In My Mind In My Mind

Review: 'In My Mind' Proves That BJ The Chicago Kid Is Just As Luminous In His Own Spotlight

After four years of waiting in the wings, BJ The Chicago Kid truly shines on his sophomore album, 'In My Mind.'

Two weeks in and In My Mind still tugs on heart strings like it's fresh. This is the BJ the Chicago Kid we've been waiting for.

Back in July 2015, BJ the Chicago Kid stood on a tiny platform with his guitarist, bassist and percussionist in tow, facing a crowded room of industry folk. Rocking a navy blue short suit and busy kicks, he clutched the mic stand, intro-ing the long-waited followup to his 2012 LP Pineapple Now-Laters. He even sang a bit before announcing the now-familiar album's title, In My Mind, the features, the producers and giving his DJ the thumbs up to press play to each new track. The only thing was, barely anyone was listening.

The songs, just like they are now after the project dropped on Feb. 19 via Motown Records, were probably beautiful, but an afterthought to a sizable portion of people in the room. Attendees were more preoccupied with the Chicago-style pizza being served, the wine, and parlaying on the patio before the rain came and the label kicked everyone out. Typical industry listening party sans the actual listening. The ones who still give the sunny, nostalgic Pineapple Now-Laters regular play took an L when it came to trying to sift through the noise to hear the man of the hour.

Seven months later, it seems as if everyone's ears are perked, and rightfully so. After spending over four years on steady hook duty and in the mixtape circuit, the Chicago crooner is commanding his own spotlight on the delightful, love-soaked In My Mind.

#VIBEOnSite | @bjthechicagokid is giving us a taste of what's to come with his new album, 'In My Mind'

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As a closeted Bryan Sledge fan—I'd become hooked after one listen of "Kush & Corinthians (His Pain)" off Kendrick Lamar's excellent Section.80—the years following Now-Laters' release caused understandable agitation. A clear followup release date grew foggy as the years stacked up. The worry kicked in when the only time I'd see the Chicago native's name in digital circulation was when it followed the word "featured." From 2012 to 2016, the Windy City native brought his trademark old soul velvety voice to a host of songs, including Ab-Soul's "Lust Demons," Chance The Rapper's "Everybody's Something," ScHoolboy Q's "Studio," The Social Experiment's "Slip Slide" and "Windows," Dr. Dre's "It's All On Me," Kehlani's "Down For You," Anderson .Paak's "The Waters" and a host of others. Yes, it proved that the inner workings of the music biz were hip to his vocal gold, but the rest of the world needed to take note of him as a soloist, too.

All the things that made him shine on Pineapple Now-Laters has been polished to a blinding glow on In My Mind. His 2014 The M.A.F.E. Project notwithstanding, sideline time made BJ a stronger artist, and thankfully one who is still well in tune with what made him special in the first place: a sonic and tangible understanding of the complicated language of love. Save for a couple straying moments (the trap-n-B skewed "Man Down" sticks out like a sore thumb, but it appears too early on the project to technically skip), In My Mind is a cohesion of tender love notes from someone who, whether he has it, wants it, needs it or misses it, reveres it wholly.

"Shine," a lullaby of sorts, is a glittering appreciation for his better half and how they bring out the best in each other, while "Woman's World" flips the notion of James Brown's "This Is A Man's World" to reinforce a theory we already know is true (*smile*). The woman—who creates baby boys and in the same breath turns boys into men in ways that puberty has little to do with—is meant to be cherished, respected and appreciated by men outwardly, loudly. As romantic and storybook-like we'd like love to be, BJ is fully aware of how it stands right now. On "The New Cupid," he and cultural analyst Kendrick Lamar, an engaged man himself, turn the magnifying glass back on our desensitized generation. "Cupid's too busy in the club/At the bar, rolling up/And if you see him let him know/Love is gone, I know I'm sure," BJ croons.

One of the album's many high points, "Jeremiah/World Needs More Love," is rich and warm, rising up and washing over you as deeply nestled electric church organs, pitter patter percussion and cymbals peak with crashing drums and spirited squalls akin to Anthony Hamilton. Here, he longs for a love lost while referencing the story of the Biblical prophet Jeremiah. It's a churchy joint through and through. The Eric Ingram-featured track bleeds into repetitive, declarative coos that "since God is love, the whole world needs more love." "Wait Til The Morning" finds BJ at his apologetic post-screw up, trying to sidestep an impending argument because the relationship is worth more than a petty disagreement. "I’m tryna fix it all/You tryna tell it all/Could we just hold this off and wait till the morning," he begs affectionately. His pleas are bookended by vocalist Isa's excellent solo pleading for honesty on the other side of his telephone. None of BJ's songs necessarily need visual counterparts, because the tones, textures and vivid imagery of his music tell tales and paint pictures all their own.

