Bilal First Born Second

Unlike many vocalists that are lumped into the dubious classification of neo-soul, Bilal Oliver is not wholly concerned with exuding strictly positive vibes. Sure he can pledge undying love when he feels like it, as First Born Second amply proves, but it's the way he does it. Bilal comes across as a self-styled rebel of the reverential soul brigade and the chest-thumping bravado that fuels the ridiculously dirty opener "For You" and the meandering revelatory jam "Sometimes" might jar those expecting the heightened sensitive of his artistic peers. Bilal's high-pitched vocals consistently resist the rhythm pockets the beats urge him to fill. His maverick styling doesn't really work as well when trying to skate over a Dr. Dre beat or a roots reggae excursion and probably indicates that he should have turned to his Soulquarian connections, who have provided tasty audible treats for Common, D'Angelo and the Roots more often, as they did on the exquisite "Reminisce," with Mos Def and Common. Still the fearless edge demonstrated in his approach indicates unbridled promise for the quivering falsetto from this rough around the edges artist. (Universal)