BJ The Chicago Kid Was Part Of History Last Night. Here’s How His Story Began (Video)
Chicago recently hosted President Barack Obama’s official farewell event, a bittersweet moment in which the 44th commander-in-chief of the United States said a tearful (but uplifting) goodbye. Beyond his farewell address, the event included musical performances, including one from the Windy City’s own BJ the Chicago Kid. Many Heads likely heard him first on Kendrick Lamar’s 2011 debut album, Section.80, namely “Kush & Corinthians (His Pain).” In the years since, he has launched his own career and earned three Grammy nominations for his 2016 Motown debut album, In My Mind. However last night (January 10), BJ landed his biggest look yet by being selected to sing the National Anthem at Obama’s farewell. Unsurprisingly, the gig has landed him more attention than ever before, with major outlets like Billboard running features with titles like “Who Is BJ the Chicago Kid?” For longtime fans, his newly found fame is long overdue, and 2017 may be the year he reaches the next level of his burgeoning career as one of today’s most promising Soul artists.
But before his meteoric rise began, BJ sat down with Ambrosia for Heads for an interview in 2012. In it, he touches on his influences, working with Kendrick Lamar, and more. Early in the interview, the child of choir directors also comments on his love for Hip-Hop, saying the first song he knew all the words to was Tupac Shakur’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” But when asked who his first favorite rapper was, he names Slick Rick and Eazy-E, saying “I used to love that dope-boy flow.” He goes on to mention his childhood in a city plagued with violence, saying I was on the block with my guys, whether we was hoopin’, shootin’ dice, messin’ with girls, stealin’ candy…whatever we was doin’, we grew up on the Southside of Chicago. Yeah, there were manicured lawns, but still, people got found in trunks a couple blocks over. I mean, you’re still hearing gunshots. Some kids ain’t make it home from school. Life was still real.”
He begins to recount one particular episode in his early life in which music and the streets combined to leave a lingering influence in his mind. While walking to school one day, a big homie of his offered him a ride. “School is only five minutes away, and I’m in this new car, checking out the seats. He put on DMX and Jay Z’s ‘Money, Cash, Hoes,'” and the influence remains with him to this day. “These type of records exist, these type of artists exist. I live in this world, I know this. I know this. I had to find my voice. Like, what is my medium to connect all of these people that I’m a fan of, as well?” It was that line of thinking which led him to work on “His Pain” with Lamar, he says. “In my mind, when I first heard Kendrick’s voice, his verse, I was like ‘whoa.’ Because he set himself in the shoes of another person,” he recalls. He points to one line in particular, when Lamar rapped “they shot back, the bullets missed me and hit that little boy/I don’t know why he keep blessing me.” “I know some people probably thought that was crazy, and yeah it is crazy. ‘Cause he put himself in the mind of that maniac, of that mentality. He really understand everything that man went through to say that was a blessing for him,” BJ says.
In commenting on the many years he’s put into establishing himself as a gifted singer, songwriter, and performer, he takes it back to the days of VHS tapes, when he would record videos of himself performing. But he says it was a fateful argument with his father that really pushed him to take the first major risk in his career. “Me and my dad had got into it, and we got into it so bad I was just like ‘I’m out.'” Luckily, he had a friend in Los Angeles – Grammy-nominated who has worked with the likes of Nas, Jay Z, Common, and many others – who would give BJ an offer he couldn’t refuse. Randolph invited him to become a backup singer for Gospel duo Mary Mary, saying “if you get here, you can have the job. You gotta get here.” BJ managed to get himself to Los Angeles and says that because of his leap of faith, he’s “very familiar with that showing initiative, showing that you want it type of thing.” After collecting his belongings into garbage bags with no money to his name, he was out to the West Coast and, well, the rest is history.
BJ closes the interview with an inspiring life mantra, saying”I told myself, life gon’ always give me ups and downs. I’m always gonna have good days, bad days. But I gotta follow my dreams, playa. Straight up. I’m not finna be sittin’ at home and wishing and thinking what could have happened. I’ma make it happen. I am going to make this happen. I could get a million nos, but all I need is one yes.”