And let's not sidestep the obvious: Mr. Sledge is damn good at making bedroom music. Be clear, In My Mind is not an expletive-laced assemblage of ménage à trois, disposable hoes and rough sex. The back of his brain is swirling with loverboy thoughts. Yeah the guy is lusty, he's human, but he's keenly aware of the depth that lies beneath the surface of the oft overused L-word. The album is less comparable to the clever, freak-nasty catalogue of Robert Kelly and more so making love over having sex. The steamier songs like "Love Inside" are tender and even paced, with natural climaxes (once you get over its initially creepy verbiage, the song is brilliant). On "The Resume," after a short monologue from Big K.R.I.T., BJ's voice envelops and soothes as he sings about putting in that 9-5 work to physically please his Mrs.

On a surface level, BJ is pure delight to the ear of an R&B and soul purist, with a voice that neither wavers nor scratches no matter what kind of song he's on. It flutters and flits gently at times, like on the beginning of "Church," where he exercises God-given restraint from scratching a hedonistic itch, or the somber and sobering "Falling On My Face." What's a marvel about this record is that, in addition to sticking to his signature buttery tones, like a sponge, he pulls from the best of what R&B has to offer in these diverse, genre-bending times. You can practically hear BJ tip his hat to the coasting, soft-rock croon of Miguel on "Heart Crush" and the silky-smooth jazz scat of D'Angelo on "Turnin' Me Up." Sonically, he uses Raphael Saadiq's bluesy, slow-crawling "Oh Girl" as the blueprint for "The New Cupid." Additionally, lyrical cues from Kehlani and the sensual tremors a la Trey Songz pop up on "Wait Til The Morning." These influences lend a sense of familiarity to the listener without stripping BJ of his individual vocal prowess and style.

Failure doesn’t scare BJ; he said so himself on the album's stream of consciousness intro. And as a result, he's not scared of its affiliate situations and emotions like trial and error, risk, setbacks, sidelines and exercising patience. Luckily for Mr. Sledge, he has far from failed on this refreshing effort. In My Mind brings a restorative (and very necessary) spirit to an emotion brushed under the rug in the scape of todays millennial music. Hardly any of the project's 15 tracks are sleepers or skippers. The more you play the album, the more in love you fall with it and with BJ the Chicago Kid as his own artist. With each listen, you pluck out new favorites, fall into new emotions. Quite frankly, it grows sweeter with time, and in this case, all that flavor was worth the wait.

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Review: Jessie Reyez’s Expressive EP Proves There’s Beauty In ‘Being Human In Public’

Jessie Reyez’s recently-released EP Being Human In Public proves that the Toronto musician’s fiery exterior comes with a cool, introspective center. Her 2017 EP Kiddo introduced her to the world as force who was willing to “go there” by singing about major issues like sexual assault and emotionally abusive relationships. This time around, Reyez muses about the softer side of love, displaying her flexibility within the overarching theme.

Much of her latest EP, which dropped Friday (Oct. 19), pertains to the wide range of emotions that come with romantic appreciation. Thanks to her animated performance ability, Reyez encapsulates the complex gamut of the strong emotional state; there’s longing, anger, confusion, confidence and so much more. The 27-year-old songbird’s vocal versatility has gained fans like Kamikaze collaborator Eminem and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, and her attention-grabbing abilities are showcased throughout the multi-dimensional seven-song project.

Reyez’s true vocal gifts shine through when paired with more demure production, evident by the EP’s starting track “Saint Nobody” and the stand-out love anthem “Apple Juice,” produced by Tim Suby and Fred Ball. Her effortless falsetto notes at the duration of the aforementioned song are a melodic combination with the strings that finish out the track.

Perhaps the song that best displays Reyez’s tender core is “Sola (Interlude),” which is sung entirely in Spanish. She coos over an acoustic guitar to a lover about how she’s not necessarily the type of woman they should be with—she would be better off sola (alone). The result? A heart-wrenchingly relatable track that could have served best as the EP's stunning finale.

“I'm not the type of woman that your mother wants to see you with,” the lyrics translate to. “I could never please you...I'm an eagle, flying alone.”

While the content throughout Being Human In Public is rather profound in nature, Reyez makes sure that her signature unapologetic delivery to tackling topics through her songwriting is also highlighted. Thanks to assistance from budding music sensation Normani and Grammy-nominated R&B singer Kehlani on the “Body Count (Remix),” all three singers’ stances on body positivity, sex positivity and all forms of love are highlighted.

