We loved interviewing and writing about Bilal for our exclusive interview, (Read that here.) That we had to revisit some of our favorite hip-hop songs that featured the soulful singer. During his long hiatus from recording, some of his best work came from his collaborations with rap artists. From Jay-Z and Jadakiss to Common and Kweli, Bilal has collab’d with some of the best spitters in the game. When asked to list his favorites, even he has to dig deep, “The Dilla ones,” he says, having worked extensively with the late legend. “Nightmares (The Clipse), Jay-Z that was something unexpected,” Bilal reminisces, “I had a lot of fun doing that. When I worked with Scarface, that was kind of fun as well.”
We dug in our proverbial crates, reached out to our friends, and even asked the man himself to come up with this list of our Top 5 Bilal Hip-Hop Collabos. Feel free to add your favorites.
“Fallin'” Jay-Z feat. Bilal, American Gangster
Released in 2007, as a concept album based on the film by the same name, American Gangster was a critical success and is considered one of Jay’s most personal albums. On “Fallin'”, Bilal, backed by a Dramatics sample, sings the chorus, “I know I shouldn’ta did that/I know it’s gon’ come right back/I know it’s gon’ destroy everything I made/It’s probably gon’ get your boy sent away/But this game I play ain’t no way to fix it/it’s inevitable.” The song is a highlight of Jay’s 10th studio album, the album tied him with Elvis for most number one albums, he broke that record two years later with Blueprint 3.
“Reminisce” Bilal feat. Mos Def & Common
From his debut, 1st Born Second, “Reminisce” was produced by J. Dilla and featured verses from Mos Def and Common reminiscing on former loves, the song was one of Dilla’s best with a Mos doing background vocals throwing back to the Pete Rock C.L. Smooth classic, “T.R.O.Y.” The song was an ode to ex-girlfriends everywhere and probably caused a slew of ill-fated reunions. “As I think back/will I ever see her face again/as I reminsce.”
“Fast Lane” Bilal feat. Jadakiss and Dr. Dre
It was a big win for an R&B singer to have Dre beats, especially in 2001, as the legendary producer was flying high with Chronic 2001 and the success of his protege’, Eminem. But, Bilal, at the time signed to Interscope, got not one but two Dre tracks for his debut. Featuring, Jadakiss, “Fast Lane,” was a cautionary tale about the street life. ‘Kiss dropped several gems like, “seem like tellin’ is in/ni**as’ll sign states/get a order of protection/and tell ‘em again,” and “I’m a left lane ni**a/ my life is much faster than yours/I’m with a chick/then it’s attached to her bra.” His verses complemented Bilal’s voice and Dre’s beat making for a hip-hop perfect storm.
“Waiting for the DJ,” Talib Kweli feat. Bilal
You really can’t talk about a Bilal collab without mentioning this song. From Kweli’s solo debut, Quality, in 2002-“Waiting for the DJ” wasn’t a huge hit single, but did well on the charts and the fun, upbeat video got heavy rotation. One of the big anthems from hip-hop “second” golden age, the neo-soul/alt hip-hop/Soulquarian era where The Roots, Kweli, Mos, and company ruled the airwaves and were the major influencers of the culture. “Waiting for the DJ,” was just a fun song that… well, it made your body rock.
“Can’t Get Right,” Scarface feat. Bilal
From ‘Face’s last full-album release, “Can’t Get Right,” was a soulful treatise on Black ghetto life. Released in 2008, the song was classic Scarface, full of pain and trials. “Can’t afford to fill my prescriptions/so we all gon’ die/CVS is slangin’ dope/on every block/worldwide.” This song demonstrated how widespread Bilal’s hip-hop appeal was, at the time of it’s release, it had been 7 years since his previous album, and would be 5 more years until his next. Like all of his collaborations, this song kept fans loving his sound between studio projects.