In this vast world of opportunity, dreams sometimes come true. Even in the hood. A place where, with a roll of the dice and a dash of hustler’s ambition, anything is possible. The rules of the game are as old as time. Be it cee-lo or snake eyes, chances go around. Yet with the heavy buzz surrounding his highly anticipated, widely circulated independent album Pineapple Now-Laters, it’s clear that R&B crooner BJ The Chicago Kid is on a winning streak. Flaunting a distinct vocal style that skillfully melds the soulful and the sanctified – exceedingly appraised by the likes of superstars such as Kanye West, Jamie Foxx, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Kendrick Lamar, and Usher – BJ The Chicago Kid is destined to become the voice of his generation. As a songwriter, he has penned songs for icons such as Toni Braxton and Mary J. Blige. And his own songs from his stunning forthcoming Motown Records debut are certain to excite critics R&B fans alike, while firmly cementing his name in the coveted pantheon of soul legends.
The story begins on the South Side of Chicago, where dreams are a dime a dozen and the code of the street reigns supreme. Luminaries like Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway had walked these very streets before him. With the venerable Smokey Robinson as an extended family member, BJ realized early on that the dream was real. At home, music was an undeniable mainstay with the familiar sounds of Marvin Gaye and Willie Hutch heavy in the air – offseting his undeniable penchant for hip-hop. Like many of his musical heroes, BJ honed his chops at Sunday service in church. But during the week, he lived a somewhat alternate existence. “It was like a forced marriage,” he laughs. “I went to church on Sundays. But Monday through Friday, I was hanging with the knuckleheads on the block. That gave me my balance. Understanding that helped me to understand my sound.” But it was learning the mechanics of songwriting that proved to be the real breakthrough for BJ. “That’s the day I never turned back,” he says. “I was just writing poetry, but I didn’t have any confidence to perform it. But with singing, I felt a lot more comfortable. That showed the power that the music had over me.”
And with his Chi-town moxie on deck, BJ spread his wings and took flight with his sights set on Los Angeles. Before he even touched down in the city, he’d landed a prime gig as a back up tour vocalist with Grammy-winning gospel duo Mary Mary. His vocal prowess soon caught the attention of yet another Grammy-winning act: Usher. BJ accompanied the pop/ R&B superstar as a back up vocalist on his wildly successful Truth Tour in support of his multi platinum album Confessions. Opportunity seemed to keep knocking as his songwriting genius enabled him to land placements on albums such as Mario’s Turning Point (“Nikes Fresh Out The Box”), Mary J. Blige’s Growing Pains (“Hurt Again”), Musiq Soulchild’s Luvanmusiq (“Ridiculous”), and Toni Braxton’s Pulse (“Caught (Don’t Take Your Hat Off)” featuring Mo’Nique).
His stellar reputation as a backing vocalist continued to precede him, evidenced in his stints with Diddy-Dirty Money, 50 Cent, Jill Scott, and Anthony Hamilton. BJ also contributed vocals to albums such as Christina Aguilera’s platinum Back To Basics and, Motown legend Stevie Wonder’s gold-certified A Time To Love. In 2006, BJ landed a vocal feature on the theme song for the motion picture Mission Impossible. “I watched all of these people use different recipes to cook up the same product. I got to see what all of them do on such a major level. I kept my eyes open and always took notes. I stayed a student of the game.”
BJ soon crossed paths with a then fledgling Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), resulting in a series of collaborations with the label’s in-house producers THC as well as their future breakthrough artist: Kendrick Lamar. Both his realignment with hip-hop culture and his burgeoning desire to showcase his talents as a solo artist resulted in the release of his debut mixtape, A Taste Of Chicago, in the summer of 2009. The mixtape began to soar into the viral stratosphere due to a co-sign from a notable fellow Chicagoan. “Two months after I put it out, Kanye West posted it on his blog without me calling anybody up and asking for it,” recalls BJ. “Then everybody found out about it. That was one of the moments that let me know people were actually watching.”
Losing no ground, BJ released his follow up The New Beginning that fall. With features from Young Chris (Roc-A-Fella) and Grammy-winning songwriter Harold Lily, the 17-track mixtape further exhibited BJ’s flawless talents as a songwriter and vocalist. 2011’s DJ Ill Will hosted The Life Of Love’s Cupid featured 10 remarkable reinterpretations of songs like MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” New Edition’s “Can You Stand The Rain,” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”
Kicking his grind into 5th gear in 2012, he challenged himself to sonically reach above and beyond his previous efforts to create a masterpiece of an album that would showcase his vocal and songwriting skills while taking the industry by storm. But during the vetting process of his new batch of songs, he realized he’d stumbled upon something quite remarkable. “Pineapple Now-Laters started from records that didn’t make that album,” he admits. “I put all those songs that didn’t make that album into a playlist and it just so happened to make sense. I ended up with something crazy that I didn’t even try to do. It formed itself. I just had to incorporate what I was going through at the time.”
A concept album in fine form, Pineapple Now-Laters is an exhilarating listening experience brimming with tales of love, street life, and survival of the fittest. From the mid tempo single “Good Luv’n” and the testimonial “His Pain II” featuring Kendrick Lamar to the quiet storm silk n’ soul of “Aiight,” Pineapple Now-Laters strikes an impressive balance between yesteryear’s soulful strut and today’s street swagger. Interwoven with interview sound bytes from the 1972 documentary Wattstax, the album tells the well-curated story of a young Chi-town dreamer pursuing his ambitions, reveling in his youth and his vices, finding love, and reaffirming his faith.
Using his favorite corner store confection as a metaphor for finding life’s sweetness amongst the adversity of the streets, BJ The Chicago Kid takes listeners on a ride in style over tracks helmed by producers like Chris “Brody” Brown (Bruno Mars, Lupe Fiasco), Jairus Mozee, Day Day Haddon, and THC (Chris Brown, Tyga). “It was my favorite candy as a kid,” he confesses. “It’s so innocent, but it played such a significant part in my life. No matter what’s going on around you, pineapple Now-Laters always seem to bring that good feeling that everything’s alright.”
The buzz surrounding Pineapple Now-Laters had far outdistanced that of its predecessors, garnering the attention of music industry insiders and music lovers alike in the process. It wasn’t long before Motown Records president Ethiopia Habtemariam took notice of the immense groundswell of support BJ’s undeniable talent had amassed – ultimately influencing her decision to welcome him into the fold as the newest member of the label’s roster. And if the response to the recent release of the buzz cut “Honey” is any indication, BJ is sure to become Motown’s next rising star. Just to think, it all started with a roll of the dice. “I had to see where the music was going to take me because it had the strongest hold on me,” he affirms. “That’s the thing that never died. I knew something great was going to happen. But the best part was not knowing what to expect. What I do know is that this is just the beginning of something big.” Expect some new music from BJ soon.
Check Out Ki Ki J’s Interview with BJ Below: