BJ the Chicago Kid Discusses ‘In My Mind’ Album, Connection With Big K.R.I.T. and Why Black Milk Is His Favorite Rapper – Exclusive
Hip-hop and R&B have a long, illustrious history with one another, and BJ the Chicago Kid is one of the more respected artists that continues to bridge the gap between the two. The soulful crooner has managed to captivate listeners with his hazy vocals and has left his imprint on tracks from some of the hottest rappers in the game today. BJ's most recent album, In My Mind, has served as a victory lap of sorts for the once unsung singer and is the culmination of 15 years of perseverance in his journey to showcase his talent on a major level.
Born Bryan James Sledge, the singer was raised in Brainerd, a neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. BJ caught his first big break after scoring a songwriting credit on "For You,"a 2001 track from fellow Chicago native Dave Hollister. He would later make an appearance alongside Kanye West on the Mission: Impossible III promotional cut, "Impossible," as well as lend his pen to a slew of R&B and gospel talent.
2009 would find BJ releasing his debut mixtape, A Taste of Chicago, as well as make a guest appearance on "Faith," a song from Kendrick Lamar's Kendrick Lamar EP, which would catch additional ears and help continue to raise his profile among rap fans. Building on that momentum with two mixtape releases in 2011 and 2014, as well as his debut effort, Pineapple Now-Laters, in 2012, BJ the Chicago Kid has raised the stakes and outdone himself with In My Mind. He's established himself as one of R&B's brightest stars. The crooner took some time out from performing to talk about his critically-acclaimed new album, working with rap's elite and the new recruits hitting the R&B scene.
XXL: Pineapple Now-Laters was your last big project. How do you feel different about the music on that album in comparison to In My Mind?
BJ the Chicago Kid: Creatively it was easy. What I mean by that is every day I just got up and went to Jared [Evans'] house and we probably cooked something to eat and went and bought some fried fish and chips from somewhere and made sure we had our hot sauce and our juice and we getting it cracking. It didn't take much. We did the same thing everyday to the point where the feeling became so natural anything besides that feeling became unnatural. It felt unreal, you know.
We were so wrapped up into what we were doing creatively that we did exactly what we wanted to do, which was make good music. I didn't have concepts for a lot of these songs on Pineapple, I heard the music and wrote to the song. So it was pretty dope, but In My Own Mind. it was more structured far as having an understanding of how potent we wanted this music to be. It's almost like we grew up and we wanted 'em to know we're grown now. Building a basketball team that was trying to go win a championship.
On the intro to In My Mind, you say "Losing somebody I love, God and spider webs are the only things that I'm afraid of." So speak a little bit about that line and those three fears.
Of course, when there's a spider web there's a spider and I hate spiders [laughs]. I think that stemmed from when I had braids. If I walked in a spiderweb, I just assumed that a spider was in my braids so you would see me scratching and patting my head for about thirty minutes until I just assumed that it's already died [laughs]. But away from the spiderwebs, of course losing someone I love. Moving to California and trying my best at being great, just period in life, I feel like one of my worst fears losing someone that's very dear to me and I haven't had time to close that gap, you know, is one of my biggest fears. And I fear God period so we'll just leave it at that.
Your song "The Resume," how did that came together with Big K.R.I.T.?
I was introduced to Big K.R.I.T. by 9th Wonder, via Twitter. He said, "I'm working with K.R.I.T. and he's a big fan and we'd both love to get you on this record. What's up?" and I said, "You tell me what's up. You've got the email" [laughs]. But by the time I actually met K.R.I.T., which was my first day on the Kritically Acclaimed Tour, that was my first time meeting him and we had maybe two or three songs together under our belt at the time so I didn't see him face to face until years later. That's one of the cool things about the internet it brings a lot of dope people together. So I was working on this song ["The Resume"] and this may be a slightly long story, but I'll tell you the story.
So when I was about 14 years old, my brother had this drum machine called the MPC. And the MPC, you had to load sounds into it so I had a friend that sampled drums, musical samples and stuff and he came and supplied my brother with drum sounds. So this particular set of drum sounds he gave me, it didn't have a lot of melody stuff, it was just drums. It's different bays for you to organize 'em how you want, but it was one melody button on there and the only thing that was on there was the talk box and I played with that thing 'til eternity. That was the only thing that had a note to it and something I could sing to it. Fast forward, graduate out of high school, get a job, move to L.A. sing background, songwriting and now I have a deal with Motown Records and I remember this sample.
So I called him like "Yo, do you remember this sample you gave us when we first had this MPC?" and I start singing it and he's like "Yeah, I got that sample" I was like "Dude, do you trust me with it? Please send it to me." Sent it to me, myself, my engineer Joe and my friend Marcus, we pretty much came to the musical composition of "The Resume." So I was able to use something that was, like, really a part of my life that I love incorporated it into my album, which makes it so personal and so a part of me. And I wanted to add a little country... how can I say it... I really wanted to use his accent and that's how we got "The Resume."
What does K.R.I.T.'s friendship mean to you?
You know how when you work with a lot of people, but you wouldn't have a lot of people at your house? You know, work is work and personal is personal? He would be at the BBQ, for sure. K.R.I.T. is definitely a good person just outside, his work ethic is crazy. It's part in the show when we were on tour when he takes a break and he goes in the back and changes his shirt, right. I come up two songs after that.
By the time I come up, I do that song and after this, our song is done, which will be the third song, he needs to change his shirt again. He gives everything to the show, from jumping up to getting out there with the fans, meet and greets, the whole nine. He really enjoys what he do and I can see it and I feel it. And he's one of the dopest of what he's doing so I'm a big fan and a good friend.
Why was it important to you to add a strong hip-hop element to your In My Mind album?
