Prince, Madonna, Sting, Dido...
The select group of pop music artists who are universally known by a single name may soon expand to include a gifted young talent known simply as Bilal. Just 22, the Philadelphia native has guest starred on gold- and platinum-selling albums by rabid supporters Common and Erykah Badu. His debut album, 1st Born Second, has elicited comparisons to such soul greats as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Prince since its release on Moyo/Interscope Records this past spring.
However, it's the Purple One parallels that seem to get the most play, and for good reason. Like Prince, Bilal (born Bilal Oliver) is a multi-pronged talent who seems to move easily and convincingly from a variety of musical styles. R&B, hip-hop, reggae, gospel, pop and jazz are all part of this singer-songwriter's stylistic palette.
Plus, when Bilal's falsetto takes flight he can bear an uncanny vocal resemblance to the legendary Prince. Indeed, he once turned heads at a Brooklyn Academy of Music performance with a stunning performance of Prince's "International Lover." At a birthday party for Badu, Prince was heading out the door when he suddenly heard Bilal start singing. He was reportedly so intrigued by this new voice that he decided to stay to watch him perform.
"It doesn't really bother me when people compare me to Prince because people identify through association," he told a writer from New York's Time Out. "He has definitely been an influence on me, just as Miles Davis, Curtis Mayfield and a lot of other people have."
Bilal studied vocal jazz at New York's Mannes College of Music, where he also learned how to sing opera in seven languages. He feels he draws his greatest inspiration from the improvisational feel of jazz. "Most of the things I do are either intuitive or I'm thinking of some jazz cat," he recently told USA Today.