Though Philly crooner Bilal (Beloved, Intelligent, Lustful and Living It) cut his teeth working with D'Angelo and Erykah Badu, many hip-hop heads will recognize him from his appearances on Common's Like Water for Chocolate ("The 6th Sense") and Guru's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3 ("Certified"). While the title, 1st Born Second, of Bilal's debut bristles with oxymoronic implications, it is really a nod to the Soulquarian family that Bilal calls home. Though 1st Born Second is replete with a very discernible Soulquarian vibe, Bilal's piercing voice (imagine Prince on ecstasy) and soul-searching ballads prove that he is a deserving inductee to this musically advanced collective. He is bestowed with a dream team production ensemble (Dr. Dre, ?uestlove, Jay Dee, James Poyser, Rapheal Saadiq, Mike City, and Vidal Davis), but it is his voice, itself an instrument, that is the main attraction here. These vocal gifts are eminently displayed on the sugary, WNBA adopted anthem "Soul Sista," "All That I Am," and the introspective "Sometimes," where the artist does some self-reflecting over ?uestlove's minimalist percussion snares and James Poyser's subtle keyboard riffs: "I wish I wasn't me sometimes/I wish I was drug free sometimes." Granted, Bilal occasionally falls prey to the moody musings and pleading romanticism ("For You") that marks the efforts of fellow neo-soul constituents like Maxwell. However, Bilal's ambidextrous nature, experimental inklings, and shape-shifting falsetto's foster a more diverse atmosphere, as he comfortably graces the funky Dr. Dre and Scott Storch-produced "Fast Lane" featuring Jadakiss, and waxes poetically about lost love on the Jay Dee-produced "Reminisce" featuring Common and Mos Def.
AllMusic Review by Matt Conaway