(AllHipHop Features) “Soul music is cultural, and it should forever be enshrined as one of the world’s greatest forms of music. It is a people, a nation, and it is the rhythm of our lives and loves and losses and wins, our hopes and dreams and passions on parade,” declared the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in her autobiography From These Roots.
Franklin - along with other dignitaries like the Godfather of Soul James Brown and the King of Soul Sam Cooke - helped lay the groundwork for which future generations of performers would stand. It is from that musical tradition of combining R&B, Gospel, and Jazz comes a South Side Chicago native born Bryan James Sledge, now better known as BJ The Chicago Kid.
Growing up in a house led by church choir directors, BJ was ingrained with melodies and rhythms from an early age. He eventually pursued making music professionally which led to the singer-songwriter working with Mary Mary, Stevie Wonder, and Kanye West.
BJ later became a go-to vocalist for the early work of Top Dawg Entertainment artists Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, and Schoolboy Q. His appearance on Schoolboy’s 2014 Top 40 hit "Studio" introduced The Chicago Kid to a mainstream audience and earned him a Grammy nomination for “Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.”
Last year, Dr. Dre recruited Sledge for “It’s All On Me” off the Compton album, but 2016 saw the arrival of BJ’s own Motown debut LP In My Mind. The critically acclaimed project is 62 minutes of personal reflections on faith, devotion, and intimacy. Kendrick, Chance The Rapper, Big K.R.I.T., and others effortlessly join the candid conversations presented on the 15-track soulful effort.
I connected with BJ The Chicago Kid to go deeper into his thoughts. Besides speaking on In My Mind, the man assuming the mantle for Soul music also addresses what’s happening in his hometown, his relationship with TDE, and whether more records with the Good Doctor will ever see the light of day.
In My Mind presents this interesting duality to me. You have songs where you cover spirituality, and you also have songs where you’re talking about sex, love, and relationships. As a songwriter, what is the process like creating an album that touches on both your relationship with God and making love?
God created love, and love was made to be made. I get it. I can’t fight something I ain’t make. [laughs] I understand God perceives how it should happen, but I also understand when the preacher goes out with his wife, he’s not going to play some Kirk Franklin. That’s the balance. I do want to be married at some point in my life, but right now I’m focused on the album. You got to have a cow before you can get some milk. [laughs]
Was it a calculated decision to start with “Church” as a single? That song kind of represents what you just said.
Honestly, it wasn’t calculated. We all just felt like the music should always speak and will always tell us what to do with it. That was the first thing the music was saying, that we should rock with “Church” first.
Obviously, you really represent Chicago. You even put it in your name. The song “Home” is about your love for your hometown. Chicago has been in the news a lot. How can you change what’s happening in the city? And how can you change the perception of the way the world looks at Chicago?
First, if they buy the BJ The Chicago kid album that will help change the perception of Chicago. I am the positive light of Chicago. You’re talking to a young man that does not have a police record, never been in jail. When speaking my name - knowing my history or not knowing my history - you’re speaking positivity. So somebody has to know about BJ The Chicago Kid from the South Side - no suburbanite. No offense to them, but I just feel like me being from the core helps me shine more.
There are a lot of artists putting on for Chicago. Obviously, you have Kanye and that generation, but some of the younger guys like Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper too. What are your thoughts on what’s happening in the city as far as music?
It’s pretty dope how the youth is really involved in the radicalism of what needs to happen in Chicago. Chance and Vic are both doing major things for the city. I think it’s super dope.
I have my own nonprofit, the Chicago Kids Foundation, where I will be doing more as well. I want to take light from the album to put light on that. That was the whole plan from the gate. Otherwise, without having the music or something for the people to pay attention to, they wouldn’t know where I wanted them to come with me next.
So I wanted them to understand what the plan is and how it’s going to go. I’m very grateful that In My Mind is out. Not just for the foundation’s sake, but for the people to have something to touch, hear, see, and know we’re better than what’s known. We’re going to keep releasing more things, so people can further their understanding of what we’re doing.
Your song “Woman’s World” felt like an homage to James Brown’s classic "It's A Man's Man's Man's World.” I’m sure the ladies love the song, but what did your guy friends say when they heard the record?