Additionally, the straightforward “F**k Being Friends,” which is slightly reminiscent of her quirky Kiddo track “Shutter Island,” deals with the occasionally murky divide between courtship and friendship. “My p***y beat better than my heart do?” she sings, “so why you p***y-footin’ on this part two?”

“In every aspect—in my music, in my life—I’m going to be straight with you, and I tell people too, I’m like that,” Reyez told VIBE in April about the importance of being upfront. “I need you to just tell me direct, because if the roles were reversed, I’m the type to tell you direct.” Love is one of the things that connects all of us as people, and if you can’t be real with that, what can you be real about?

Reyez makes sure that her honesty on wax is as plain and simple as it is in her personal life, and Being Human In Public is an audibly-pleasing extension of her personal beliefs and values.

READ MORE: NEXT: Behind The Extraterrestrial Voice, Jessie Reyez Is Human Like The Rest Of Us

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Lupe Fiasco performs as part of the benefit concert, 'Power To The People' at Coliseo Jose M. Agrelot on March 18, 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images)
Photo by Gladys Vega/Getty Images

Lupe Fiasco Eschews Label Drama And Controversy For Ambitious 'Drogas Wave'

In the early 2000s, JAY-Z called Lupe Fiasco “a breath of fresh air” for rap. Most of the hip-hop world agreed. He delivered a standout verse on Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky,” and a well-regarded Food & Liquor studio debut that led rap fans to saint him as an imaginative, skilled lyricist, adept at weaving storytelling, social commentary, sustained metaphors and technical precision together in an A+ package. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for that figurative breath of fresh air to become a sigh.

While crafting his third album Lasers, he began having creative differences with his former label Atlantic Records. Though the album was eventually released — after his fans literally petitioned for it — the struggle derailed what seemed like his inevitable trajectory to the heights of music that stylistic peers like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole now occupy.

Lupe’s known in part for his sophomore album, The Cool, but it seems like a good stretch of his career was more defined by the frustration. In 2018, though, Lupe’s finally on the right wave — the Drogas Wave. Lupe dropped his first independent album last week, a 24-track conceptual piece dually exploring the drug trade and the transatlantic slave trade that cap-stoned his own trade of Atlantic Records for artistic freedom.

I really only did this album for solid Lupe fans. The PhD’s in Lupeism. It’s in no way for new fans, the casual listener, record sales, the year 2018 or radio. Just the core fans to have a ball with.

— “DROGAS WAVE” NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) September 26, 2018

He’s always been a master of conceptualization, weaving thematic, if not narrative-driven connections from verse to verse and song-to-song on albums like Food & Liquor, The Cool, and Tetsuo & Youth. Drogas Wave is among his most ambitious work in that regard. The album, which he’s said was made specifically for his “core fans,” ideates what the rhymer called an alternate, fantastic history of the slave trade in which a group of Africans jumped off a slave ship, survived underwater, and spent their new lives sinking subsequent slave ships.

But he still delves into the reality of what happened on songs like “Manilla,” where he sheds light on the currency that European countries used to purchase slaves from West Africa to build so much of the western world. Looking to unite black and brown people across the Americas, Drogas Wave shows him representing for three communities of African descent cultivated in spite of western colonialism: Latinos, West Indians and Black Americans. He rapped fluent Spanish on “Drogas.” He collaborated with reggae royalty Damian Marley on “Kingdom” and rhymed in patois on “Gold vs. The Right Things to Do.” On the thrilling “King Nas,” he dedicates some of the project’s most impeccable rhyming not to God’s Son, but his two young nephews King and Nas who are coming of age in a treacherous environment for all black people in America.

The album was well-crafted and laden with thought-provoking, research-worthy bars examining the scourges that plunder black and brown communities, but it wasn’t flawless. He utilized over a dozen different producers on the project, which resulted in a few compositions that are less compelling than others. There are also choruses by Nikki Jean on “Down” and Troi Irons on “XO” that felt a tad too eager for mass appeal. But even on those tracks, the invigoration and dedication that Lupe rhymes with make them worthwhile listens.

Drogas Wave shows Lupe on the right track. While so many of his fellow rap veterans were ravenous publicity hounds this year, he spent his online time on Instagram Live, dropping what he called “super facts” about the fallacy of white supremacy and the music industry. He also apologized to people he’s insulted like former President Obama, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, and others. Throughout that March apology session, he ended his statements with variations of, “I should have kept that to myself.” Perhaps he’s now in a space that he should have been his entire career: independent and letting his incredible lyricism speak for him.

