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Interview: BJ The Chicago Kid Is Still About That Soul: 'F*ck How The Pro Tools Files Look'

When the lyrically gifted BJ The Chicago Kid walked into VIBE’s offices for the first time, he may have looked like an unkempt, die-hard Wu-Tang Clan fan to the untrained eye. He rocked a black Wu jogging suit with a matching black bandana tied around his messy mini fro. However, the kid from the Windy City stepped into our workspace with an aura that brought his seemingly at-peace, comfortable, and confident demeanor onto our radar..

“I come from an era where people really did do it. When they sang it, they felt it. Something was real. And, you felt that. I’m about that,” BJ said during his sit-down with VIBE. “The feeling. The Vibe. How does it feel? Fuck how the Pro Tools files look, close your eyes how does it feel? Does it feel right?”

The musically enthusiastic BJ often speaks in metaphors. At times comparing his music to life and history. You see, his career didn't start over night. The kid started really honing his skills more than a decade ago by putting in work with Chicago natives Dave Hollister (“For You”) and Jazz musician Ramsey Lewis. Also, during his early days, BJ’s soulful vocals, die-hard hustle and industry plugs earned him a back-up singing gig with Gospel duo Mary Mary. Since then, BJ has worked with heavyweights such as Kanye West, R. Kelly, Chance The Rapper and TDE’s Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, to name a few. He’s also written songs for singers Lalah Hathaway, Shirley Ceaser, Joe, and more.

After dropping two mixtapes in 2009 — A Taste of Chicago and A New Beginning, and 2011’s The Life of Love’s Cupid, the former drummer released this stellar EP dubbed Pineapple Now-Laters in 2012. After a myriad of "Hell days," arguments with family members and apartment evictions, BJ is set to release his Motown debut album in 2015.

BJ took some time away from his life—music—to chop it up with us about his upcoming releases, his quest for real soul music, family struggles and more.

VIBE: So, the EP is coming out soon as well as your Motown debut. What can fans expect?
BJ: Well, the album doesn't have a title yet, but it’s back to that real Soul. It will still have some elements of my mixtapes in it as well. The album is just big. It’s pretty much my story. It’s like my movie. It's going to be half soundtrack to the hustler who runs the street with a good heart, the guy who grew up with his mom and dad -- he loves his girl, but he loves women and he loves money. The other half is just true stories from my life.

You’re not heavy on features, but are there any on the EP or album?
On the EP, yeah. I got ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T. is on there. Production wise you got Brandon Alexander because that boy is a beast. Yo, remember I said this name: Brandon Alexander is a monster, and a very good brother. But he did a joint with us called “Stuck In July,” and it’s pretty fucking amazing.

You rock with TDE a lot. Can we expect a joint album?
[Laughter]. You never know, man. I never put a limit on who I work with. Like, me and Freddie Gibbs got over seven songs together and y’all probably have four. When you enjoy working with somebody, that’s how you create great music.

I also have a few dope things happening with iconic guys but I can’t really mention names. But, it’s some shit that I’m very, very excited about. But, I can’t speak on TDE. I’ll let them inform you on that.

Your sound, lyrics and aura are very authentic, man.
I’ve had a lot of Hell days. A lot of Hell weeks. A lot of Hell months. I’ve been evicted, so I know what it’s like. So, that place I sing from is very real. That’s from pain, that’s from joy, dreams, experiences, desperations. I’ve missed deaths and births of family members. I’ve missed Christmas at home. And, I’m like the youngest of three. And, I grew up with mom’s and pop’s in the household. So, I come from a well-knit family. And, for you to miss Thanksgiving or Christmas at my house it’s like…[shakes his head to add emphasis]. And, I still shed blood, sweat and tears. This is my life.

How did you get to this point in your career?
Me and my father got into [an argument] one time. And, by the end of the argument I was packing my bags. He wasn’t kicking me out, but I was like, ‘enough is enough.’ I was doing music with a partner by the name Kevin Randolf at the time. He moved to L.A. and he had a job as the music director for Mary Mary. So, their male [back-up] singer decided to leave around the same time I got into this argument with my Pop’s. And, when Kevin called me that kind of turned everything around. He said, ‘You come here, you got a job.’ He was like, ‘When you land you have a job.’

Wow? So, you went to Cali’?
Yes. At that time, my dad had worked for United Airlines. And, they had the carbon tickets where you write your name on it. My mom had her last ticket, and her name wasn’t on it. So, it was like the golden ticket to Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory. It was meant for me to be in L.A. If there’s a movie of my life, that is a part that has to be in it.

During that period of your life, there must have been times where you didn’t think music would work out.
Oh, yes. I felt like that within the last twelve months. Life is real, man. When music is your life, you are the most attached person to it. So, you’ll be the person to throw a fit. This is somebody’s job, but this is your life. There’s a huge difference from the balance scale. You’ll break the balance beam trying to figure that out, but I know music is my life.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

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Anderson .Paak, Tierra Whack And More Praise Female Artists At 2018 Billboard Women In Music

Some of music's biggest stars attended Billboard's annual Women in Music event on Thursday night (Dec. 6).

