Last year as I attended a baseball game here in Miami with friends, and there were thousands of people in attendance. The Chicago Cubs were playing, therefore there were many Cub fans in the crowd. I’m a Cub fan as well and we have a way of finding each other. When one of my friends and I went to the concession stand, I found other Cub fans in line. Then we found more Cub fans, and before long it was like a reunion. As we met each other, the conversations centered on more than the Chicago sports scene. We discussed where we originated, and high school attended and places of interest. I was experiencing something that only those who have moved a long distance from home would understand. When you move away from your happy home, you crave and enjoy all small reminders of that time and place. My friends thought it was great to be able to relate to people based on primarily your place of origin. However, there is more involved, and I can only successfully explain it to those who have also moved away from their homes.
The entertainment world does not change those feelings experienced by those who have moved from their home. In fact, there are most likely many more instances of persons longing for the place left behind. The featured artist this week fits into this category well. I can’t say for sure if he is a Cub fan, but he is from Chicago and moved to Los Angeles at age nineteen. Very similar to my story but for different reasons. This weeks’ featured artist is singer/songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid.
Bryan James Sledge was born November 23, 1984 in a very musical family in Chicago, Illinois. After BJ moved to Los Angeles, California, he became a backup singer for American gospel duo, Mary Mary. He also performed on Stevie Wonder’s A Time to Love (2005). He later wrote for R&B and gospel artists such as Crystal Aikin, Shirley Caesar, Lalah Hathaway, Joe and Kindred the Family Soul. Later performed on Kanye West’s single “Impossible,” which also features Twista and Keyshia Cole.
BJ’s solo career got a start after he established himself well as a songwriter. In 2009, Sledge released his debut mixtape, A Taste of Chicago, under the moniker BJ the Chicago Kid. Later that year, he followed up with The New Beginning. In 2011, he released his third mixtape, titled The Life of Love’s Cupid. In February 2012, BJ independently released his debut studio album, titled Pineapple Now-Laters, under M.A.F.E MUSIC LLC. In August 2012, it was announced that BJ signed a recording contract with Motown Record Company. After inking his new deal with the label, Motown Label Services began promoting the Pineapple Now-Laters track “Good Luv’n,” at Urban and Rhythmic radio formats in North America and released it as a single via digital distribution. On November 19, 2014, BJ released his fourth mixtape, The M.A.F.E. Project. The mixtape features 12 songs and guest appearances from Freddie Gibbs, Sasha Go Hard, Schoolboy Q and Smoke DZA. Finally, on February 19, 2016 BJ the Chicago Kid released his second studio album, In My Mind.
I started listening to In My Mind a few weeks ago, and I must say I am very impressed. The songs on BJ the Chicago Kid’s album indicate he has much to say musically. He has been part of a ton of music throughout the past few years, therefore there is no reason to believe In My Mind will be the end of his accomplishments. The album contains BJ’s thoughts and experiences. For those also from the south side of Chicago, we understand what he’s saying and have similar life experiences. The song “Home”, really bares BJ’s feelings and truly sums up this post. He explains those feelings vividly when returning home to changes from the familiar surroundings.
In an interview for Complex Music two years ago, BJ explained his love of his own neighborhood growing up. “On my block, we grew up like family. Summer times, man, psshh, we in the back in the alley or in the front on the block. Somebody has some music playing, and nine times out of ten, it’s soul music. We got whatever we drinking that day, we got some food, we probably even grilling. It’s just a good time.”
“What’s crazy is, my block was a older block in Chicago. Most of the people that’s on that block own those homes. They’ve been there for years. They’ve known me since I used to rake the leaves and ask if I could shovel lawn for $10. They’ve seen how we grow up, so they know, like, ‘Ok, it’s not shooting around here, but if loud music and a little laughing is all we have to put up with tonight, we’ll deal with that.’
“These are the same people that protect this neighborhood. The same people that’s not going to let nobody rob your house knowing you just went to church. Same people that are going to help you take your bags, even if you don’t want them in your house, they take it to your door. That’s how I was raised. Musically, I present that same warmth. That same country, down-home feel.”
Yes, even in a big city like Chicago, the life BJ describes is the one I remember as well. Even when other artists from Chicago create music, I understand the feelings they are conveying, even if they are not as openly expressive as BJ. Perhaps it is the same for any of you reading from other parts of the world. I’m sure you feel connected to those from your home city or country. What they say might remind you that there really is no place like home.