Lupe always has wisdom to impart, but like his Chicago comrade Kanye West, he doesn’t always communicate his thoughts in the best way. Over time, he developed a reputation for being an easily agitable presence on Twitter. He’s gotten into arguments with Kid Cudi, Azealia Banks, and several others. In 2013, he derogated Donald Glover as a “Black” instead of a “n***a” for arbitrary reasons.

In 2014, when Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was being accused of cultural appropriation because of her put-on “Atlantastralian” accent and racist lyrics, he defended her by saying she had “a space” in hip-hop. That comment made him one of the first victims of the dreaded social media “cancel,” and he lashed out with his own tweetstorm. He tweeted, “b***h I been here on the rooftop screaming in the ears of these brainwashed a** more money on they feet than in they pocket a** n***as,” and also proclaimed, “I'm here...kick pushing you ignant a** n***az and fast trout mouth a** b***hes all the way to the promised land kicking and screaming h**.”

His retorts were based in truth, but sometimes, brutal honesty is just brutality. The tweets typified why Phonte infamously likened Lupe to The Newsroom as a “technically brilliant show that would be a lot smarter if it stopped trying to show people how smart it was.” Compared to Q-Tip’s thoughtful hip-hop treatise to Iggy, Lupe came across like a know-it-all. But at the base of his anger was a frustration with being misunderstood. He incredulously groused, “I thought I was one of the good guys.”

The son of a Black Panther, Lupe had always delivered anti-establishment messaging in his music that hampered his budding status as the “Superstar” he rhymed about in 2007. In 2011, when most of mainstream hip-hop was deifying Barack Obama, Lupe was telling CBS that “the biggest terrorist is Obama and the United States of America” based on America’s warmongering throughout the Middle East, South America and Africa in particular.

His ire toward the country’s tyranny inspired an awkward, 30-minute rendition of the Obama-critical “Words I Never Said” at an inauguration party in D.C., which the show’s organizers called “a bizarrely repetitive, jarring performance that left the crowd vocally dissatisfied.” Songs like his “American Terrorist” series display his analytical acuity when it comes to diagnosing the roots of systemic oppression and its consequences, but at that point he seemed unable to properly convey his intellect outside the booth.

Lupe has said that he felt he was “immediately blackballed” after his Obama comments. While Lasers had sold 204,000 copies in its first week, 2012’s Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album was Grammy-nominated, but sold just 128,000 records overall as of 2012. His aforementioned Twitter antics were overshadowing his lyrical gifts, his attempts to drop knowledge were being mocked or misunderstood, and worst of all, he couldn’t release music on his own volition.

He told Power 106 in August 2014 that he was “worn down” by the “nonsense” of dealing with Atlantic, and that “we’re just trying to get albums out just to get off the label.” Months earlier he told Torae that, “I don’t have a 360 deal,” so “since they can’t eat off my merchandise or my publishing or my touring they treat me like a third-class citizen.” Still, he resolved, he’d ”fight through it.”

That determination defines him. While discussing “Mission” from 2015’s Tetsuo & Youth, he reflected, “I’ve been inspired by those who are surviving, thriving and fighting.” Just like he’s been fighting to thrive, in spite of label woes, the backlash from subversive beliefs, and self-sabotage that collectively tarnished his mainstream standing. Others artists have let the industry consume them, but Lupe’s still here, rekindling a musical brilliance that his fans knew he was capable of.

On Drogas Wave’s “Jonylah Forever,” a poignant song that ideates 6-month-old Jonylah Watkins, shot dead in 2013, as an adult, he rhymed about how “the coolest thing is when they offered you that high paying slot, you replied ‘they need me in the hood,’ and that's where you reside.” He then talked about her saving a shooting victim, rhyming, “and in that moment, where you gave your help/I bet you didn't know that you saved yourself.”

That powerful summation also applies to him, as an artist who helped others see the light while vying to keep his own spirit alit in a music industry that he mentally “quit” on a decade ago. He told Billboard in 2015 that “I'm happy being that somewhat sophisticated, overly deep weird guy making powerful music — but just two or three degrees away from the center of attention.”

Einstein once mused that, “creativity is intelligence having fun.” It didn’t seem like Lupe was having much fun as a major label artist. But after fulfilling his obligations to Atlantic with Drogas Light, and releasing Drogas Wave independently, he’s revitalized for the next chapter of his career — on his terms.

