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.