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BJ The Chicago Kid is keeping that real soulful R&B we all know and love alive. Growing up as a young black man in the south side of Chicago, real name Bryan James Sledge was the youngest of three in a household where both parents were religious.
You may have first seen BJ’s name pop up after his standout collaboration on “Studio” with ScHoolboy Q, which landed him his first Grammy nomination in 2014. Fast forward to 2020, he now holds six nominations under his belt. “Time Today” was up for Best Traditional R&B Performance at the 2020 Grammys, while 1123 was up for Best R&B album.
In any case, the singer-songwriter has remained consistent in unleashing the most heartfelt, romantic ballads for his ever-growing fanbase. One click on 1123 and you’re instantly thrown into a pool of instrumentation, tasteful lyrics, and hard-hitting production. Linking up with Ari Lennox for the “Time Today (Remix)” was also the R&B duet we’ve been waiting.
BJ isn’t worried about numbers, fame, or any social media antics. He simply makes music because he loves it. Now residing in Los Angeles, the majority of his time is spent in the lab perfecting his craft. While even his collaborations are impressive to date, we can’t forget he yielded vocals to Travis Scott’s “Stop Trying To Be God” off Astroworld.
REVOLT caught up with BJ The Chicago Kid in Los Angeles to talk about black excellence, his friendship with Nipsey Hussle, a memorable encounter with Kobe Bryant, and so much more.
Who were your main black influences growing up?
Everybody from my brothers, my parents, my family to Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, of course. Who else? As a child, it was a lot of athletes. I was really into sports as a kid. Honestly, it was people in our neighborhood that we looked up to majorly. It wasn’t because of or had anything to do with street value, it was just smarts. How they perceived life, how they looked after us, the way they carried themselves, it made us want to be like them, as well.
How do they influence you today?
They’re still alive today to tell us to push on. They come celebrate with us. They encourage us when the moments ain’t the best. A lot of them even came to my dad’s funeral. My neighborhood gives the same type of love that my family does and I’m very blessed to have that. That’s really cool.
L.A. doesn’t do it for you?
It does, but it’s home. Nothing will ever compare to home. If it’s L.A. and Chicago, L.A. would die every time in my book because Chicago’s home. That’s what made me. My name is BJ the Chicago Kid. I’m not running from that, I own that. I own up to my city. I love that Chicago is my hometown, so nothing will ever compare to that. I don’t care if I’m [in] Paris standing at the Eiffel Tower and it’s lighting up for those 60 seconds, Chicago is what made me. Chicago is what allowed me to have the smarts to even make it to Paris to see that. It’s almost like not loving a parent.
You looked up do D’Angelo when you were little. What was it about his career that you gravitated toward?
I understood that D had similarities in our lifestyles, how we grew up. It’s hard to say where the connection is, but I see the connection even from his daddy being a preacher or a pastor. Him growing up in the church, him yet understanding the cross in the corner. Being able to elevate both elements into his music and create, put it together for the world to understand it and feel it in such a way. Both sides, it’s amazing. It makes him like a chemist. To love D’Angelo is to love Prince, to love Prince is to love Michael, to love Michael is… so on and so forth.
Why is it important to celebrate black icons?
It’s not designed for us to remember who we are, so we must remember who we are. Every day, not just for a month. I’m sure someone black didn’t say, ‘Give us a month’ because we have to celebrate it every day. We’re very grateful for the month, but we’re going to celebrate it every day.
What makes black music so special?
Our music is spiritual. That’s why. No matter the subject, no matter the concept, no matter who’s singing it, the spirit is in all of our music. From my ancestors, from our lives, from the future lives that’s to come, that’s in our blood. For real for real.
What black history are you making?
Excellence. Black excellent history. (Chuckles) Black excellence is being the best you can be now and to be better every day.
Congrats on your 2 Grammy nominations (for ‘Time Today’ and 1123)! How’s it feel?
It’s amazing. I always feel honored to be acknowledged by the Academy and even participate in the weekend. Being nominated with my friends, the friendly competition is still amazing, but it doesn’t overshoot the brilliance of who we are to each other. That’s what makes it so beautiful. I talked to Anderson [.Paak]. I talked to PJ [Morton], it was really cool. Those are my brothers outside of music.