He recently stated that there would be no interviews for this album cycle because, “I’ve never seen myself as a star and I still don’t.” That makes sense. Stars can’t see themselves, it’s only us spectators who experience the fascination of watching them hover.

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Jack McKain

When It Comes To Both Sound And Sartorial Matters, Masego Has Upgraded To Silk

With his new album 'Lady Lady,' Masego strides into grown and sexy territory.

Masego is a silk man now, or so he tells me. He’s just shaken off the water from his body length PUMA coat, where a committed Reykjavik crowd braved an Icelandic “summer” rainstorm for him. Plastic bags are tied securely over his flashy sneakers, because he isn’t messing them up in the visible mud puddles cratering the city’s Laugardalshöll sporting grounds.

It’s a far cry from when we first met in Brooklyn, New York two years ago, where the then-22-year-old was pigging out at Peter’s Since 1969 before a packed Webster Hall show (R.I.P.), dressed in a multicolored velvet robe, busy blue Hawaiian shirt and basketball shorts that matched neither.

He’s almost embarrassed at the memory. “Why did you allow that?” he asks now, shaking his head. “I wanted the cover of The Fader and that's what I thought it would take. I was trying to out-weird n***as.” Masego, now 25, has not only learned from his sartorial flubs, but has overcome the mild insecurities that inspired them. “I was in this weird battle with people I didn't know and then I started to get more comfortable,” he says. “Get that silk.”

Masego 2.0 is upon us, and his grown and sexy debut album, Lady Lady, is the proof in the pudding. Right from the jump of the 13-track project, released on Sept. 7 (an admittedly somber day for music lovers), the “Silk…” opening instrumental makes it crystal-clear that his intention is to soothe and to woo.

His charm and playful sensuality come to the forefront on smooth tracks like “I Had A Vision,” the SiR-assisted “Old Age” (which also features Instagram comedian Renny) and the freestyled “Queen Tings” featuring SiR’s cousin, Tiffany Gouche. However, hip-hop and trap fans aren’t left out of the equation. Cuts like “Shawty Fishin (Blame The Net)," and “Lavish Lullaby” pair slick bars with enough knock and bass to soundtrack road trips as well as coax wallflowers onto the dance floor with a partner.

In the time between the release of his 2016 freebie project, Loose Thoughts, and now, Masego has seen some world. Frequent exposure to different pin drops across the globe and the creatives who live there bolstered his sound in exciting ways, giving way to some of Lady Lady’s standout selections. It’s an understatement to say that the LP’s instrumentation and production handiwork magnify his spotlight.

Take a look at the album’s supernova of a single “Tadow,” brought into full fruition during a jam session with French multi-hyphenate musician, FKJ. “I feel like the overseas travel is the inspiration. It kind of builds up and then when I get a chance to sit down, it just comes out,” he says. “I knew I was going to South Africa and then I sat down and we just free-styled, planted some beats, making stuff and then ‘Queen Tings’ was just freestyled. With ‘Tadow,’ on the plane ride to Paris I was watching a Fresh Prince marathon. You know the one where he slept with Janice? That was mad funny to me so that was the last thing in my spirit.”

Then on the album’s slow-burning title track, full-bodied lyrics are an afterthought. Instead, sensual scats and truncated mutters carried along the notes of his sax dim the lights, while velvety vocals crook the finger at his lady-to-be. "If you classy but you're reckless/Then you gon' get choose a necklace, lady lady," he coos, no stranger to slick talk.

“Everything kind of goes back to my uncles,” he says, reflecting on how the idea for “Lady Lady” came about during a family visit. “After going to Jamaica, I understand why they're so cool naturally. My Southern uncles, they got this Southern respect and there's a more pimp-ish side to my father's side and so that kind of comes together with ‘Lady Lady.’ It’s like ‘Lady Lady’ could mean… it’s like almost saying, ‘Hey love.’ It could be a potential love on that level or 'this my girlfriend,' you know what I'm saying?”

Within his short career, Maségo has remained unmarried to just one scope of music. The singer-songwriter and saxophone savant floats between jazz, hip-hop, and R&B (and the occasional trap) from song to song as freely as he pleases, but he's in his bag the most when they meld together. In his eyes, Lady Lady is the perfect cocktail of that, showcasing his creative maturation and slight pivot from the Pink Polo EP-era Masego fans are used to. “After my glow up stage is done, I want to just go off wherever Adele is chilling right now,” Masego jokes. “I want to like just be in the thick of things. I think [Lady Lady] is going to be lovely in the sense of it’s going to give you that next threshold."

READ MORE: Quincy Jones Gives Masego Advice On How To Become A Living Legend

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