As quiet as it’s sometimes kept, BJ The Chicago Kid’s resume is undeniably good. The neo-soul-inspired singer remains consistent at impressing listeners and delivering quality music, as he’s done for over a decade. His six Grammy nominations and excellent debut album In My Mind are each proof of this while his sophomore album 1123 and various collaborations with some of today’s biggest names add to the mix of BJ’s outstanding catalog.
Things nowadays, however, are a bit different for the singer. For the first time since 2012, BJ The Chicago Kid is traversing the music world as an independent artist. His decision to cruise solo was made last summer, but it was earlier this month that he released his first independent project: 4 AM, a four-track EP with guest appearances from Lucky Daye and Eric Bellinger.
BJ The Chicago Kid is well aware of the success he’s attained within the music industry. He hopes the wisdom he gained through his experiences will lead him to an ideal destination in the future. ” I want to build an awesome universe of creativity that still helps the world, that still services to world, that still services our people,” he says during a Zoom call. “Through it all, I’m talking to us, whoever else in the room listening, cool. Did you like it? Cool. But I’m talking to us.”
Shortly after he released 4 AM to the world, Uproxx spoke to the singer about the new project, independence, his progression since In My Mind, and where he hopes it will all lead next.
Congratulations on the new project, it’s your first release in a couple of years. What was the spark behind 4 AM?
I wanted to drop music sooner than now, just the way handling the business with songs goes with the producers, all that stuff to do it right takes time. Along with being called for other things that we love to be a part of, you know, it just took its course and its time, but man, I’m always inspired to put out music. I’d love to put out something today.
This project gives a little bit of everything you can do as an artist: The laid-back tracks with “Type Of Day,” the remorseful songs with “Make You Feel Good,” and the bedroom ballads with “Love You Slow.” Do you feel like you’re re-establishing or even proving yourself once again as a new independent act?
I think it’s both. I wanted to pick up where I left off while re-establishing myself as well. My most creative musical heroes have always reinvented themselves with every album: different haircuts, outfit styles, and sounds. I’m from that class. I’m honored to actually be blessed to hear more than what they know me for. Sometimes to get to a certain sound you want — I call them steps on the ladder. Some songs are steps on the ladder to get you to that next level that you want to get to and sometimes those songs that we call the steps in the ladder, some of those never come out. So creatively it’s up to you, what it’s saying to you, and the people that help you.
On this project, you have features with Eric Bellinger and Lucky Daye. Those are two very talented R&B acts, one you’ve worked with before and the other who you have not. What made those two the perfect people to work with on this project?
I’m friends with both of them in reality. They’re two brothers that I will always rock for, rock with, and support at all times. I get the same from them as well. Musically talented, totally respected not just by me, but by the world. I’ve known Eric for over ten years and I’ve known Lucky for a little bit under ten years and I think it’s just been incredible watching their journey. I think the fans deserve R&B done the right way and honestly, most of my collaborators are really my friends. Some things were business, but most people that I collaborate with for my music, we really rock together in a strong way.
What do you mean by “R&B done the right way”?
R&B the right way because it’s a lot of hip-hop that came into R&B as far as the mentality. The quick-fix, add water, put in a microwave, and you can eat it. I get it, I love it, we make music like that as well, but where we come from, it’s somewhere a little bit more steeper. It has a little bit more foundation.
Now that you’re a project into independence, what was the hardest thing about starting your independent journey during a time like the pandemic?
The hardest thing in quarantine was looking at myself in the mirror and seeing some assets and facets that I never had before. To realize it first is a thing you do before changing it. I made some apologies to some people where I didn’t realize what I’ve done. I’ve bettered myself, that helps with the music with me always. Certain songs like “Heart Crush” are real songs from my life. Every song isn’t, but standing in tune with my antennas up and not being afraid to live gives me so much more to write about. That balance is one thing that I’ve noticed some time ago about me. Even the way I sing and go through things, it pulls more out of you. You have to be vulnerable enough to let that happen, so it’s a blessing to kind of even know myself. Am I creative and vulnerable enough to give the people more than what they paid for? Whether it’s a CD or a live show. I’m not afraid to live, and not being afraid to live is not being afraid to write, sing, perform, and connect with people because we all kind of go through some of the same things.
Is it safe to say that, now more than ever, you know what you want for yourself as an artist?
I always have, but honestly with the fan base that I got through Motown, the exposure, the alliance was such a legendary entity. Am I really mad? You got to pick and choose your battles man, you got to really sit back and know what a blessing is. What independent artists have had this amount of followers and this amount of support when independent? So it’s perspective man, perspective can change it all. That’s where I’m at with it: perspective and being intentional. Those two words are the next tattoos I’m probably going to get, because for the last two years, those two words have come up in my conversation every day, multiple times a day. To be intentional is to know exactly how you want somebody to feel from what you’re doing. You want to be strategic with that so it’s not misunderstood or deterred. To hit your target right on the head with timing and precision. Perspective changes the world.
What’s the most random or unique thing — musically — that’s happened to you over the past couple of years?
I worked with Ron Isley in the studio, fire. I worked with Philip Bailey in the studio, fire. That’s all I can say haha, I can’t say no more!
You’re someone who takes some time in between full bodies of work. With that being said, what does the building blocks, foundation, and/or perspective of your next album look like?
In my phone right now, I got a list of song titles and explanations of what I want the perspective of the title of some of them, at least about 250 of them. My switch broke bro, I can’t turn it off. So just the ideas and the concepts — I have movie concepts, stories, I have so much stuff coming out of me creatively that I have to find time to get the ball rolling for everything that I feel like should be next. It’s almost like my life depends on the next level. That’s how intense the progress has to happen, but there’s no rush. Some things are slow builds, some things write themselves in 10 minutes. We wrote “Turnin Me Up” in 15 minutes, the track took less time and we didn’t put it out ’til four years after the song was done. So every step of it told us it was gonna be timeless, it never faded. Always stick with it. If you got something that’s timeless, stay with it, because it will always fit.
When it’s all said and done, what do you value and want the most for your legacy?
This is the best way to describe it: Have you driven by your crib and seen the rubble from what used to be a building? Then the next week, they got the gate with the tarp on it? The next week they got the sign saying coming soon Walgreens or some sh*t like that. Every week you see them building more and more, more and more, and when they’re done you’re like, “Wow, not only is it a Walgreens down here, but they put lofts and condominiums above it and it’s crazy fire, now the whole value of the whole neighborhood is up.” Every song is a brick. I made a house and I’m trying to make a neighborhood. After I make a beautiful neighborhood, I’m gonna try to make a beautiful city, and from that city, a beautiful state. I’m trying to make the United States and once I find out how to do that, then we’re gonna put water all around this mother f*cker and go to foreign lands and build that and then I’m trying to build a whole universe.
4 AM is out now via M.A.F..E. Music LLC. Get it here.