In 2016, after years of grinding, R&B/Soul singer/songwriter BJ the Chicago Kid showed that patience is a virtue and that sometimes, timing is everything. Whether it be the long time between his actual first work in the music industry (writing on Dave Hollister’s 2001 record, For You, which he co-wrote with Gerald Haddon and landed on Hollister’s 2002 album, Things in the Game Done Changed) or the time between his critically-acclaimed debut album, Pineapple Now-Laters. Four years between than, his subsequent signing to the storied Motown Records in a life come full circle moment (as the Hollister album BJ wrote on, was the lone one that the fellow Chicago native released on Motown) and releasing his major-label debut, In My Mind, under Motown in 2016, it was finally time for the soulful Chicago vocalists to shine and have a breakout year.
Which is why it’s also only appropriate that one of the more standout records from the whole album, is a record called Shine. A very soulful and moving record, which really let’s BJ bare all of his soul and showcase his very soulful vocals, in what is sure to be a wedding playist-ready ode to partnership. With In My Mind, BJ showed that he’s not just an impressive guest feature adding a soulful touch to records ranging from raps elites such as Dr. Dre, Kanye and Kendrick Lamar, to some not as known outside of rap circles great emcees like Mikkey Halsted, Freddie Gibbs, Big K.R.I.T. and ScHoolboy Q to name a few. He also showed that he is a force to be reckoned with in soul, who can make an album that is just as soulful a masterpiece to add to the label’s storied history as any that Motown contemporaries Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye did in their prime with the label.
Quite ironically enough, as much as a lot of those artists relied on BJ over the last four years, he doesn’t so as much himself. Relegating his TDE family Kendrick and Q, as well as Chance the Rapper and K.R.I.T. as the only really big name guest features on the album. Making sure the focus can be mostly on him, BJ shows with In My Mind that he can carry a whole album mostly by himself and give us such a great body of work, which with it’s thoughtful songs and soul drenched ballads truly reflects the historically soulful roots of his Motown label.
The pound-thumping boastful first record, Man Down, being one of the few records which isn’t so soulful. It being a standout, exciting high-energy change of pace record, which with its smoldering beat and staccato repetitions of “Man Down, Man Down!” gives a darker tone to BJ’s vocals and lends more influence to a reggae-tinged type of sound.
The next track, the very soulful and uplifting lead single, Church, showing that it isn’t to say the features don’t work either. As Chance gives a right on point guest verse in a record that despite its title is not what you think, as it marries church teachings and mainstream appeal about the struggles between needing to go to church, while trying to avoid temptations. BJ singing, “She say she wanna drink, have sex, and do drugs tonight. But I’ve got church in the morning.” While Love Inside is a very soulful and simmering feel-good simmering, slow jam that showcases his vocal range rather nicely and could be seen as either a certified baby-making jam and/or a feel-good old-school jam that makes you want to get out on the dance floor with your lady or a bunch of beautiful women.
By bringing his very soulful and powerful voice to those records, BJ shows why he can marry the sound of at times sounding as much a Jagged Edge, as much as a Mary Mary. Bringing that same spiritual and emotional intensity to both the pews of a church and a bedroom. That influence being able to be pulled off by BJ because of him being brought up in the church, after being born to church choir directors in Chicago and being a backup singer to Mary Mary when he moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19.
Conflict being the root to the condition of most humans, the Chicago native shows everything is always not all pleasant on, Wait Till the Morning. A desperate plea in song form to a wife’s best friend to not reveal his indiscretions, though the spouse, who is performed so well at the song’s conclusion by Isa, is obviously no fool to the situation. While the piano-driven standout, Heart Crush is a very emotional and moving record about love and how it can crush your heart. With how powerful it’s you can even be brought to tears of how much you can feel it in your own soul.
Driven by the strings and drums in the background of the dynamically unrestrained Jeremiah/World Needs More Love is another very moving record, which really lets BJ show off his amazingly soulful vocal chops he learned growing up in the church and you can tell he used from the songs church like structure. In one of my more personal favorites from the whole album, which also happens to be one of the more standouts, the singer/songwriter shows a good mixture of soul and sensuality with the Raphael Saadi-sampled, very smooth Kendrick-assisted, The New Cupid. A record in which cupid is to busy at the club, so BJ has to bring love to the world instead and Kendrick gives a stellar blazy rap about the Commodores and chasing mini-skirts.
Woman’s World like Shine is yet another piano and strings-backed record, which really lets the Chicago Kid show off yet again his very amazingly soulful vocals on his amazing reworking of the James Brown classic. While despite not living in his hometown of Chicago for awhile, the very stellar, Home, is yet another soulful, but a bit more smoother record, which is an ode to his namesake and where he was born and grew up. It really letting BJ show off his truly amazing vocals again. Like a lot of the album, Home, is also a record which is backed by great collaboration of such skilled session musicians and lesser-known producers like Lamar Edwards, Cornelio Austin, Jarius “JMO” Mozee and Da Internz throughout. Edwards playing and producing on Home.
It’s not only over that combination of instrumentation, but also when he is really able to truly fully bare his soul out with his amazingly touching vocals, like on Da Internz-produced, Falling on My Face where BJ is really truly able to give such amazing records. Like Shine, BJ’s moving and touching vocals pickup the more the song goes on, with how powerful and touching they become either bringing you to tears or almost tears and sure to be another potential go to wedding-playlist ready record.
With In My Mind, BJ brings not only one of 2016’s most sincere and soulful works, but arguably the most soulful barring album of all of 2016. One that like most Motown releases, gives a good scope in showing where the breadth and scope of R&B and Soul are at the time. While also showing that the singer/songwriter is able to wrap his pen around topics which range from religion to love, family and romance. Something the Recording Academy took notice in too, as BJ was rightfully so nominated for Best R&B Album at the upcoming Grammys. In My Mind, may not be a classic album, but it is good enough where it will be remembered as something close to it and another great standout album released in the label’s storied history.