I’ve always believed, from personal experience, that music heals. So with that, BJ The Chicago Kid is a true musical medicine man to me. An incredible vocalist and insanely talented songwriter, I happen to think he’s the reason passion and romance have returned to lustful desire in music. So when the opportunity to interview the Windy City native was presented to me, I was immediately thrilled. That joy soared to a new height during our conversation when I heard the heart and faith-based determination of the soul that powers the artist. In this honest discussion, BJ spoke candidly about his recent accomplishments, after-show life and his brand new mixtape, ‘The Lost Files: Cuffing Season’ which is premiering exclusively with us at Saint Heron. The tape is pure, honest and full of heart and warm energy, just like the artist and healer who’s responsible for its creation.
Shantel Pass: Congratulations on your three Grammy nominations! That’s a huge deal. I imagine it’s an honor to even be nominated but can you tell me how this feels and whether or not this was something you foresaw for your music career?
Thank you! Yea. I did foresee this for my music career, but we never know timing. But hey, man, I’m not mad at God’s timing at all. I feel like it’s perfect timing. It’s definitely an honor to be acknowledged by the Grammys. That’s a part of why the NBA is the NBA. They play basketball for the championship. You know? So I think it’s a beautiful moment.
Awesome. So it’s apparent, especially to me because I’m also a church kid, that you came up in the church. Can you tell me a little bit about how your involvement in ministry shaped your individual artistry?
Growing up in church period teaches you everything from how to sing in front of people and handle your nerves with the attention on you, to literally learning how to sing properly, and learning how to fly freely creatively a little bit. Because church has a flow. It’s like a structured flow, you know. It’s so many things. The confidence. I mean, it taught me a numerous amount of things.
To date, you’ve collaborated with some awesome artists including Marvin Gaye posthumously. Who are you most looking forward to working with that you haven’t worked with already?
It’s a few people. I would love to work with Little Dragon. I say this all the time, I’m a big fan of Little Dragon. I’m a big fan of CeeLo. Of course I would love to work with D’Angelo. It’s a few other people. It’s a long list actually. You know how it is with singers. *laughs* But really, the list goes on and on.
*laughs* Okay. Vocally, BJ, you’re amazing. You have one of those voices that when people hear it, they instantly know it’s you. But on top of how strong you are as a vocalist, you’re also an amazing writer. So can you tell me where the inspiration behind your words comes from and what the composition process is like for you?
Yea. The inspiration comes from a crazy amount of things as well. Everyday life, what my fans have instilled in me, from before I was able to touch the radio and play my own music, on down to how I continued that and what else was pretty much poured into my spirit from friends, from me just walking down the street, from me walking into a restaurant. A lot of it is creatively written. Some things I haven’t gone through, you know? Some things are what I would do, some things are imaginary writing, some of it is friends’ stories with a little bit of my twist to it. We all just try to find that common ground of that everyday life in the music. Like “church in the morning,” “Jeremiah,” – songs like that, we still try to connect with the people. We love to be creative but we’re understanding, even more, that we have to keep that main connection with the people.
The creative process is very different every time. Sometimes I start with the hook. Sometimes I start with the verse. Sometimes I start with backgrounds. For instance, “Aiight” from Pineapple Now-Laters started with the backgrounds. The part that goes, (*sings*) “Aaaahhhh ahhhhhh.” That was the first thing I cut. All the backgrounds you hear? That’s the first thing I cut and then lyrics came after that. Sometimes it’s unstructured, yet it’s always still structured because I understand. I’ve been in all of those places and positions before in writing a song to know how to at least connect it and put the puzzle back together.
Now, BJ The Chicago Kid as an artist is who we get to see. But the public has a way of forgetting that our favorite artists are also human. They have needs and feelings just like we do. So after the show, when the lights go out and the music stops, who is BJ the human? And how do you decompress?
