Bilal | photo by Rahman Wortman
Bilal celebrates the 20th anniversary of ‘1st Born Second’ with a Philly soulful night at City Winery
This past summer Philly’s own Bilal’s celebrated the 20th anniversary of his album 1st Born Second. In 2001, the soulful crooner from Germantown made a statement that out of all the soul singers of his generation he would be the leader of the pack. A bold statement, considering his peers who dropped before him were D’Angelo, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, as well as other hometown heroes from the city of Brotherly Love such as Musiq Soulchild, and Jill Scott.
Nevertheless, Bilal was able to hold his own. Studio sessions under the music collective the Soulquarians, along with the legendary Dr. Dre, ended with a timeless album. What better way for Bilal to celebrate 20 years in the game than performing classic songs off 1st Born Second in the city he was raised in? That’s exactly what his show at City Winery was: a celebration of good music that still hits the soul.
Last Saturday downtown at City Winery was a night of Philly soul. The downstairs music venue sets the scene for an intimate night of a jazz, hip hop, R&B with the soulful grit Philadelphia is known for. The night started off with a musical appetizer opening set by hip hop artist Khemist. The North Philly rapper brought his soulful food-for-thought lyrics, with the help of his band plus two singers as the seasoning to give the audience a taste of what to expect. Khemist had the crowd rocking to “Hurricane” as he has them vibing out to his melodies of how the 40 oz of malt liquor once had a control on him. Khemist then surprised me and the crowd by bringing the guitar out and singing to his audience when he performed “Shine & Prosper.” The way he played the guitar, sang and rhymed was similar to Wyclef Jean, minus the Caribbean accent; it was dope to see how jazzy the band and the singers got in the end. Khemist set was the perfect way to set the stage for the entre performance from Bilal.
Bilal loves to perform, so he went into making 1st Born Second with the mindset of being able to make a dope live show out of it when touring. He successfully did that with this album and last Saturday was the proof. After coming on stage and humbly thanking the audience for coming out, Bilal and musicians Tone Whitfield on bass, Randy Runyon on guitar, and Joe Blaxx on drums put on an amazing show that reminded us all why he love him and his debut album so much.
Over the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of hosting an open mic event called The Juice Jam and I’ve got see local musicians like Cam, Justin, Dan of The Funkitorium and Larry and Kayla of Omar’s Hat jam with local artists like Arthur Thomas, Re-Mus, Queen Maya and others, fueling my appreciation for musicianship and the ability to entertain an audience with your voice. So watching Bilal was like watching him have a jam session with the three musicians.
Bilal didn’t talk much — he literally let the music do all the talking and in return it created an awesome intimate setting that made couples vibe and appreciate the love songs like “Right At The Core” and others from his discography. He made sure to take it back to the first album and performed ageless love songs like “For You,” “Love Poems,” and the favorite “Soul Sista,” as well as the vulnerable soulful tune “Sometimes.” The entire night Bilal reminded us why he is the 1st born of the second generation of soul singers. He even ended the night shouting out his good friend and Soulquarian brother J Dilla before playing the track produced by the late legendary producer “Reminisce.”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the release of 1st Born Second, but last Saturday night showed that Bilal sounds like he still hasn’t missed a beat as a performer since then.