As a seasoned singer, songwriter and collaborator, BJ The Chicago Kid maintains a well-respected reputation as a trustworthy embodiment of new-age R&B/soul music. BJ is coming to the Middle East (downstairs) this Friday night alongside fellow R&B artist Ro James on their aptly titled ‘The R&B Tour’. In anticipation of the co-headlining show, we spoke to BJ The Chicago Kid about his newly released ‘appetizer’ project The Opening Ceremony, how his soulfulness comes naturally, his secret to making great collaborations, and what fans can expect when he and Ro James hit the stage.      

EB: First off, congrats on the new project! Since 2016’s major-label/Motown debut In My Mind was your last official release, talk a little about these three new songs and how they’re serving as an appetizer to your next full-length album?

BJ: I’m glad you called it an appetizer because that’s exactly what it is. The Opening Ceremony is just a taste and letting people know what’s to come. The new album on the way and other cool things that will be part of it.

EB: I wanted to touch on the strategy behind this release. A lot of artists are taking the approach of releasing short EPs (for short attention spans) leading up to a more comprehensive body of work. Was that in your mind when deciding to drop The Opening Ceremony, or was it simply a matter of giving fans new music to listen to, especially while you’re on tour?

BJ: We actually didn’t even want this to be labeled as an EP. This is a sampler. We understand the fluctuation in how music is released noways, the way you do it is very important. But the people can take this seriously. These are three strong songs, not throwaways by any means. Some people release EPs just to test the waters, we have in trust and full confidence in these records.

EB: One line that stuck out to me was on “Rather Be With You” was when you say “I don’t wanna be up in the club all night faking or arguing about how much money Puff makin’.” Thought it was a clever way of offering commentary on how sometimes people are drawn to things and topics that aren’t productive or just distractions. Over the years, how have you been able to avoid the distractions and keep your focus on growth?

BJ: Simple, the love for what I do. Making music for me is like the woman you never wanna leave, the car you never want to stop driving. It’s unique how “Rather Be With You” came about. We were in Germany, my guitar player has a lady back home, but we’re doing two cities a weekend and tour life is a lot of time away from family. When I got the music from him, I kinda wrote his story. I stepped out of my shoes and into his as a songwriter, just imagining that situation. Being there for the family is so important. It doesn’t matter if I’m singing for the President, that’s not close to how it feels when you’re with your significant other.

EB: Another quality in your music that always stand out is the soulfulness in your voice and figuring out ways to utilize it in new/creative ways. With a combination of soul and rap music being your roots, when you’re creating what’s the process like to bring out the soul of the past and put new energy into it for the audience of the present/future?

BJ: The beautiful part of it is that it all happens authentically. It’s naturally in me, I don’t have to search for it. What we want the perception to be, it’s not a hard task because we really love the music. We get surprised sometimes about the certain chords resonate with people, but it all adds up.

EB: You’ve always had a great ear for new talent and made the right decisions about who to collaborate with, the early days with TDE (Top Dawg Entertainment) being a great example. How do you balance the tasks of putting full effort into your own music while being ready to work with other artists, especially in hip-hop, who are a match stylistically and help get your name out to new people?

BJ: That’s been one of the pluses of my career this whole time. Just paying attention and having relationships that come in a full circle. It’s also about being open with the fans. It’s cool how social media has allowed the fans to have more of a voice and offer some cool ideas, that’s helped us. They say I’m the favorite cousin of your favorite rappers (laughs). I’m proud that my collaborations stand the test of time and in a whole new way for each song.

EB: Lastly, let’s focus on this tour you have with Ro James. You guys showed your chemistry on the Jodeci “Come and Talk” cover, but what made you want to team up with Ro to go out on the road together and what can people expect from these shows?

BJ: Ro is an awesome artist, I respect him as a friend and as a performer. We’ve know each other for years and always wanted to do this. Happy we were ready to do it now with the right timing, it makes so much sense. Two warriors fighting for R&B, not trying to change it, just push it. The show itself…oh man, we’re sharing the band as two headliners. It’s going to be a pretty once in a lifetime experience man.

BJ The Chicago Kid plays the Middle East with Ro James this Friday, 5/18.


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