I didn't add that on purpose, that's not like season. That's who I am, it's a part of how I grew up. It's not a garnish, it's a part of the ingredients. I'm never compromising my art, that's my brand, that's my voice, that's who I am and that's what it is.
You have Kendrick on "The New Cupid." Tell us the story behind how that came together.
Me and Kendrick homies, [that's] pretty much it. We just had to get together and do what we do. We work in many different ways, but due to his schedule and my schedule, we wanted to get together the best way we possibly could. It's an honor to have them rocking with me, it's an honor to have them as family to answer my calls and me answer theirs. It's a mutual relationship.
Which songs do you feel have been receiving the best response from fans so far?
Honestly, "The Resume. "Shine" has been getting a lot of good feedback. "Love Is God" has been getting a lot of incredible feedback. Of course, "The New Cupid" has been getting a lot of feedback. The song "Home" has been getting a lot of feedback. Almost the whole album has if I keep going, but that's what I'm excited about, I'm excited that the people are loving what we've worked so hard at doing. From everybody else that don't even get the right attention or the right credit or whatever else it may be, like, we all got blood and tears in this.
Lets talk about some of the producers you worked with on In My Mind. You have some new names and some familiar. What was your game plan as far as production with this project?
Nah, honestly, it's people I've always worked with behind the scenes that kind of always helped influence everything and that's pretty much what I wanted to knock out. I wanted to bring that to the forefront. I wanted to get people in with the guys who I know that were down with me from the gates and just wanted to spread that love in the right way cause being with a label puts you on a bigger stage, a bigger phonebook, a bigger budget and bigger opportunities. And I wanted to maximize that and spread that amongst my friends that really earned that with me that came with me through the storm and are still rocking with me. I love loyalty and I love paying back my end of loyalty, you know what I'm saying? I love making it full circle.
Chance the Rapper shows up on "Church." Why was it important to get him on this project?
I wouldn't say it was important, I just felt like he fit perfect on it. Any artist that I collaborate with are artists that I'm really friends with. It's not like my manager links me with his manager cause they've known each other for years through college, I do the shit that,like really is who I'm fans of and it's a real authentic connection and I think people can feel that. We worked too hard as a brand, the quality of the music, how much music we can give em and we work so hard to feed 'em some rabbit food. They need real food, man.
Did the Chi-Town connection play any part in you collaborating with him?
I met Chano back before the world even got to know he was Chance The Rapper so the relationship we have is evident every time we get together. So he's like "Whenever BJ calls, I'm there," [and] same thing for me with him. We really like brothers Like, he came to support my release at Soho House at Chicago and I just had a small thing. I ain't even invite him, I ain't even know he was in town, he just showed up. That's what brothers do. So its not deep as the world or Hollywood try to make shit seem when you're real friends.
Like it's just a matter of calling him up.
Yeah, It's just like your boy you're gonna at the bar when you leave work. It's just like that, it's not Hollywood, you know what I'm saying. And I feel like when the Hollywood-ness comes, that's when we distance ourselves from each other. Like, both sides. We both admire the realness in each other. And that's what we're gonna keep bringing.
How has life been so far for you in 2016? It's three months in, you have an album. What are some of your big moments so far?
Yo, man, it's crazy. Stevie Wonder called the radio station to talk to me when I was doing my interview, man. He owns a radio station here in Los Angeles and I had an interview up there playing songs from the album and it just kinda really blew my mind. Stevie Wonder is one of my heroes, bro he's not someone I was just put up on and was like "Oh, that's dope." No, I admire Stevie Wonder. He's probably the last breathing of the last heroes we have from that generation, So for him to call in, that was like one of the craziest things that could happen, along with a lot of other crazy things that's going on, but it's dope.
Any letdowns? Disappointments in personal or professional?
Nah, nothing that left a sour taste, but I think when it comes to clearing samples, that can leave a sour taste in anybody's mouth [laughs]. You can't get a sample cleared that you really thought you was gonna have that record, that's probably it. Anything else it's live and learn, man, we taking 'em on the chin and keep going.
Was there one sample in particular that you wanted to get cleared but couldn't?
Yeah, but I don't know who the sample was, I can't remember the name cause it wasn't, like, a popular artist, Some of the people that made some of the illest music, they weren't the most popular.
How do you feel about the current state of R&B? There is a different sound in the genre these days. Do you embrace it?
I'm loving it. I love that Fetty Wap's singing, I love that Drake's singing, I love where we're going. Whoever don't understand it, they'll just get it later.
What do you think about the music that newer artists like Bryson Tiller is creating? Tory Lanez? Post Malone?
I'm loving it. I ain't hating on anybody that's out here trying to feed their own and they've worked hard to make their craft dope as fuck. I love Tory Lanez, man, I love what he's doing. I love what Bryson's doing. I had a chance to meet Bryson when I was in New York at Hot 97. He's a good dude. Shit, I fucks with him.
Are you into politics? Who will you be voting for in the next election? What do you think of Donald Trump?
You know, I ain't rocking with Trump, but politics, I kinda keep to myself. But nah, I ain't rocking with homie though.
Your favorite rapper you mentioned is Black Milk. Tell us why he falls into your favorites?
I feel like Black Milk has found his way of putting his life into his music. I feel like lyrically he is a beast, a lot of people sleep on Black Milk. Black Milk is a monster. He from church, he from the street, he get down how I get down. He's a soulful cat and I love how he get down. To me, he's helping carry on the ill legacy of [J] Dilla too, but yet in his own right and how he gets down in his own way. So he's not trying to be Dilla, but I feel that he understands Dilla in a way that he can help that voice continue to move on, but still be Black Milk at the same time.
See 30 Albums That Will Make You Appreciate Hip-Hop