1123 is BJ The Chicago Kid's Strongest Career Project
Evan Dale // July 30, 2019
A perennial all-star of the R&B spectrum, BJ The Chicago Kid has flourished creatively for more than a half decade with a sound unbound by epochal delineation and accompanied by generations of features who likewise share a lack for stylistic one-waywardness. As signature as they come with a vocal delivery unmistakable to anyone whose heard global hits like Good Luv’n, Turnin’Me Up, and Church, he’s a veteran tastemaker never afraid to explore the deep recesses of experimentation in his sound. But like many of music’s most potent and trusted leaders, BJ The Chicago Kid takes his time with full-length releases, even if his features are innumerable. His debut album, Pineapple Now-Laters came out in 2012. His sophomore, In My Mind, a highly underrated work of experimental R&B genius, in 2016. And now, in 2019, BJ has blessed the world with another vibrant patchwork of musical strokes risked far and wide, 1123.
When first looking through the tracklist and credits, 1123 is a paper exhibition that this veteran is very much up-to-date on music’s current heading. Anderson .Paak, JID, Buddy, Kent James, Eric Bellinger, and Offset all make appearances. But what are equally interesting and perhaps telling of BJ’s generational boundlessness come features from Rick Ross and Afrojack. Being an artist of timeless sonic texture and vibrantly experimental nuance, it’s no surprise that his features come from such a broad source of stylistic and epochal reach. It’s also no surprise that at his steady hand, Rick Ross and Afrojack sound as modern as ever while .Paal, JID, Buddy, James, Bellinger, and even Offset sound timeless.
What is surprising for any artist – especially in the modern industry where spotlight and constant presence are almost required for relevance – is just how comfortable BJ The Chicago Kid is with not only sharing the stage but handing it over altogether.
1123 – only the third album from a legendary and rare enigma nominated for four career Grammy’s – begins on another artist’s pulse. The fact that it’s introduction, Feel The Vibe is blessed with an opening verse from Anderson .Paak is indicative of two things: BJ is unendingly comfortable with himself, capable of shining his own limelight on others as long as it’s what’s best for a specific track’s larger aesthetic, and he is well aware of Anderson .Paak’s own prominence in the transcendent Funk-R&B-Neo-Soul lane that has made him a star in his own right. That vision and unending commitment to music’s truest roots is and has always been what sets BJ The Chicago Kid apart.
And that sentiment’s further rooting is what sets apart 1123 as his career’s most timely project.
Where Pineapple Now-Laters existed as a beautiful introduction to a beautiful voice, it was the kind of virgin, underground R&B collection that simply couldn’t have invited into the mix the kind of top-tier feature samples BJ is now – as one of the most notable figures in R&B music – capable of collecting. By the time In My Mind was released in 2016, BJ had exploded into music’s stratosphere, was as well-connected as anyone else in the vocally-dominated spectrums, and took firm advantage. Features from Buddy, Chance the Rapper, Isabella, Big K.R.I.T., Eric Ingram, and Kendrick Lamar proved then that BJ was fervently dedicated to exhibiting his sound amongst the texture of other industry leaders. The album was a marathon of notable guest spots and deep R&B experimentation. It also birthed what is to this day one of the most sexually intense, perfectly orchestrated R&B anthems in music history, The Resume. But, at a time when trend-driven artists like The Weeknd and PartyNextDoor were running the greater direction of mainstream R&B, In My Mind’s experimental direction was too much for the unprepared ears of the mainstream audience.
But now, in 2019, as Neo-Soul, instrumentation, genre transcendence, and experimental risks have firmly rooted themselves as tenants for modern artistry, the music mainstream has finally caught up with the timeless genius of BJ the Chicago Kid. Coupled with the cleanest production and the most top-to-bottom fluidity any of his projects have ever hosted, 1123 emerges as the perfect indefinable grey area collection of R&B, neo-soul, funk, and hip-hop for a 2019 ear.
So much of what’s key to that idea is that 1123 doesn’t adhere to any 2019 trends. Instead, akin to many of his stylistic compatriots – Raveena, Daniel Caesar, Marco McKinnis, Steve Lacey, Kaleem Taylor, Dijon, and his friend, Anderson .Paak who have all put out exceptional albums this calendar – BJ The Chicago Kid unearths a carefully curated balance of new and old, R&B and soul, funk and hip-hop, emotion and sex, established sounds and sonic experimentation that leave 1123 an album that could have come out 20 years ago or 20 years in the future.
Any collaboration between Anderson .Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid is bound to exercise some epochal boundlessness. Both artists have made explosive careers on the backs of their ability to transcend styles and generations. Naturally, Feel The Vibe isn’t only the perfect introductory track, but also the kind of wide-ranging exploration of homestyle cooking that pulls into frame moments that feel like the most modern of neo-soul anthems (BJ’s hook) while also heroing a .Paak verse that feels particularly antiquated à la late 90’s hip-hop. The reverse can be said about Get Away where BJ The Chicago Kid dominates an early 00’s R&B vibe on the chorus while hip-hop’s brightest young stars, JID and Buddy deliver to 1123 what the future of hip-hop will sound like. Worryin’ Bout Me – BJ’s collaborative track with Offset boasts a similar delineation. There are also a plethora of tracks that exercise BJ’s long-established solo vibrancy as a sensual R&B force – Time Today, Can’t Wait, Too Good, Close, and Rather Be With You. Champagne is an 80’s funk nuance exhibition of roller-disco late-night dim-light vibes. Reach with Afrojack is a similarly-constructed composition. Rick Ross gets a modernist makeover on Playa’s Ball, and Eric Bellinger delivers a raunchy, sexual anthem on Back It Up.
Altogether, the individual pieces – as wide ranging as they seem across styles, across generations, across artistic differentiation – collect under BJ The Chicago Kid’s watchful eye allowing 1123 to emerge as one of the most key, most important projects to BJ’s career and to 2019’s greater mark.