Grammy award-winner Bilal to perform at RISE Music Series at the Gardner Museum
It’s been nearly 20 years since Bilal burst onto the national music scene. Since that time, the classically-trained musician has released five albums, earned four Grammy nominations, and won his first Grammy Award in 2016 in the category of Best Rap/Sung Performance for his collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on the song “These Walls” off of Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album.
Bilal is set to perform at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on Thursday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. as part of season four of the RISE Music Series. Curated by musicians Shea Rose and Simone Scazzocchio, RISE is the museum’s popular pop, rock and hip-hop series featuring emerging talent and young artists.
The Germantown, Pennsylvania native’s appreciation and love for music was cultivated at a young age by his father. His musical education continued at a magnet performing arts high school in Philadelphia and at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City. At the age of 19, Bilal was signed to his first major label and publishing deal with Interscope Records.
A bumpy road
Success may have come at a young age for the singer/songwriter, but navigating the music industry hasn’t been a completely smooth path. After the release of his debut album “1st Born Second” in 2001, which reached the Top Ten on Billboard’s Adult R&B album chart, his second album, “Love for Sale,” was shelved by Interscope after being leaked online, and was subsequently dropped by the label. It would be nine years before he released another album.
For the now independent artist, it was a tough lesson at the time, but he’s learned the necessity of taking control of his career both creatively and financially. “It’s always difficult to go against the grain, but it’s been rewarding,” said Bilal. Speaking to the Banner by phone, he said he’s been free to make the music that he wants to make. “I’ve been able to kind of be in control of all of the decisions and really feel that this is my business as well as my career. That’s been the good side of it. I’m understanding what it is to be a business.”
With five albums to date, Bilal has developed a list of collaborators and admirers that has only grown over the years. That list includes: Beyoncé, Common, Erykah Badu, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, Questlove & The Roots, the late J Dilla, Robert Glasper, and Dr. Dre, to name a few. One of his favorite collaborators is Grammy Award-winner Common, whom he describes as “bro” and his “big brother.” He said, “Common brought me into the industry. The first album that I was on was “Like Water for Chocolate,” so he’s taught me a lot. The first tour that I went on was Common’s tour. He’s shown me a lot and taught me a lot in the business. Even when we’re not doing music, we call each other and check up on each other. It’s a friendship.”
Bilal released his last album, “In Another Life” three years ago, but he’s working on a new album now. “I’ve been getting back to jazz as a base — jazz and future sounds. We’ll see what happens,” he said.
For Bilal’s upcoming RISE Music Series show, audiences can expect an intimate and free-flowing performance. He mentioned how for years, he would travel with a huge band that included background singers, keyboards, and other players and equipment. He has since stripped the band down to a trio, where it’s just a guitar, bass and drums. “It’s more of a bare-bones, straight-to-it kind of show,” said the singer.
Performing with a more minimalistic band has brought him back into “a jazz space,” he said, where one never knows what to expect. “I always look forward to doing these shows now, because we can be so much more creative on the fly.”