'Every bit as talented and even more influential on the direction of R&B than the scene’s biggest and most pop-centric names, his energy dominates a theater far too small for his artistic ability, but perfectly-sized for the intimacy of his relatable demeanor.'
Evan Dale // Eric Laufer // Mitch Dumler // Oct 10, 2019
Sometimes shows are stacked so deeply with artists that outside of order, no one is really opening for anyone else. The stars align and everyone on a playbill is incredibly complimentary and talented, existing as differing versions of one another’s musical nuance, but coming together as a cohesive performance rather than a staggered ladder of waiting for to the main act. Even better, sometimes these shows take place in the most intimate of settings even when all three acts are established in their field, ranging from up-and-coming star on the rise to established veteran overseeing the stylistic direction of a scene for a decade. And that’s exactly the case with BJ the Chicago Kid’s 1123 tour.
Fans of R&B have likely always been fans of BJ who, through only three albums since 2012, has established himself as a premiere name in R&B, Neo-Soul, and through an unparalleled list of collaborations, hip-hop as well. Blessed with an absurdly rangy vocal delivery and a keen knack for expressing the most sensual sensitivities in a creatively penned manner, he has one of the most noteworthy talent pools of any individual in music. And that overarching understanding of the greater direction of R&B and Neo-Soul and how it relates to the popular realm is exactly what has made him such an influential puzzle piece to a greater myriad of ever-expanding modernist soul popularity. In the last half-decade in particular, R&B has made a return to the popular limelight while the introduction of Neo-Soul with its wider instrumental makeup and deeper thematic discourse has given rise to a new era of artists that, in the wake of BJ the Chicago Kid and his incredibly wide-reaching artistry, continue to aid in the evolution of the vocally-driven stylistic directions to a point they’ve never reached before.
Two of those artists – unendingly different as writers, vocalists, and instrumentally-driven forces – are DC-born deep-though poet, rapper, and vocalist, KAMAUU and Richmond, California rooted R&B modernist, Rayana Jay. And yet both connect and relate through the lineage of stylistic and artistic thread that BJ the Chicago Kid has spun, incorporating romantic and sensual discourse into their meaningful penmanship, heartfelt and intense range into their vocalism, and a general relatability across the spectrum of romanticism, sexuality, and general humanhood.
And they open BJ the Chicago Kid’s 1123 Tour.
As KAMAUU, lengthy, confident, and poetic in his stage presence, introduces himself to the audience, he does so in a way that’s reminiscent of a spoken-word performer. Spinning vibrant lyricism, bouts of monologuing self-expression, and an impossibly high vocal display into the fabric of a single performer, he falls nowhere short of being an incredibly attention-grabbing and thought-provoking force on an audience slowly filling in the main floor in front of the short pedestal of his stage. His music is not hip-hop, R&B, or spoken-word in particular. Instead, it’s the modernist, post-genre coalescence of them all, entwined as an indefinable outcome of the pieces BJ the Chicago Kid long has set in motion.
By the time Rayana Jay gets to the stage and carries with her an exuberant and bold change of stylistic pace, the audience has mostly filled Denver’s Marquis Theater through KAMAUU’s enticing presence. Al of us are primed to be hit with something again entirely unexpected. Though more easily defined as a classic R&B performer, Rayana Jay is such in the way that a modern soulstress strives to be. Unendingly confident and arguably cocky in her demeanor, she dominates the stage as an undeniable presence, trading short monologuing quips for long, sustained vocal runs, she sets the stage opposite of KAMAUU to dial in the wide range of BJ the Chicago Kid’s imminent presence.
He waltzes from backstage after a short set break, focused only on the mic stand and breaking straight into his own performance. He grasps the mic and the attention of the entire theater, exploding into hit after hit of high-range, higher emotion. Every bit as talented and even more influential on the direction of R&B than the scene’s biggest and most pop-centric names, his energy dominates a theater far too small for his artistic ability, but perfectly-sized for the intimacy of his relatable demeanor.
Feel The Vibe, Turnin’ Me Up, Church, Get Away, The Resumé. BJ ditches the namesake of his tour and delivers an eighteen-track marathon performance spanning the entirety of his canon and not just his most recent album. Together, his hits paint a vibrant picture not only of his illustrious canon, but of the overarching effect that he’s had on R&B and Neo-Soul.
Dominating the stage with his musical presence and folding in monologuing excerpts akin to KAMAUU and Rayana Jay, BJ the Chicago Kid’s performance strengthens that of his openers and continues the night as one long, cohesive show, certainly highlighted by his set, but not dominated by it.
As far as R&B or Neo-Soul shows are concerned, there are few more genuine, bold, and authentic than BJ the Chicago Kid. Not only is his music even more heartfelt and emotional in a live setting – particularly an intimate one – it’s a clear display of just how influential his work has been on music’s direction over the past seven years. His decision to include KAMAUU and Rayana Jay as openers that give a glimpse into his own range sets the tone for a night riddled with emotion and art. And all of their abilities to paint vivid imagery with their music, and inspire art and self-collectedness with their monologues and presence makes an evening spent at the 1123 tour a must for any fan of the R&B and Neo-Soul spectrum.