Our Take • BJ The Chicago Kid Breaks Through with 'In My Mind'
It's become somewhat commonplace to see BJ The Chicago Kid's name between parenthesis in song titles. At 26-years-old, Bryan James Sledge has amassed an impressive discography, having worked alongside Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Chance the Rapper, Jill Scott, and Kendrick Lamar, among many more. Yes, BJ The Chicago Kid has worked with plenty of big name acts over the years, but it's his focus on himself with his Motown debut In My Mind that should prove to make those features a bit harder to attain for other acts.
His long-awaited major label debut finds him stepping into the spotlight after fifteen years of operating somewhat in the background. Similar to fellow Chicago crooner Jeremih, BJ was comfortable working his way into the game systematically, playing the patient long game to make it to this point. Leading up to the release, BJ embarked on a furious media campaign, covering the Chicago Red Eye in the process with the words 'Feat BJ The Chicago Kid' appearing between those damn parenthesis, a not-so-subtle nod to his extensive work on other's songs. As the album continues to settling into the public's collective consciousness, it appears the grammatical tools that have paced BJ's career to this point might just become a thing of the past.
In My Mind is a soul album through and through. With vocals ranging from a hazy, intoxicating smoothness on the lead single “Church,” featuring Chance to the club-ready “Love Inside,” to the endlessly impressive “Shine,” to your mom’s new favorite Sunday afternoon jam in “Woman’s World.” One thing that's for sure is that there’s something for everyone here, with a what seems like every type of slow jam possible en route to crafting one of the year’s most impressive R&B projects.
Having sat patiently just outside the direct gaze of the spotlight, the preacher’s son has been able to carefully craft a sound and aesthetic that are wholly his and it’s apparent throughout the project which covers a lot of familiar territory. Blending gospel, soul, and hip hop BJ leans on the influences of earlier experience as he attempts to reconcile his choices, primarily in love and life; faith. “This is a survivor story,” BJ explained in an interview on Windy City Live last week, “if you’re a survivor, you understand what it takes to just beat the odds, this album is for you.”
In My Mind is as much about survival as it is about rebirth. BJ is a survivor. The game can be a rough place, especially for an act finding himself while simultaneously working with elevated contemporaries. It’s easy to get caught up, make the wrong move or take a step outside of one’s self. On his debut project, BJ ruminates on the journey that got him here while at the same time looking forward to being understood as a man on his own two. In My Mind is the cross-section of those two realities, a sort of journey to self-actualization. BJ has always seemed able to create beauty out of the mundane, comfortable with rough edges, able to find something special where it’s not apparent and here we finding him adjusting to the latter as he ascends the game he’s played since childhood.
“Man Down,” the album’s opening salvo, while maybe not a perfect thematic fit, serves as an affirmation; an acknowledgement of self-worth. It’s the WWE-style entrance music to the rest of the project, a three-minute-thirty-second banger, structured in a series of short hooks rather than traditional verses that allow everyone the opportunity to prepare themselves for what is coming. know that some heat is forthcoming.
There’s faith, love, sex, drugs, affairs, broken hearts, and even an ode to Marvin Gaye: what more could a soul-lover want? Storytelling in the lyrics that pace his rise to this point, a narrative driven by vocals and production and a penchant for finding beauty in the grind, the ability to capture each moment, every ounce of feeling in its purest form: In My Mind is moving, thought-provoking, and structured in such a way that allows the listener to live in it, three minutes at a time.
No longer bound to the parenthesis that followed much of the early part of his career, BJ The Chicago Kid certainly asserts himself on his debut full-length. Perhaps setting the stage further for a renaissance that will go beyond just hip-hop music locally, BJ appears to finally get the credit he deserves, on his own time, in his own way, in his own mind.