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'I Just Love Dirt': Bilal Gets Grungy In The Studio

Bilal's latest album is <em>In Another Life</em>.<em></em>
Kawai Matthews
Courtesy of the artist
Bilal's latest album is In Another Life.

In the pop world, Bilal is everywhere: He's collaborated with everyone from Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake. And in his own music, he's everywhere at once: leaping between soul, jazz and hip-hop without missing a beat.

His latest album, In Another Life, matches that musical agility in its subject matter. A ripped-from-the-headlines song like "Lunatic," written in the wake of the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooting, feels right at home next to the more fanciful "Satellite," which takes the view of an alien intelligence returning to Earth after eons. But there's one real constant uniting the new album's sound: an old-school production style, right down to recording gear from the 1960s.

"Everything was analog; nothing was digital. It really brought a grungy kind of vibe to the music — that kind of brought something else out of me," he says. "On my last album I kept saying, the whole time we were in the studio recording it, 'God, it's so clean!' ... I just love dirt. I didn't realize that that's what I was missing."

Bilal spoke with NPR's Arun Rath about giving himself permission to scream in the studio, what the Christian and Muslim sides of his family taught him about music, and why Kendrick Lamar — who features on In Another Life — sometimes sounds more like a jazz instrumentalist than a rapper. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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