in the game as a producer. He had his sound and he could really say I want to produce this. I didn’t really have that leverage.”
So are you loving the autonomy? I know it’s a ton of work.
Well I actually want it to be more work. The thing about this record is a lot of it is a labor of love. But the only thing is missing is that marketing machine. I pretty much do my thing by performances anyway so that’s the way I’ve been looking at this, just getting out there and hammering it like back in day. That’s what I wanna do anyway, just play.
You have a favorite place to perform?
Is it Amsterdam for performing purposes or…
Oh you talking performance purposes [laughs]. Oh! Ummm in that case I like playing Philly, D.C. has given me a lot of love, Atlanta and New York. I always love playing in NY.
So this is your first album in six years. First studio album in ten years. Do you feel this is the best Bilal work to date?
Yeah, I’m happy about it. My whole concept was to be able to write real book tunes; tunes that can really come alive when we play live and still be it’s own situation when we record it. Stuff that we can reproduce live on a whole ‘nother level and I’ve ben able to do that on this record. I’m happy where I am right now. I feel this is a good place to grow.