Author’s note: This article was written before Black was pardoned by Donald Trump and released from prison for his most recent weapons charge. Black is still facing an outstanding sexual assault charge in South Carolina that could put him back in prison for as many as an additional 30 years.
Black was arrested less than a year after dropping his sophomore album “Dying to Live” on two separate charges of purchasing a firearm under false pretenses. Because of his extensive record, Black was denied bond and faces as many as 60 more years in prison.
Unlike other recent releases we’ve received from incarcerated artists like Rowdy Rebel’s verse on Pop Smoke’s “Make It Rain” or Black’s own performance on A$AP Rocky’s “CALLDROPS” skit, “Bill Israel” was crafted with the same degree of polish as his previous two albums. While this results in an album that’s undoubtedly much easier to listen to than anything recorded over a jail phone, it means all the vocal tracks were created prior to Black’s most recent incarceration.
Considering the small window of time Black had to record music between bids behind bars, he delivers a surprisingly fresh performance on the new album. Rapping over a strong selection of instrumentals with a compelling variety of tones, Black proves his unique sound has a powerful presence on any modern beat you throw his way, even when he’s just repeating the same line over and over, like on “Feeling Myself Today.” Though the project bears some sonic resemblances to the albums and even some of the mixtapes that came before it, “Bill Israel” contains enough brand new material to justify the release, and having traces of previous projects on the album provides fans the extra incentive to return to his other bodies of work.
Concerning the content of “Bill Israel,” the majority of the subject matter continues to unfortunately revolve around the lifestyle that landed Black in prison. The song “Serene” hauntingly captures Black’s inner conflict, with him claiming to seek a more positive life on the hook, while he contradicts himself with the actions he describes in his verses. Assuming the majority of songs on this project were recorded after the release of “Dying to Live,” it seems foolish at this point to expect a change in his behavior the next time he’s released.
The limited content Black’s record label had to work with in the creation of “Bill Israel” results in an album restricted both in the overall length of the project and the growth in style and content that Black demonstrated between his first two albums. The slim track list ultimately works in Black’s favor, however, given the shallow range of subject matter. With just 11 songs, Black’s signature charisma is enough to keep listeners engaged and leave them wanting more once the final track has faded out.