BJ the Chicago Kid is a soul slinger. Packing an intensity that hits you hard and gets all over you, he keeps you coming back for more of that feeling. Born Bryan Sledge, BJ sings, writes and arranges with the best of them. Having worked with everyone from Mary J. Blige and Toni Braxton to Anthony Hamilton, Jamie Foxx and Snoop Dogg, he is seasoned.
BJ’s sound is a tangible, physical experience, with his music pricking, prodding and pushing you, pulling you into his space. His album Pineapple Now-Laters, named for his favorite candy as a kid, has been bubbling just under the surface like the boiled down molasses required to make the sticky treat.
Describing his own work as “the simplest but rawest form of art,” this album is clear and uncut from the start. “Pineapple Now-Laters Intro” offers the easy bump of BJ’s take on “Tom’s Diner,” leaking into a gritty preamble painted vividly by Chicago spoken word chieftain Harold Green, III: after Pineapple Now-Laters your taste buds change/this is Skullcandy/sweet nothings in your ear/straight raw/that pure sugar cane/sweet shock… Straight like that.
Popping with classic material, BJ slides us a cover version of “Fair Eastside”, the funky a capella school song performed by Riff in the 1989 cult classic film, Lean On Me. From there we’re bouncin’, clappin’ and two-steppin’ to the unmistakable “Sex X Money X Sneakers.” Lively and straight to the point, BJ lets us know just what’s up with him.
If you’re still unsure who the Chicago Kid, is check out the peculiarly arranged “King Kong.” With its thumps, synths and fades this track is bursting with brusque confidence. when you hear me kill every song/just say there goes King Kong.
The real tale of Now-Laters is BJ’s undeniable love of the ladies. There’s the super-slick “Fly Girl Get’em,” the writhing bassline of the ultra-sexy “Good Luv’n” where BJ’s voice grazes the track like fingertips on the back of a neck, singing some unsuspecting woman right out of her clothes, and the reverent “Good Love,” an almost religious ode to an intimate experience.
You want to wave your hand and whip out a fan because it’s clear somebody caught the spirit in the dark. If you want the details just listen to the naughty strum of “The Big Payback” or the playful “Lady Lady,” the Prince-inspired “Sex Is the Best Breakfast” (here BJ’s impeccable falsetto slices through all the rules), or what is probably the strongest song on the album, “Aiight.”
This is the tune that had one Miss Jill Scott falling in love and singing BJ’s praises one late night on Twitter. Lush and fragrant, “Aiight” is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye, spilling and splashing onto the listener like the best of 70s soul. This song rips away your inhibition. I’m rough when necessary/but I’m guaranteed to please. We’re gonna be sweaty when this one is over.
The funky street soul BJ so effortlessly exhibits is front and center on the heavy “Other Side,” and his sharp and modern cover version of WAR classic, “The World Is a Ghetto”, complete with a fitting Stevie Wonder sample.
Known even more in rap circles than in R&B ones, BJ’s Hip-Hop sensibility is all over Now-Laters. Overtly in the wildly popular “His Pain II” featuring Kendrick Lamar and more subtly on the brilliant “Hood Stories Vol. 1”, an ominous urban narrative just as much in the vein of Biggie Smalls as it is Curtis Mayfield.
Now-Laters is cool. Simply put. With its vintage skits and gruff wisdom, it’s raw and glossy, smooth and rugged, showcasing the contradictions of B.J. himself who says “I’m not an R&B artist; I feel like I’m more of a rapper with the class of an R&B artist.”
Like the package on the old-time candy says, Pineapple Now and Laters last a long time… some for now and some for later. They also stick to you when you hold on to them, and the flavour is oh so good.