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BJ the Chicago Kid Premieres "B.A.M." with Freddie Gibbs and Talks About Looking to the Past For Inspiration

In addition to premiering his new song, we spoke to BJ The Chicago Kid about the state of R&B, what inspires him, and who he sees as his peers.

BJ The Chicago Kid may not be a household name yet, but he's been working hard for the last two years to change that. Since 2012, the neo-soul singer has collaborated with rappers like Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T., and Chance the Rapper to provide memorable hooks and released the acclaimed Pineapple Now-Laters and A Soulful Christmas, where he was able to have his soulful voice be the focus of the songs. This year, he vaulted into the wider public consciousness, whether people knew it was him or not, with his feature and songwriting on ScHoolboy Q's sleeper hit "Studio."

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Most recently, BJ has been working on compiling and releasing a number of new songs and covers, all of which he will be releasing as one bundle, The M.A.F.E Project, on November 19. The most recent offering is "B.A.M.," featuring Freddie Gibbs. The song was recorded during the Madlib sessions that eventually lead to Cocaine Piñata, and it came about in a process that was as organic as asking a friend for a cup of sugar. "Freddie and I were actually neighbors when we recorded this song," BJ told me over the phone. "I lived five minutes away from his crib in downtown LA. I rode my bike to his crib, and we did the record in one night."

As R&B gets further and further away from the traditional sounds of Motown and into more experimental realms, BJ The Chicago Kid stands as a beacon for soul music. Not only is he signed to the legendary label, but he also sees its past residents as being his biggest competition. When asked about who he sees as his peers, he's quick to dole out praise to acts like Jeremih, Ty Dolla $ign, and August Alsina, but he places himself among a different group of artists. "I'm trying to compete with Marvin Gaye," he said. "But I look at how many times they’ve won Grammys and the accomplishments of my forefathers, and it's just nothing compared to what I've done. That’s why I compete. I’m trying to compete with the greats; I want my ego to be the competition." With an eye and an ear towards the past, it's not surprising that much of BJ's vocal work on songs sounds like it's coming from a long forgotten sample.

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Hip-hop music rotates through big-name crooners for help on the chorus depending on who is hot and where allegiances lie, but BJ is carving out his own lane by working with high-caliber and largely independent rappers. His M.A.F.E Project will feature collaborations from acts like Sasha Go Hard, Smoke DZA, and Harold Lilly, and it will hopefully help BJ The Chicago Kid continue on his journey to be mentioned among the same greats that he holds as inspiration. "I want people to walk away after listening to my project and say 'BJ possesses something that nobody else has.'"

Noisey: What are your thoughts on R&B now?
BJ The Chicago Kid: It’s getting a lot better. Two years ago if you had asked me that question, I wouldn’t have a lot to say, but we’re in better shape than we were before. Artists like Ty Dolla $ign and Jeremih are really impressive, and I think there’s room for all of us as long as all of us since we all have our own individuality and create space. If I’m doing what someone else is doing or they're copying me, we’ll all be stuck. Even with bigger artists like Trey Songz and Chris Brown, I’m honored they contacted me and got on “Studio.”

Where do you see yourself in the current music scene?
I feel like I’m a balance of all those artists. I can make the club records, and the records that help you reconcile with your girl when you stayed out all night and pissed her off. I provide the real life and fun at the same time. I might make you laugh or cry, but I accept the responsibility of how I grew up. And instead of just partying with you or telling you to smoke weed, it’s only right that I give you jewels to live and vibe to. I wouldn't even feel like myself if I was just the turn up king and didn’t give people the jewels.

What kind of music coming out this year has inspired you?
I’m mostly inspired by older music because those artists were talking about things we didn’t have. Our generation has Pro Tools and Auto-Tune and all that, but to hear what they accomplished back then without it—that’s the shit I’m trying to make. They put their music on tape, and the way it came out was amazing. Listening to Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Willie Hutch—just all those records are what I aspire to sound like.

You’ve worked with a lot of people. Who is still on the list of people you want to collaborate with?
I feel like the people who I want to work with now aren’t the ones that most people would think of. I would love to work with Little Dragon, Stevie Wonder—we’re actually labelmates now—I want to work with Erykah Badu and Broken Bells. There are a lot of incredible artists that are just different than what I listen to, and not a lot of people would know that I’m into. I love the Dixie Chicks too, man.

How do you use new music to get inspired?
I find new music all the time. I search the net a lot, I’m pretty much like an internet geek in a way.

Slava Pastuk is Noisey's Canada editor. Follow Slava Pastuk on Twitter.