With a title like Airtight’s Revenge it’s a given that Bilal’s first album in nine years is going to be a departure from the norm. But even though I’ve accepted that the brother breathes his own brand of oxygen (his producer Steve McKie insists he isn’t crazy) I still wonder if he’s simply just f*cking with us.
For the most part Airtight’s Revenge is wonderfully unpredictable and will most likely take more than a few cursory listens to fully absorb it, (much like Badu’s Momma’s Gun). It has all of the wonderfully moody soul but is clearly outgrowing the “neo” prefix (which itself is bordering on obsolete ten years later.)
However, in the midst of the melancholy “Flying” I was forced to succumb to an unexpected fit of laughter. While telling the story of a street walker/stripper that suffers a career ending injury Bilal employs the same comedic timing that made songs like “Sometimes” such a treasure.
“He had her walking the town, selling her ass/they was making money til she broke her back one daaay/ …How you do that?…”
Here is where the genius begins. He immediately acknowledges the Scooby-Doo face from hearing that a stripper broke her back. How?? Where they do that at?
“Upside down on a pole when you’re smokin crack...”
My laughter was intense and sincere. Startling even. Ask the people on the train around me. The involuntary visual of a stripper hanging upside down on the pole with a crack pipe then falling to the floor took me back to a place that I had only visited with Chappelle, Rock and Katt. The tragedy of a woman selling her body to support a drug habit was completely lost on me. I was in tears. And it was only made worse as the song continued…
“Somebody yelled from the back/ ‘Somebody get this hoe up off the floor...’
Again, this is not a funny occurrence per se but the way it’s presented is the stuff of stand-up gold. The funniest 60 seconds in R&B concludes with a pep talk from her pimp:
“You know how it is/you can’t do shit when you’re injuuured, and these hoes out here get younger every daaay/That’s when he laid down his hat/never even noticed that he didn’t come back…”
It takes a special kind of talent to go from Dr. Phil to Donald Goines in one song but that is what makes Bilal so damn good. Welcome back.