Whether BJ the Chicago Kid is putting pen to paper or belting out his guitar strum-sounding vocals into the microphone, his musical output is always a stark reflection of what’s going on at the moment. “Life itself inspires me,” the Windy City-born singer, songwriter and drummer says prior to this year’s National Action Network’s Triumph Awards. “Each flow, each day is different. Stay vulnerable everyday to catch whatever the vibe or flow is.”
The mellow, nasaly-voiced performer behind the independent releases A Taste of Chicago (2009), Pineapple Now-Laters (2012) and his 2016 major label debut In My Mind was en route to pay musical tribute to the mothers of slain African-American males Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. Dressed finely tailored in a tweed suit, a crème-colored knit turtleneck and blue suede shoes, BJ performed “Woman’s World.”
The compassionate, Grammy-nominated 31-year-old featured vocalist on ScHoolboy Q’s infectious Top 40 pop single “Studio” expresses how he empathizes with the mothers’ grief and comments on America’s state of affairs. “These women have lost their sons due to some unrealistic violent situations in America,” the singer born Bryan James Sledge says. “Even if it’s on camera, it’s almost like it’s not even trill. That’s one thing I can’t understand, but it’s an honor to give them strength and vitamins in this time.”
BJ’s musical abilities on wax marry together gritty, streetwise subject matter with his spiritually-drenched, soulful wails and croons. The “Church” and “Good Luv’n” singer doesn’t list any particular artists or entertainers that inspire his sound. He does acknowledge Ty Dolla $ign and Ro James as two of his R&B contemporaries.
Taking frequent brief pauses whenever he makes a statement, a passionate BJ believes contemporary R&B music is experiencing a genesis. “It’s a certain potency that old school R&B has and will never lose,” a rhinal BJ says. “It’s a different sound. The times have evolved. We try to keep some of those same ingredients in our music.”
Born to choir directors, BJ evolved from performing beside the Sunday morning pulpit to pursuing his dreams in Los Angeles at 19 years of age, landing background slots onstage and in the studio for Mary Mary, Stevie Wonder, Usher and Jill Scott. Following his first co-writing credit on R&B singer Dave Hollister’s “For You,” BJ’s sought after penmanship went on to bless Shirley Caesar, Lalah Hathaway, Musiq Soulchild, Joe, Kindred the Family Soul, Mario and Mary J. Blige.
“Sometimes I start with the hook,” BJ explains, sharing details about his creative process. “Sometimes I start with background vocals. Sometimes I start with the verse. It’s not one particular way. You just have to be vulnerable enough to know exactly how that vibe is leading you.”
Relying on his observations and subtle elements in his environment to fuel his creativity, BJ adds, “Everything about life inspires the music. You see a beautiful woman, hear a story in a barbershop or go through something yourself. It’s the common ground that we all experience and love.”
To date, BJ has landed feature appearances alongside Freddie Gibbs, Solange, The-Dream, Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Big K.R.I.T., Warren G, Marvin Gaye, GLC, Toni Braxton, Beanie Sigel, Kendrick Lamar, Jamie Foxx, Snoop Dogg, Crystal Aikin, Big Pooh, Anderson. Paak, MF Doom, Joey Bada$$, Busta Rhymes, Chance the Rapper and Kehlani. Being consistent and flexible with his collaborators are what he believes are his greatest assets.
“It’s taught me that people are listening and to keep moving forward,” BJ reflects. “We all learn from each other. It’s great to learn from great people.”
BJ thinks of his sound and musicality as “providing sunshine through the rain.” He acknowledges a few of his musical forefathers. He reiterates how songwriting day-to-day is never quite the same. What doesn’t change on or offstage is that BJ has to be in the right element to perform or create.
Music, BJ says, encourages and motivates him to share his gift. “One is life, and the other is naturally my sound,” BJ says. “Sometimes I can’t get beyond a certain point if I don’t hear certain things in the music. If the music doesn’t move me, I can’t give it to you guys. It has to move home first.”
BJ the Chicago Kid’s Top 5 Albums of the Moment:
“They will change daily I’m sure,” BJ says.
D’Angelo | Voodoo (2000)
Usher | Confessions (2004)
R. Kelly | TP-2.com (2000)
“I ran through that pretty fast,” BJ jokes. “I got $2 left (chuckles).”
Donell Jones | Where I Wanna Be (1999)
Anything by Jodeci