Windy City Soul
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“I would say my music is like a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, versus a Dominick’s or a Ralph’s,” says BJ The Chicago Kid, likening his sounds more along the lines of a specialty, premium grocery store as opposed to a traditional supermarket. The crooner classifies his sounds more to world, R&B and soul.
“In music all of this shit is the same price. So really, it’s just up to you [the listener] to what you decide to eat. There’s a choice and that’s what I want people to understand,” he declares. “Listen knowing that you have this choice to buy this or this. I really believe in holding up my responsibility as a writer more so than just making people party and bullshit every time they hear my record.”
That attitude is what has propelled BJ The Chicago Kid into becoming one of the most respected artists in music, even if you haven’t heard of him – yet. After years of singing background and killing features, he’s finally ready to drop his opus, Pineapple Now-Laters. Life+Times caught up with the soulful crooner from the South Side of Chicago – whose first placement was with Ramsey Lewis – to discuss the winding road he’s traveled in order to finally arrive here and see his dreams come to fruition.
L+T: How did you get into music?
BJ: Music has always been in my blood. My mom was a choir director and singer, my dad directs and sings, my brothers played drums and sang.
L+T: What would you say is your responsibility as an artist?
BJ: Pretty much just spreading the best knowledge that you can that can be perceived [by people of] all colors, all races, all ages.
L+T: Talk about being from Chicago.
BJ: I feel like I can outwork anybody. It’s just something about being from Chicago. You hate to lose. Now, if you lose, you accept the loss. You don’t become a sore loser, you just hate to lose. That’s not even an option, so I’m always competitive, always bettering myself, staying sharp, staying ready. Chicago teaches you a lot, but when it comes to this industry, it can’t teach you everything. You have to get outside of the city to learn all of the rules. Chicago doesn’t have enough players living there to teach you all of that game. Chicago is always going to have hating, but the way I found to beat the hate was to use my connects beyond the city.
L+T: How was it to make that leap of faith, and move from Chicago to L.A.?
BJ: At the time, my dad was working at United Airlines, and the way the buddy passes worked back then, they were carbon copies. They give you a pack of four, and if you write your name on the first ticket, then all those tickets have your name on it. My mom had the whole pack, but her name only showed up on the first three tickets. Why didn’t her name print on that last ticket? I felt like that was my golden ticket to California to never come back until I have something to bring back. That was my way to get out of here and follow my dream. My pops believed in me doing music, but he felt like I would do better in some other field. I just believed in me so I had to come. I came here and never moved back.
L+T: Speak on each of the elements you’ve worked in musically. Background singer, writer, solo artist, etc.
BJ: The original element I came to California doing was singing background. I got hired singing background for everybody from Common to Mary J. Blige to Usher to Jamie Foxx, Jill Scott, Dirty Money, and a list of others. As a writer I’ve been blessed to work with Mary J. Blige again, Kanye West, Anthony Hamilton, I’m working with Jill right now, Snoop, a lot of pop artists overseas, the list goes on. As a solo artist, as my own brand that I’m banking myself on, I’ve worked with Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Pac Div, Freddie Gibbs, Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom. I would say the resume is pretty blessed, I just want to make sure that, as an artist, I earn that respect.
L+T: How have been able to connect with so many different artists?
BJ: It’s crazy how all of that stuff happened. I had a few friends out here that were tastemakers of L.A. that happened to be friends of mine — like [Levi] Maestro Knows, for example. He simply sells his lifestyle to people, and he’s worked with everyone from Nike to Hennessey. He set himself apart from anyone else on the Internet, and this is a good friend of mine, so him doing that helped me meet everyone from the owners of [Washington, DC boutique] Commonwealth to adidas sending me their sweatsuits and sneakers. It’s amazing to have people like that that also know other people in L.A. that you may not know. I met Dom Kennedy through his sister. I met Kendrick [Lamar] through some friends of mine that were really like family. I met the whole T.D.E. family through them. It’s being destined and being in the right place at the right time.
L+T: Who are some of your musical influences?
BJ: Definitely Raphael Saadiq. I listen to a lot of Little Dragon. I love them and how they push the limit musically. Prince, of course. The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Mint Condition, The Beatles, John Mayer, Cee-Lo, D’Angelo. Willie Hutch is one of my favorites. I don’t think people know how ill Willie Hutch was. They know how many times they dance to his samples, but they don’t know who it leads back to. If they realized it all came from the same source, one of these award shows would really bless that man or his family. James Brown is one of my favorites, as well. I don’t think we’ll ever get that again.
L+T: Is there a difference between soul and R&B?
BJ: In my eyes, R&B is always aimed at a younger crowd. To me, a child can understand soul music, but not know why they were feeling that certain oomph, that really isn’t felt in an R&B record. When it comes to subject matter, nowadays, there is no difference. Subject-wise, it doesn’t matter, but musically I believe there’s a difference. An R&B record is super lovey-dovey, extremely hard, but extremely soft, you know. Soul music can just stay right there in the middle, like Al Green‘s “Love and Happiness.”
L+T: What is the state of soul music, then, in your eyes?
BJ: I love soul music. I think that when neo-soul first came out it changed a lot of people’s mind about what soul really is. Originally, soul is Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green. That’s soul – people that transferred the emotion and the feeling that you would get from church into another type of conversation. Soul was originally intended to make you forget about every problem. It’s either to nurture the soul or heal the soul, but it’s for the soul, heart and mind. That’s the responsibility. I don’t think a lot of people are making soul. They’re making soulful music, but not soul music.
L+T: Talk about your upcoming project, Pineapple Now-Laters.
BJ: I’m just happy that it’s ready to come out. It’s taken two years and some change, off and on. I nurtured Pineapple Now-Laters, and I built it and wrestled with it, took a couple songs off, put a couple songs in. I wanted to make sure I got the mixes right, got the credits right, because I’m putting it out by myself. I’m my own entity. The best story in the world is about you, from you. So that’s what it’s about. I fell in love with [the candy] pineapple Now-Laters when my cousin gave me some in church one time. On the low, I kind of dedicated this project to him. I still eat them to this day and bring them on the road with me. It’s just a way of saying, ‘I’m me. I don’t have to conform to time.’ I’m simply celebrating me not being controlled by a label. It’s gonna be soulful, it has some pop elements to it, there’s gonna be dialogue in it, something you can smoke to, drink to, make love to, and it’s got some responsibility to it.