One of the greatest attributes of music’s blog era is the newfound appreciation for featured artists. Grab a CD from the ’90s or early 2000s (you know, that physical thing that they sold for $9.99 at Sam Goody or Best Buy?) and take a look at the track list. How many featured singers do you find? The likely answer is none. If we were still living in that music world, Frank Ocean might still be known by the masses as little more than another member of a strange acronym. The internet has helped make a name for the featured artists, now listing each track with the featured right in the headline, leading to the increase in notoriety for artists such as BJ The Chicago Kid.
The Chicago native has garnered more buzz from featured singing on albums from Cunninlynguists and Kendrick Lamar than from his extensive resume of singing/songwriting work for legends such as Mary J. Blige or Snoop. On Feb. 21, BJ The Chicago Kid will be dropping his debut album, Pineapple Now & Laters. I caught up with BJ to get the rundown on the album’s title, his take on writing for himself opposed to writing for others, and being labeled a “rookie”.
PIMB: I saw an interview with you a while back where you mentioned that you were no longer going by BJ The Chicago Kid, but by Bryan Sledge. Your music still says BJ The Chicago Kid, did you change your mind?
BJ: Nah, I didn’t change my mind, I just had to put out this last project.
PIMB: Bryan Sledge is your legal name. What made you decide to change?
BJ: I just feel like it’s a bigger name, the name is more international than BJ The Chicago Kid. I definitely want to get to a more broad audience with less limitations.
PIMB: Your debut album Pineapple Now-Laters is due to release on Feb. 21, give us a little insight into the project and the title.
BJ: Um…well the reason I chose Pineapple Now-Laters is, first I was heavy, heavy, heavy listenin’ to a bunch of Dilla at the time, and I just wanted to identify with Dilla, and I felt like I was sorta, kinda an R&B/Soul version of him. I feel like I’m very organic, and I’m very gifted at what I’m doing versus what’s being created. I felt like it was just a must that I show how different I am than every soul and R&B artist out there. Therefore I chose Pineapple Now-Laters, it was my favorite candy as a kid and my first cousin who introduced me to it is a huge music lover, so being that I’m feeding candy and music into my soul on a daily basis, it made so much sense to show how different I am, but also it’s so me at the same time.
PIMB: Is the cover art a picture of you?
BJ: Yeah, that’s me and my mom in the ’80s.
PIMB: In the blog world you’ve become primarily known as a songwriter and featured artist, how do approach changing that perception into people viewing you as a solo artist?
BJ: Really just continue to do me. Everything that the people know and see, they perceive based on what you’re releasing throughout the year. So my only job is continuing to give you good music. I don’t really go deep into the label thing. If you go back on the internet, the proof is there. I’m not really one to get caught up on trying to prove stuff to people, and things of that nature. If you listen to my songs and hooks, you can see I really do what I do.
PIMB: You’ve written for some great artists (Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Snoop Dogg), how does your approach to writing for yourself differ from that of writing for others?
BJ: With myself it’s more untamed, I would say uncensored with myself. I don’t mind explaining something in a very different way, when someone who already has an audience has certain characteristics. I feel like when it comes to my music, I can have far more fun because I’m here building my fan base, so I’m yet proving and bringing in people that love me for the different things that I do.
PIMB: Of the artists you’ve collaborated with, which song/memory sticks out to you the most?
BJ: I’d have to say….quite a few, I can’t pick one. [Kendrick Lamar’s] “Kush & Corinthians” stands out for sure, I wrote that verse about my friend who had just passed away and I recorded that verse a day or two after I got back from the funeral. Of course “His Pain” sticks out, um…a song I did with Mario called “Here I Go Again” and “Nikes Fresh Out The Box”, that was the first platinum record I got as a songwriter that I sent home to my parents, to say my life isn’t as bad as it may have seemed at times. I went through a rough patch and everything seemed crazy, but I never gave up and I sent that plaque to my parents to show them that my life wasn’t that bad after all. I have quite a few.
PIMB: Do you see yourself wanting to continue doing the songwriting, or is that something you used as a tool to get to where you are now?
BJ: This is how it was for me, in doing music, I write songs every day. Whether I’m doing it for an artist or not, as soon as I figure out someone is looking, I already have eight songs already written. While they are looking through those eight that I naturally took my time and gave my all to, I’m already working on another five after listening to what the artist has already done and what they are trying to fill the void of on the album. It’s like two birds working at the same time, and it sets them up with something they are listening to, and hopefully something from that eight is hitting on what they need, then you create another one while they’re doing that and once you’ve absorbed what they’ve already done on that album to blend in. It teaches yourself that if you double grind, and you always stay prepared, then you always have something. That’s how I get down, man.
PIMB: Outside of music, I’ve seen you get active on Twitter about the [Chicago] Bulls. You play or just a fan?
BJ: Yeah man, my family is huge on sports, music, and food [laughs].
PIMB: Bulls got a shot this year?
BJ: Man, I’m lovin’ it. I’ve definitely been surprised over the past few years, and I feel like we can continue to build, we just have to make smart decisions when it comes to getting new players and in trades and things like that. I think the players are doing a great job of proving themselves to the industry, and as far as basketball is concerned and the love of the game is concerned, the Bulls are doing an incredible job. We do have a few loose screws, but after you get them fixed up you can go after that gold thing with the ball hanging off.
PIMB: I saw the other day that TheWellVersed.com had you on their “The 10 Non-Hip Hop Rookies To Watch In 2012”. At this point in your career, how do you feel having the term “rookie” applied to your name?
BJ: Again, I don’t get mad at labels, but I’ve been doing this for over 12 years, and the proof is in the pudding. But I’m not mad them calling me a rookie, that means the people who should be paying attention should finally be looking. I just take it in stride, that means they see me still young and they see me with the best of them. I just don’t let it attack me in a negative way, I keep on rockin’. If I’m a rookie, then the things y’all are gunna hear, is gunna let y’all know I should be Rookie of the Year then. That’s how I look at it. If not, then I’ll take Vet[eran] of the Year, but I’m somethin’ of the year, because I worked my ass off, and I’m not gunna stop.
PIMB: What are your goals for 2012?
BJ: I’m working in the field by myself, so I’m gunna continue to set standards in knowing that I have a lane of my own. There aren’t a lot of R&B/Soul artists that are unsigned but extending to the level that signed artists are. There aren’t people on that hustle, so I can kind of set standards in my genre. I be the Kanye of my own genre, I can do what I want to do, to continue to evolve. I feel like I can continue to outdo everything I’ve done in the past. If I can make a way for people who believe in the things I do and stand for the things I do, then they can come my same route and do the things I do while not making the mistakes I do.
PIMB: What can we expect from you in terms of projects and tours?
BJ: Tour wise you can expect a lot, there are a few things I’m putting together that I can’t really speak to right now. You can definitely expect me to be on tour by the summer. I’m in the process of writing a movie right now, and I feel like music is just a small door of things I do. There’s so much coming together. The future with me, Busta Rhymes and MF Doom on a Dilla beat, like that’s insane! I’m excited about what’s to come, and there’s so much happening every day, I feel like my life every day, half of it’s known and half of it isn’t know. Depending on the schedule if I get to the studio and someone else is there, who knows what’s gunna go down. You never know what life holds.