I try to do things that I can’t do often. I love to cook. I love to listen to old music. I’m still settling into my new place. I’ve been in my place for about seven months now, but I’m still settling in because I’ve been on the road for so long. So it’s the regular things. Like sometimes, I try to catch a show on Netflix. I really just try to balance out life a little bit. I go see the family and check on them, the nephews, the nieces, the god-kids. It’s a balance of life in itself, but it seems like it all leads back to the music.
And speaking of being on the road, you recently wrapped your In My Mind Tour which included a lot of festival dates. All of this success, I’m sure, didn’t come easy or fast. So what keeps you motivated during hard times?
What I’ve been through. What I see. My faith. My heart, my courage and the warrior in me. All of those things combined. I just refuse to come this far [only] to forfeit my time. That’s the best way I can say it.
Definitely. So let’s switch gears just a bit and chat a little about your new mixtape, The Lost Files: Cuffing Season. These are…I don’t really know how else to describe these nine tracks other than by using the word magical. They just evoke all the feels. It’s smooth, romantic, sexy, and it centers on the theme of love and adoration. And it was really hard for me to choose a favorite, but “Make Love” literally took my breath away.
Seriously! It’s breathtaking.
And then “All On Me” was just that chill jam that kind of directly asks the “what’s up with us?” question. That’s real life. I loved that honesty and the realness of it. Then “Plain” just had me like “oh my God. Am I about to cry right now?” It’s such a feel good tape. It’s just the sweetest thing and it’s so romantic. So how’d you arrive at the decision to release such an intimate mixtape.
What’s crazy is, I’d lost a hard drive in moving from a previous location and I couldn’t find this hard drive for years. And I worked on these songs with producers Dre & Vidal, Uncle Chuck, Harold Lilly [and] Dammo Farmer. It’s been so many guys I’ve had that connection with, and I think we were making some different music than what we’re making now. But in moving, I found this old hard drive that over time I was just like “yo, let me listen to these records and see what’s on here.” Because I know what I was looking for [though] it’s not even what we’re actually using on there. I was looking for something else that I’m still looking for. [laughs] I couldn’t even find what I was looking for. But I found this, and finding these songs just reignited that fire. It reminded me of songs that I grew up on. Everything from Mint Condition down to Usher, to R. Kelly, to Dave Hollister. Everything. It reminded me of that feeling. And we had to find a way to give it you guys. I just thank God that I found this drive necause we put so much time into making this music. Whether it was twelve years ago, two years ago, or one day ago, I feel like the effort and the time that we put into the music is worth being heard.
Absolutely. And I also noticed that some of the songs contain snippets from Tina and Ike Turner’s biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It. I found it ironic that the amorous lyrical content of these songs related to intense passion so generally that you found a way to link it to this movie. Can you explain that link? Like, how do these two connect for you?
Yea. When it’s real love, whether it’s forever or whether it’s for a few years and then there’s a divorce afterwards, it’s a hell of a roller coaster.
Oh God. Yes, BJ!
*laughs* And I feel like that’s what love is about. Love is about the roller coaster. It’s not just about the good days. It’s about actually going and getting through the bad days, and still hugging that person before going to sleep that night. You know what I’m saying? It’s still about getting through it. I don’t think it’s about the problem. It’s about the result of the problem. “How do we react to this?” And that is the beautiful part about life. Understanding that is the understanding about love. I feel like that is the perfect example. It gives you a little funny with it, it give you the real life. It marries all of those things together and I think it just meshed well with it.
It absolutely did. Is there anything else you want the fans to know about The Lost Files or what’s next for you?
Yea. [The Lost Files: Cuffing Season] is just attributed to everything I grew up on. It’s the link, the missing link that I lost on that hard drive that I thank God I found, and I just really hope you guys enjoy it. I just want to say that real music lives forever. Timeless music.
Stream BJ The Chicago Kid’s passionate and sexy ‘The Lost Files: Cuffing Season’ mixtape below.
Photography: Motown Records