ONE JOINT WITH BJ THE CHICAGO KID
There are those who know BJ The Chicago Kid’s music, and those who wrongly think they don’t. The R&B singer, born Bryan James Sledge, grew up singing in church on Sundays— a tradition that proved practical when he left Chicago for Los Angeles to sing backup for the gospel duo Mary Mary. Quickly, BJ found himself in the studio singing with Stevie Wonder, and performing onstage with Usher and James Brown. Now a three-time Grammy nominated artist (for Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance, and Best Traditional R&B Performance), BJ has two studio albums under his belt with a third due out this fall (his “sampler” EP The Opening Ceremony is out now). But even if you haven’t heard In My Mind or Pineapple Now-Laters, you might still find you’ve been a fan of his all along: with features on songs for Chance The Rapper, Solange, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, ScHoolboy Q and Dr. Dre, BJ’s voice is a proven part of the culture.
BJ The Chicago Kid: Life’s too strong to not have strong weed. Weed is like a woman, you know, there’s many different varieties. But I’m loyal to that one. I enjoy the rolling process—the real smokers they like rolling it, they like the process of, it’s a whole relaxing thing.
Alyssa Shapiro: I get that, breaking up weed, it’s a little meditation.
BJ: Yeah, old school.
AS: And I like that analogy. Weed as a woman. So you’re a loyal man.
BJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. To my weed, for sure.
AS: To your weed [laughs].
BJ: Nah, it’s not even that. I’m a single man, so I’m chillin’. But to those things that you find of value and incredible quality, there’s no reason to turn to something else if you find that one.
AS: Will you tell me about the first time that you got high?
BJ: First time I ever smoked I lied and told ‘em that I smoked before, just so they wouldn’t tease me. But when I hit the blunt for the first time, they knew I never smoked before in my life [laughs]. Of course, it took my chest away. Smoked one of them big old Phillies back in the day before they was making cigarillos. I was at my cousin’s house. I loved the feeling but I wasn’t really able to enjoy it as much as I wanted to because it was my first time, and I lied, you know I put on the front. I was actually high the first time—because that cough will always do whatever inhaling won’t do. That cough will always take you there.
I think California has the best weed. Period. I’ve been to Amsterdam and smoked their best—it does not compare. From density to quality to naming. This is the upper echelon of weed for me.
AS: How does weed factor into your daily life? Do you smoke to facilitate creativity?
BJ: It relaxes me. To get whatever happened outside, before the studio session, out my head if it needs to be, or keep it more in my head for the song. It’s a good coffee bean, in a sense—you know when you’re buying fragrances and they have the coffee beans to open your nose for another scent.
There are many purposes for marijuana, medical purposes, I think it’s incredible. I’m introducing it to my dad on that level. It’s one of the most amazing things that a lot of people shun, but those people don’t really understand the real benefits.
AS: We lost Aretha Franklin this morning. What has her influence been on you?
BJ: She’s a part of history herself. Her voice, her sound is our sound, and I think a lot of people don’t know it. She will forever be missed but I will forever cherish what she left.
I’ve always dreaded today, honestly. For Stevie Wonder as well. Those two people, as far as the black community, serve a really, really, really, really strong purpose. Just think about it: Aretha was singing before MLK. He called her to help him, she even sang at his funeral. We never thought we’d have a black president; she helped bring him into the White House singing.
AS: Aretha helped sing Barack Obama, our first black president, into the White House; you sang the national anthem at his farewell address. In the past when you’ve spoken about that moment, you’d said that you were supposed to be there; it was no accident, you’d worked really hard and that’s where you’d gotten yourself. Where did you learn to be so matter of fact and self-assured? Because I know for a lot of creative people, that can be a struggle, the what-ifs and the anxiety. Does that ever still get you?
BJ: Loving what you do is to give you anxiety! When I get on stage and I get the microphone, all of that goes away, totally. But before, you must have some level of excitement that almost takes you to another word: anxiety. To remember your purpose is to understand why you’re there, and it removes a lot of that. Sometimes it doesn’t disappear until you start singing, but it’ll soon disappear! And you begin to serve your purpose. Knowing that helps me get to that place a lot sooner, before the stage.
It was such an honorable moment for me, for my family, for the city of Chicago, for him. Man, this was one of the biggest moments in my life, for sure.