I felt like men gotta love it too. Guys, we always gotta like what the ladies like. That's why you find guys at the Bryson Tiller shows. We gotta like what the ladies like, because we like the ladies. [laughs]. It’s a woman’s world. We follow them.
Do you know many guys that pay the bills at their house? Or do they give the money to the wife, girlfriend, or baby momma [to pay the bills]? If she wanted to get him financially, she could get him. It’s a woman’s world for real. [laughs] We need them.
You dropped a double video with “Woman’s World” and “Oh My God” featuring Jay Rock. Why wasn’t “Oh My God” on the album?
It was supposed to be on the album, but because of a lot of clearance purposes and other things we chose to give it to you guys in a dope viral video before going to the next level of what we’re about to do.
Is that a hint something else is coming?
Have you had the chance to speak to Jay Rock since his accident?
Absolutely, I spoke with Jay Rock the day before yesterday. He’s doing well and can’t wait to get back out to continue doing Jay Rock. He’s just taking his time. The good energy and prayers sent up are definitely helping the brother. He’s definitely appreciative.
You have a longtime relationship with the whole TDE camp. My first time actually really taking notice to you as an artist was on Kendrick’s “Kush & Corinthians” off Section.80. What do you think about what Kendrick has been able to accomplish in his career?
Kendrick told y’all what was about to happen a long time ago when he called himself King Kendrick. You have to respect that man’s grind. I knew it a long time ago. I’m honored I’ve been able to grow with him, watch his growth even more, and learn from his growth so I can learn how to penetrate in my basketball game. We're running point guard and trying to get the ball to the center for that alley-oop.
I understand it a little bit more, because I got loved ones that have been through it that can help me through it. The same thing with my gift. Kendrick isn’t just helping me, I’m helping him with what we do together. There’s a lot of phone calls between the homies that the world definitely doesn’t know about. That’s my brother.
You seem to have a real appreciation for R&B/Soul singers that came before you. I liked the Jodeci reference on “Resume,” and I like how you showed love to D’Angelo with your cover EP. Have you heard from them about your take on their work?
D’Angelo retweeted it, but I haven’t reached out to anyone. I just wanted to give them their flowers in an anonymous way as possible. I didn’t want any attention from it. I didn’t really do it for media attention. I just wanted D’Angelo to understand what his music means to us and how much it inspired us.
Have you thought about the fact that you’re influencing the next generation? There’s some kid right now listening to BJ The Chicago Kid, and they’re being inspired by what you’re creating.
That’s crazy. That’s pretty amazing. The world is round, and we do get older. I'm honored to have a seat on the panel of inspiration for somebody, somewhere.
Not too long ago some people were saying R&B/Soul is a dying genre. But then you look and there’s this new crop of talented singers like yourself, Anderson .Paak, Leon Bridges, and Andra Day that are really embracing Soul music and helping to keep it alive. What do you think about where Soul music is right now?
I think Soul music is always in a great place. When you got Kanye making songs like “The Joy,” it’s always welcoming us. All roads lead back to Soul music. That’s why you have Drake trying to sing. Fetty Wap is a singer. Ty Dolla Sign is a singer. If all these guys don’t make soulful music, they still do it soulfully. All roads lead back to Soul music.
So you embrace the guys that are combining rap and R&B like Drake, Bryson Tiller, and Tory Lanez?
Yep, very much so.
You did an interview where you were talking about your relationship with Anderson .Paak. How did you guys first meet?
I met Anderson through an old business partner that I had. He linked me with his friend which was Anderson’s business partner. So I met Anderson before the Dr. Dre thing.
You’ve said you and Dre have other tracks together that weren’t released yet. Are you just holding them in the vault or can we possibly hear one of those songs in the near future?
I don’t know. I don’t have a key to that vault. My key won’t even fit that vault. I would love to hear the Doc’s remedy on that one.
[ALSO READ: EXCLUSIVE: Anderson .Paak Talks Going From Being Homeless To Being Featured On Dr. Dre’s ‘Compton’]
Purchase BJ The Chicago Kid’s In My Mind on iTunes.
Stream In My Mind via Spotify below.
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PHOTO CREDIT: BJ The Chicago Kid's Instagram