What were the conversations?
I was congratulating them. Cracking jokes, telling them I’m going to come spend the night, so I could rub the statue. (Laughs) So, I know what mine will feel like when I get mine. We’re just friends, man! To crack jokes like that, come on. It’s very authentic friends, I’m very happy for them.
PJ has been doing this far before I even came to be an artist. People don’t understand the journey. A lot of times we get a hold of an artist — the radio company may say this is a new artist — but, this artist has been doing this for 15 plus years. For me to know the truth, I honestly congratulate my brother with a sincere heart because I know he deserves it. Come on man, I lost to some real champs. Some beasts. I respect it, and I think they perceive me the same way. It was a really good, awesome category this year, too, being among these lads feels pretty good.
What did it mean to get Ari Lennox on the remix to ‘Time Today’?
Honored man. She’s such royalty. She’s amazing at what she does, she’s owning on her moment. She’s very free-spirited. It’s so beautiful to encourage others to take notes from her: Being free and tapping into who you really are. Be loved for your authentic self. Her gift is amazing. Her brothers are my brothers. She’s my sister. I mean, it’s only right.
Your music centers a lot around love. Does BJ have a special woman in his life?
Umm… my mama. My mama, I talked to her today. She’s going on a cruise tomorrow, I have to make sure she’s straight. Get her a little envelope together. Give her hugs and kisses and all that. I love my mom. That’s my heart.
You actually received your first Grammy nom back in 2014 for ‘Studio’ with ScHoolboy Q. What were you like then?
Still hungry. Still thirsty for the right things. He (speaking in third person) was trying to find his way, and I think he’s doing pretty good so far.
What do you do in the studio to create a vibe?
The vibe is always with me. Whether I’m smoking, whether I’m chilling, whether I’m laughing with the homies, watching a clip that we saw earlier that day that we couldn’t wait to show each other and laugh at it or be inspired from. Songs we’ve been listening to, to get us inspired, that we might sample or get inspiration from. It’s a numerous amount of things. It starts 100 different ways, but we always seem to have really cool product after when we’re done. So, that makes it really cool for us.
Is there anyone you haven’t collaborated with yet that you want to?
My dog Smino, we gon’ do something soon. We gon’ do it the mid-west way. He’s from St. Louis, I’m from Chicago. We gon’ give you some kind of bounce or something lit. Who else? I’m thinking it’s a million of them. Jacob Collier is one. Tierra Whack is one of them.
I’d love to do something with Tyler the Creator. I’d love for him to produce something for me. Some soul samples. Some hard smack knock. Real soulful, but slams real hard, so it slaps. I love that. I’d love to do something with Teyana Taylor, too, real soulful. I think they could appreciate that. Jasmine Sullivan. CeeLo Green.
Loved hearing your vocals on Travis Scott’s ‘Stop Trying To Be God.’ How did that feel?
In the background. That’s me singing, ‘Stop trying to be God.’ Yeah. That’s me... We actually did that at Mike Dean’s house. It was really cool, Travis was there.
How did you end up there?
Ethiopia Habtemariam called me. I said, ‘Hell yeah, I’m pulling up. Tell him let me know when to come.’ I pulled up to Mike’s crib and it was history. I’m trying to get back up with Mike. I want him to do some stuff on my new album for real. That’s another someone I want to get up with.
Having been nominated six times now, what are some goals for yourself at this point of your career?
Higher. I have a song called ‘Higher’ that I might drop soon. Higher, bigger, better. More BJ, honestly. Even me extending and expanding my skill set to other entities in the fine arts, it’s just that time. I might get into some acting.
I see your hat reppin’ Nipsey. What was your relationship with him?
Man, that was my bro. Like Meek said, ‘I ain’t claiming to be your closest nigga,’ but I had an awesome relationship with Nipsey. I’ve known Nipsey since 2004. I’ve known Nipsey that long. His last few years on earth, we shared the same studio space in NoHo. All four of us (Mike N Keys, Nipsey) occupied that same four-room space for at least two and a half years.