Pop star Ariana Grande was awarded with the night's highest honor, "Woman Of The Year," while SZA, Janelle Monae, Cyndi Lauper, Hayley Kiyoko, and Kacey Musgraves were awarded with subsequent prestigious honors.

VIBE got a chance to speak to some of the musicians in attendance on the carpet, including hip-hoppers Anderson .Paak and Tierra Whack, the Janelle Monae-cosigned St. Beauty, and Massah David, the co-founder of the creative agency, MVD Inc..

When prompted about some of their favorite bodies of work by female artists this year, a resounding amount of musicians stated Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E and Tierra Whack's Whack World as some of their personal picks.

The 23-year-old MC and first-time Grammy nominee confirmed with VIBE she's working on "something really special" with fellow Philadelphian and friend Meek Mill. She also stated that while the accolades for her work have been exciting, she's more excited for society to stop gendering dope artists, especially in the hip-hop game.

"I hope that [labeling through gender] ends soon," she said. "I know, technically, rap is a male-dominated industry, but, like, I’m better than all of ‘em! [laughs] It is what it is! I don’t even count gender or color, it’s just whoever’s got it."

What are some members of the music industry looking forward to in 2019? More women in high-profile positions and more chances for women in general.

"Hopefully just having more opportunities for women in different spaces in music, whether it’s radio, behind-the-scenes, engineering, actually making the music," said David. "I’m just hoping we get to see women in more executive roles."

Watch our recap video above.

READ MORE: Janelle Monae Discusses Creative Freedom, Her Relationship With Diddy In New 'Billboard' Interview

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Pusha-T Pushes The Culture Forward Through Mentorship With New Discovery Platform

“I actually told [my manager] Shiv, I’m not doing any more interviews,” Pusha-T ironically admits to VIBE in an exclusive sit-down.

It seems about right since the rapper has endured a relentless news cycle this year, both for promoting his highly-acclaimed album DAYTONA and his feud with Drake.

He’s perched upright in a swivel chair in the studio of Lower Manhattan’s Electric Lady Sound Studios, a venue that easily has one of the richest musical histories – built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and recorded legends like Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.

Interestingly enough, Pusha has forfeited his previous promise on a particularly muggy day in November, to talk not about his multiple wins, but his latest project with 1800 Tequila. The G.O.O.D. Music show-runner has partnered with the brand to launch “1800 Seconds,” a new artist discovery platform that highlights unsigned artists from around the country. For its inaugural project, Pusha served as a mentor to 10 artists on the rise – Sam Austins (Detroit), T Got Bank (Brooklyn), Cartel Count Up (Hampton, VA), Hass Irv (Harlem), Nita Jonez (Houston), Trevor Lainer (Wilmington, NC) Mona Lyse (Detroit), Don Zio P (Middletown, CT), Tyler Thomas (Los Angeles), and Ant White (Philadelphia) – to curate a compilation album comprised of 10 new tracks.

Pusha personally selected each artist and challenged them to write and record a new track that showcases why they are the premier talent to watch. He sat down with each artist for more than one hour over the span of a week, observing little quirks, analyzing their sound and assessing their strengths. As he runs us through the album’s tracklist, he smiles, prefacing each single with an anecdote about the artist. Tyler Thomas is a notable favorite amongst the group and matches Pusha’s discipline in writing; Harlem’s Hass Irv is a verified sneaker dealer who boasts some of the most sought-after Jordans in his collection; Detroit’s Mona Lyse is a bonafide 90’s rap connoisseur. Push notes that she can pump out facts on artists like Notorious B.I.G. with such precision that even he has to take notes.

While this opportunity probably comes as a chance in a lifetime for the handful of artists, whose backgrounds, ages, and identities range tremendously, it seems to be just as monumental for Pusha-T.

This project should be seen as a win for hip-hop as it merges the gap between veterans and rookies, which in the past, has been broadened by various riffs between the two parties. Some of the seasoned titans may not understand the new wave, but Pusha-T alludes to mentorship and collaborations as a thing of the future and likely the next phase of his career. “This is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business,” he says. “I think I have my hand on the pulse on what’s going on musically out here… People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, ‘aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.’ And really, I do. I enjoy it.”

In celebration of the album’s release, all 10 of the selected artists will perform their recorded tracks, followed by a performance by Pusha himself in New York City's Sony Hall on Dec. 5. The compilation album will officially debut on Dec. 7.

In VIBE’s exclusive interview with Pusha-T, we discuss 1800 Tequila’s brave courageous new school of young rappers, the importance of paying it forward, and retirement.

The first 1800 Seconds compilation album is available now. Listen to it and check out our interview with Pusha-T below. 

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VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

READ MORE: Pusha T And No Malice 'My Brother's Keeper' (Digital Cover)

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