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BJ The Chicago Kid

One of R&B's most versatile and consistent voices is back with new album 'Gravy'

BJ The Chicago Kid’s NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert is a perfect representation of what the series is meant to showcase: an artist who can command any stage, big or small, performing the songs that made them famous in the most intimate, informal environment possible. Kid’s performance from back in 2019, which included cuts like “Good Luv’n,” “Church,” and “Love Inside,” sees the modern R&B staple simply sitting on a stool with his eyes closed, singing how and what he felt in that moment as the push and pull of the music took him in and out of reach of the microphone. He’s surrounded by instrumentalists following along, hoping they can read his mind. With nowhere to hide, it’s an impressive feat that Kid could repeat on any given day.

His first full-length album in four years, Gravy, is out now. Lead by singles such as the retro R&B slow jam “Liquor Store In The Sky” and “Spend The Night” with Coco Jones, a modern-day pop/R&B crossover, the record is a collection of tunes that, like his live performances, covers the breadth of Kid’s ability and his firm grasp on soul music.

“That’s just what I’ve always been doin'” 

On “Spend The Night,” Kid channels The Weeknd circa Beauty Behind The Madness as Jones offers up her best Brandy homage with lush accessory adlibs and a vocal fry-laden guest verse. The very next track, “Never Change,” begins with a spoken word intro about how change is inevitable while a light, octave-doubled “Ba-da-BA-ba-ba” adds to the groove. He then introduces the legendary Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire for a short yet impactful appearance near the end of the track. Naturally, Kid sounds humbled being able to do so.

As for Jones, the former Disney star who has reinvigorated her career in recent years with popular tracks such as “ICU” and “Double Back” and her role as Hillary Banks in the remake of Bel-Air, Kid had nothing but praise for the young gun. “It’s an honor to have the style that Coco was bringin’ on ‘Spend The Night,’ he said. “I hadn’t heard her do that on any other song, so to have that, I think makes it even more dope for her to display that new sound.”

“That’s just what I’ve always been doin’,” he said, on working with rising stars and icons back-to-back. “I’m just happy to catch people up on who BJ is. I am an R&B and soul artist. It consists of both. I just hate when people can’t do the math so you gotta do the math for ‘em. We don’t have time to always do that… to go back and feed somebody that lost a meal or lost their sandwich on the field trip, but sometimes you gotta do it.”

At this stage, Kid, who is 7x Grammy-nominated, has a resume of contacts and collaborators within the industry that is down to the floor. Everyone from ScHoolboy Q, Anderson. Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and Solange… just to name a few. A few names have alluded to him, but the ones referred to are, of course, already on his radar and in his sights, though he won’t divulge his secret. “One I can’t speak of, but you should get that in the next six months,” he said. “I would love to work with Monica… to work with Brandy… to work with Usher. That’s my way of not tellin’ you who it is.”

Combinations of Magic 

Songs like “Best Night Of Your Life,” “Feel Something Do Something,” and “Feel Good” off this new record are the epitome of perfectly executed slow jams. “Best Night…” brings the musical drama while “Feel Good” strips it back to basics… Kid’s filter-free lead vocal front and center on each of ‘em leaving the listener, as corny as it may be, swooning: “Can I have your hand? / Will you trust in me? / Give me your own… get the same from me / Baby, can I make you feel just as good as you made me?”

“It’s simply a vibe… looking for that feeling of something magical,” he said, on creating those types of songs. “Finding something magical helps. You feel and see whatever you would say. Still having a very beautiful life where you can have experiences you can talk about or imagine… those things help with slow songs. Slow songs are combinations of magic, magic you want to make, and magic you probably have made.” A serious answer, bookended by a late addition of, “Physically and musically,” he said with a laugh.

Love to The Soulquarians 

On “Type Of Day,” a 2021 collab track with Eric Bellinger, Kid shouts out one of the all-time greats in the chorus… “Like D’Angelo, I’m cruisin’…  cruisin’ with the top down.” He even brightens up his tone for the line to match D’Angelo’s inadmissible style, successfully paying homage both musically and stylistically. He was sporting an Erykah Badu tee for the interview, an appropriate measure when asked how he was influenced by the Soulquarians.

“It’s in me, it’s not on me,” he said. “Naturally Soul artists by default… via birth. The church essence and the church influence, I think, allows me to see and receive the influence via what they release and what they put out. How I was raised… the people that raised me… the music they played. All of that kind of connects.”

We’ll Be Alright 

When asked about coordinating messages from God to others through his music, his answer was that he didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know… I don’t get into that part of the envelope,” he said. “My envelope is what he gives me to give to them. The most powerful part about music is the interpretation per the listener. Not everybody gets the same message… some people interpret it differently.”

“We’ll Be Alright,” the last song on the project, isn’t explicitly him getting into that part of the envelope, but it feels like it is: “Hills are not mountains / And problems don’t last forever / But if we just hold on, I know that we’ll… we’ll be alright.” On a record that evenly distributes between contemporary (“Get Loose,” “Nobody Knows”) and classic (“Crazy Love” with Andra Day, “Best Night Of Your Life”), Kid left the last one up for God. However you interpret the message, the music is there to help guide you to it.

Stream Gravy: