If there’s one thing that BJ The Chicago Kid epitomizes, it’s determination. That and a certain amount of faith, which could only come from growing up in the city of Chicago, has helped him become one of today’s hottest singers. As I sat next to the crooner right before his victory lap at Nobel, one of New York City’s hotspots, that same determination and faith radiated from his presence as he anticipated the release of his debut studio album. He starts the interview with an enthusiastic yet anxious smile, as he hears his music play for the first time through the booming speakers. He responds almost instantly, with a giddy air, comparable to that of a kid in a candy store. “I’m listening to it now and I just haven’t gotten over how it sounds,” he says. “Because I don’t listen to it. Since it came out, I’ve just been emotional about it – like I birthed a baby.”
His debut album In My Mind sparked a firestorm of welcomed notoriety, leading the Chicago native down paths he never thought he would step foot on. “It feels amazing honestly,” said BJ. “I couldn’t have picked a better time than God’s timing honestly. Every test and trial, every lesson, every thing that has happened before today I accept.” For as personal of an album that In My Mind is, he shares that though he wanted his fans to learn more about him through his music, he was also determined to create his own lane in the industry. “I’ve begun to understand what people’s perception of me was,” he said. “I realized the only way to clear that up was with the music. People thought I was underrated, that I sounded like other artists that I don’t think I sound like. So I wanted to change that with this album.” Continuing on his path to personal success, the young artist believes that with his newest LP, he is changing the face of R&B music, as well as moving into a more honest space with onlookers, naysayers, and fans alike.
“For me, being a new artist and being someone who hasn’t really been here before, I feel like I have so much more to say,” he says. “So much more to do. In My Mind doesn’t mean literally what’s in my mind, it means I’m so much more than that. What I’m nominated for, the Grammys, the studio sessions – I’m so much more than that.” Though he is persistent at keeping the comparisons to a minimum, the singer boasts that he is grateful to be compared to highly respected musicians, particularly for the many comparisons he’s received to R&B legend D’Angelo. “I love D’Angelo,” said the singer. “I’m happy that people can compare me to artists like him.” He later adds with a laugh, “You know what let me not say any names before somebody thinks I don’t like them.”
Though the entire album was one of the more refreshing projects in recent memory, with several hit-worthy tracks featured throughout, one track in particular stood out among the rest. The spiritual “Jeremiah/World Needs More Love” is, surprisingly, the one that took the least amount of time to construct – though it was seemingly one of the tracks that possessed the most emotional depth. “Ah, man. “Jeremiah,” reminisces BJ. “We created this song in a sound check – not in a studio. We’re always coming up with songs during the sound check, so we just began recording them. We all know how we feel, and some of the most special moments come out of us just goofing around during sound checks. So I recorded this on my phone one day when I heard that bass line melody that you hear throughout the track. It was just a bass, drums, and guitar. And I freestyled all of these lyrics, that day. When I got to the studio to listen to it and proof it, everything was just meant to be. Really spiritual.”
While moving into his new role of R&B superstar, the crooner is matching his laid-back musical style with his wardrobe, becoming a style icon in his own right with the help of Footaction. “Footaction has been a big part of my life since I was a kid,” says BJ. “So I’ve always been able to go there and find what I need. I love being me you know? Comfort is first and that’s what I love about Footaction, comfort is always first with them. When I was able to earn my own money they were the go-to place for everything.” While he loves his city of Chicago and its culture, he admits that the New York style is one that he wants to emulate and has the ability to learn with Footaction. “I admire the style of New York definitely. It dares to be different. It’s the birthplace of hip-hop, so in order to understand hip-hop you have to understand the style behind it.” He adds a snarky quip later, “Some things I don’t have the balls to wear yet, but I definitely appreciate the differences of style in New York.”
As for what’s next for the singer, he insists that this is only the beginning for him. “We have a lot of videos, unreleased music, and other things that I can’t speak on yet,” he said. “But just know that we have so much planned. Stay tuned. Trust me – it’s far from over.” For his longtime fans, he promises that 2016 will be the best year of work that they’ve ever seen from him, with a special remix planned for one of his earlier, and most notable singles “Smokin And Ridin’.” “What if I told you that we have a remix of ‘Smokin’ And Ridin” that we never released?” teased BJ as he conferred with his manager on whether or not he could share the news. He continues by sharing that though he couldn’t reveal who would be on the remix, he reiterated that fans would not be disappointed, stating that it will feature “one of the godfathers of the Chicago rap scene.” In addition to new material, BJ and his pack of musicians will continue to tour the world, making stops at various festivals, as well as performing overseas. “We’re definitely going to Japan this year, Europe, Pitchfork Festival, Broccoli Fest, and a bunch of other places. It’s all still in the beginning stages, but it’s going to be one hell of a year.”
As we wrap up our interview, I pressed to ask BJ one last question about his personal style likes and dislikes. “Being that I’m the style editor for STASHED,” I say with a slight laugh, notably with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. “You know I have to bug you about the trends you absolutely hate.” He gives me a thoughtful look at first, then a wide smile as he prepares to answer. “The homemade distress jeans are just, no,” said BJ, half jokingly. “I love the look. But if you make them at home and don’t know what you’re doing – stop it. Or just learn how to do it right! I’ve done dope sh*t at home, but you gotta do dope sh*t at home. If you messed up? Understand you messed up – and leave it at home.”
Photo Credit: Footaction/NPR