* Soul to soul: Influenced by Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, Bilal appears on new albums by Jaguar Wright and Tweet.
* The lowdown: Other neo-soulsters get more attention, but Bilal is the only one who not only emulates the styles of the ’70s but also strives for the same depth of expression. His debut reveals a troubled, Gaye-like soul struggling to live up to its best intentions. “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t me; / Sometimes I wish I was drug-free,” he sings on one song. Other cuts find him in Mayfield mode, praising black women (“Soul Sista”) and singing about the perils of street life (the Dr. Dre-produced “Fast Lane”). Throughout the album, Bilal proves that he’s an R&B classicist, not a copycat.