Bilal, ‘Airtight’s Revenge’ (Plug Research)
Bilal Oliver was once a soldier in the Soulquarians, the ?uestlove-led collective that called for a hip-hop and R&B revolution. But 2001’s underappreciated 1st Born Second led to years of label battles, and the experience left him stressed and emotionally scarred. So Bilal invests his third album (the second, Love for Sale, remains unreleased) with rambling confessions, mourns a foster child turned crack-addicted prostitute (the searing “Flying”), and claims that he’s a Muslim, Christian, and Jew on “Who Are You” — everything and anything he sees in the mirror. Airtight’s Revenge has its soul affectations, but even standard fare like “Little One” bears Bilal’s impressively reedy, insistent voice. He sounds like a man unburdening himself.