At least I was there 2 ½ years, all three of them were there longer than me. Me and Nip got unreleased songs, all kinds of stuff. I’ve been doing hooks for Nip since Nip had the slick back, and it was braided at the back. 3x, 4x T-shirts, I knew that Nip first. I didn’t meet the big beard Nip first. I met the real Nip that will bang on you for real. Shout out to Robinhood, Larrance Dopson (Rance from 1500). Rance linked me with them pretty much, and Robinhood put me on. They always looked at me as family.
I’ll tell you a crazy story about Robinhood. When Nipsey passed and everybody began to go to the site, me living out here in Encino, I wanted to give it some time. It was too real for me. I cried for days. I remember being in a meeting with Amazon, I’m there to play them my new album and I’m just crying. I’m sobbing in this meeting. I’m sobbing, sobbing. It was that real. I remember seeing Jhene Aiko, we both broke down when we saw each other.
I went to the site a couple days later because I had a meeting, leaving Amazon. Amazon’s in Culver City, so I drove down Slauson. When I saw the guys out there, I pulled over. Robinhood’s like, ‘Do you want to go over there?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He walked me over there because they weren’t letting nobody in there at this time. It became too much, the police couldn’t control it. The officers knew him, he’s like, ‘Yo, he needs to go in there.’ He’s like, ‘I ain’t gonna go, just him. One person needs to go, he’s our brother.’ They let me in and I paid my respects. I bawled like a baby, too.
L.A. has welcomed me with open arms, period. I’ll tell you a story about YG and Ty Dolla $ign. We were in Atlanta, it was the night of the Hip Hop Awards. We’re nominated for a BET Hip Hop award for ‘Studio,’ so I went to the awards that year in Atlanta. DJ Mustard had a party... So, I met up with Mike Will, B Wright, all my guys because I was dolo. My brother didn’t want to go out. As soon as we went in, we all dispersed and spread out. I’m like, ‘Where the hell everybody go?’ It’s packed in this club. At the Tabernacle in Atlanta, so it’s huge.
I’m about to go to the stage where Mustard at. I’m bum-rushing through the crowd by myself, sliding through with my skinny self. I get to the part where you go to the stage, the security’s like, ‘No, no, no. You don’t got no band.’ I said, ‘Bro I’m from L.A., this my folks.’ I’m trying to get their attention and convince them at the same time. Really, I’m trying to finesse it because I know Mustard, but I’m not there with them. I’m trying to convince this dude. He’s getting super hostile, so I’m getting hostile back.
Around the corner comes YG, Ty, all them n*ggas come and push him. Boom, boom, ‘What’s the problem?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, my n*ggas came to save me!’ I went up there with them. Of course, he felt disrespected. Called security, so now 20 security guards looking for all of us. But now we’re spread out, so they can’t find us. I had a band by that time. I got a whole bottle of Dusse, drinking. It’s so many amazing stories, fun nights with sincere L.A. people that would always hold me down. I’ll forever hold them down. They didn’t have to do that. It was funny, it was hilarious, but I needed them n*ggas at that time. L.A.’s a blessing to me. Even the Kobe stuff, it’s crazy man.
When did you meet Kobe Bryant?
I met him in 2008. I was singing background on an award show and he was presenting. Somebody from Chicago was like, ‘Yo if you ever run into Kobe, mention my name and see what he does.’ I’m like, ‘Man, you don’t know Kobe.’ We all laugh about it all the time, too. I met him, I’m like ‘Yo, you know somebody named such and such?’ Kobe’s like, ‘Yeah, how you know him?’ We talked for about five minutes about how we knew this guy, how cool he was, how small the world is. We took a picture on my disposable camera. I still have the picture at my house. It’s crazy, I actually met him before.
How did everyone deal with the news of his death? That was literally Grammys day.
Oh my God, unbearable. It changed the whole mood of the day. It removed why we were there. It removed the feeling and emotion.
Did you get the Prolific tattoo after Nipsey passed?
I got this two days after he passed. I done flipped my Yankees hat, screensaver, that’s my dawg, man. He inspires me daily.