AS: You’re an R&B singer, there’s sort of a prerequisite love of love that comes with the territory. Do you want a family and all of that?
BJ: Yeah of course I do. I love that whole thing the right way. I grew up with my mom and dad in the home.
AS: I did too. It’s really interesting how much things have changed lately, there are many different acceptable avenues to a family. How old are you?
BJ: Older than 25.
AS: I’m 31. Are you close to my age?
BJ: Older than 25. [laughs]
BJ: The music industry sucks so bad. People use old traditions to try to put you in a box, especially when it comes to talented people. It’s not about the question…
AS: There’s pressure to be younger than you are?
BJ: No, it’s not pressure to be younger. This industry has a few elephants in the room that I think very few people pay attention to. I’ve seen enough to know what’s important and what’s not important. My views on politics is not really important. My stand on justice is very important.
To have a heart in a world like this… you’re an alien. To have feelings, to have remorse, to have compassion for someone, you’re an alien. This is the day and age where someone’d rather film your mom getting robbed at the grocery store than help. It’s so sad. To live in a world like that makes me fearful sometimes of bringing a child into this world.
I’ve always had dreams of me walking out of Staples Center and chasing my kid out the trailer to the car, we about to get up out of here, show’s over. I had visuals of all types of things with a family. And this feeling didn’t just start. To grow up in it and to understand the love that comes with it, the benefits of having both parents in a home, I think is incomparable.
AS: Did that ever put pressure on you? I grew up with both parents, who are still very much in love, and for a while for myself it was almost like the options were attaining this perfect level of love—or not.
BJ: I don’t think they raise people like they did back in the day to allow you to be that in love. Just like fashions change, love has changed. Love goes through different motions. Back then, you could probably find a picture of your mom with a denim jacket on, white shirt, some denim pants and some bangin’ boots. And she was probably fly as fuck. You could do the same thing right now. The same look matches right now and you still fly as fuck. I think that type of love still exists, it’s just not as popular.
AS: What do you think the popular version of love is now?
BJ: A Gucci belt, a Gucci shirt, some Gucci pants. And you walk into a place and everybody has it on. And you realize, I look so much better in the same denim and white tee and boots that my mom had. What people consider love is not really love. Somebody told me love is a business.
AS: Marriage is a business, for sure.
BJ: Marriage is a business. Then I heard somebody else say—this is an interview I can’t tell you on the record which R&B singer said this— but I was like, ‘How many kids you got?’ and he was like ‘I got so and so amount of kids,’ like damn! But he was like, ‘Think about this, bro: Out of all my kids, one of ‘em gon make me rich all over again. One of ‘em gon make it! Out of all these puppies, one of ‘em gon make it.’
AS: Ok, well Donald Trump said he had five kids because “one will be guaranteed to turn out like me.”
BJ: Oh god. It’s very close. Oh so close. Being in an industry like this… This whole Jay-Z and Beyoncé thing has blown people’s minds away. I’ve never seen anything like it because we’ve never seen two people that understand how to maneuver in the world like this. We only know what they allow us to know; and when we know it, we we only know what we pay to know from the album. You get what I’m saying?
AS: Totally! They are the two most controlled, withholding their world top to bottom—
BJ: How fucking genius is it!? You understand me! I think it’s fucking genius. Even through the problems that they had, known and unknown to the public, they handled it in the most mature way to the point where they still had something to come back to. You can handle things in public if you don’t care what happens after this. If that’s the case, y’all should just say fuck it, we don’t got to talk no more. Talking about it means you hope for tomorrow, for me. Mad or not, let’s try to talk. How they handled their problems—I wish we could know, it might help us. Because the unknown is what fucks us up. People never see the blood, sweat and tears. They only see you crying with the trophy in your hand like Michael Jordan with the white hat on. They’ll never see the fights, they’ll never see the arguments, the times you didn’t talk for three days. They don’t see none of the work.
AS: When Lemonade came out, you had women feeling empowered to break up with the guy who was cheating on them. Then by the end of the album, Beyoncé gets back with Jay and everyone is like, wait…
BJ: And Beyoncé and Jay-Z are back in the arena singing together and shit. Two more kids later. I cannot look at how you made your money and think that I can make it the same way. And people do that all the time. They use someone else’s model—and everyone has their own blueprint. That’s why your life is yours.
Special thanks to Fero Cannabis for providing flower for this interview.