By Tamara Jenkins
A young, soulful voice with an appreciation for and the gift to write “good” music Chicago native Bryan Sledge, aka B.J. The Chicago Kid, has worked with the likes of Mary J. Blige, Mary Mary, Jamie Foxx and Musiq Soulchild to name a few.
Now on the verge of becoming a household name himself, Sledge took time to talk to UnRated Urban Magazine about his humble beginnings, aspirations and future plans.
UUM: You got into music at an early age with both your parents being choir directors, is that the cause of your music ambitions?
B.J.: I mean, just growing up being around real music kind of helped open my eyes period, like the older I got, to kind of understand what was taking place around me. Just growing up seeing, you know, mom in church, it was pretty normal. It just seemed average to me until I actually started getting into myself and I was like ahhhh…this is what this world is like.
It was like a forced marriage, once I fell in love with it, it was no way in the world I could escape good music; and no matter what it was always around me.
UUM: Did they encourage or discourage you to pursue music as a career?
BJ: At one point, my mom and dad wanted me to go to college and take another route. But I realized and I saw what was in me and I saw the potential and I knew my dreams. I was working with maybe some of the best people in Chicago in high school and right after high school so knowing that I was actually working with people that got attention from out of state and from labels I began to understand that I had more power than the average person musically and what I had kind of connected with more of the powers that be than naturally. So I wanted to take it to another level so I began to study certain artists and certain genres in music and the things that made me fall in love with it to the point where it became second nature.
UUM: Gospel music was obviously a heavy influence, but was gospel music the only type of music played around your house? Were you allowed to listen to other types of music?
B.J.:No, it wasn’t a strict home like that. My dad, he was a pretty big guy, he was a bouncer at a club and when he was getting ready, he would turn on the radio and at that time V103 was the station everybody listened to. My dad played everything from V103 to the Whispers to the Isley Brothers to Sam Cooke to The Temptations to The Four Tops to the Chi-Lites; I would get that side of the game. I would listen and say oh, what is this. I would get the soulful realm that’s a little bit of it outside of the church.
My family was just so musically inclined they had a lot of different genres of music it wasn’t just gospel in the house, it wasn’t just soul in the house, it was a little bit of everything.
UUM: How did you get your name?
B.J.: I just came up with it one day. I was trying to figure out something catchy. Of course, I’m a fan of Hip-Hop, but it sounds like a rap name. B.J. The Chicago Kid kind of kills the question of where ya from and answers a few questions using that name. It’s young and kept me vibrant and things like that, but right now, I’m going to start going by Bryan Sledge, my government name. I feel like its more professional, it’s more international.
I would rather go see an Anthony Hamilton than a B.J. The Chicago Kid if I didn’t know either artist and someone said they had tickets for both, just judging off the name I would probably go see Anthony Hamilton because what does the name say? I used it as a catch in the beginning because I had braids and I sing but now the image, the brand and a lot of things have matured along in time and now its time to deliver the main course.
UUM: Why did you decide to move to L.A., why not New York?
B.J.: I had the choice to go to either place but I knew more people in L.A. and there was a job waiting for me in L.A. as well.
I met Mary Mary before I moved to California. About a month before I came (to California) something happened to one of their background singers and he couldn’t do the gig anyone and the position was opened and I was very close with a sister of theirs and she told them about me and they (Mary Mary) said if he gets to California, the job is his. I sent them a couple songs and I sang over the phone and they said when you get to L.A., the job is yours.
Maybe six months before that my good friend Kevin Randolph from Chicago, I was working with him, he’s the same guy that taught me how to count bars and write songs…he was working with Mary Mary, so I had two people routing for me on the same team.
I came and stayed out here with a friend of mine’s family I never met in my life, that’s how thirsty I was to come out here. I said if I like em’ Imma stay, if I don’t, I’m out, I liked them and stay for a year and a half after that I got my own place and the rest is history.
UUM: How has being in L.A. positioned you to do what you do?
B.J.: When can I ever be in the studio with Chris Brown in Chicago? That could never happen. That just took place last night. Just the sporadic opportunity of being in the right place at the right time. Like if you’re in the right city, you can always get there at the right time, I don’t care if you’re catching a cab, but you’ll be there. Go where everything happens. A lot of shows happen in New York and a lot of entertainment happens in New York, but I think New York is more business than L.A., L.A. has labels, but I think New York is more label heavy than L.A.
I like it (L.A.) because a lot of the main artists come out here because they want to get into the movies and there trying to get in with the music, endorsements and things like that. I wasn’t thinking it then, but now it helps me understand that I made the best choice for myself. Knowing that this is where they make Red Bull and everything is here from pornography, everything is here so people come here to expand their brand, so if I live in the home where they expand their brand, I figure its like one of the huge golden tickets that I can have, especially coming from the south side Chicago where very little is promised.
UUM: You’re a singer and a songwriter, which is very impressive. You helped co-write Mary J. Blige’s Hurt Again.
B.J.: As soon as we heard them making the music (for Hurt Again), we said aw, it’s a rap, we got it. I love old school music that reminds me of putting the toilet seat down, sitting on the toilet seat while my dad’s getting ready, like shaving in the bathroom, like dad, who is this on the radio? And he was like aw man, this is this. I was getting small little history lessons of what I was going to be doing and not even knowing it. I think that’s what helps people feel the music and feel the passion, like when I sing I think they feel the passion more because I feel like this is really in me more less than something I chose to do.
It’s like natural ability will always beat out skill to me. That’s like when you fat and ate 60 donuts and ice cream in the bed, falling asleep with the ice cream melting on the mattress your still going to get out there and shoot the same jump shot and probably hit it because that’s you’re natural ability. Its weird, but that just lets you know that when you have a gift from God, no man can take it away but you. Depending on what you do with that gift is totally up to you, you can let it prosper and turn to gold or let it spoil and mildew on you.
UUM: Which do you prefer, singing songs or writing them?
B.J.: I can’t just love one. Even when I sing other people’s songs I make up my own part in it, I don’t know why, it just happens.
UUM: But if you had to chose?
B.J.:Writing can change my great grandchildren’s lives from just my life. Singing can feed me, my family and my grandkids. So at the end of the day, I can’t choose just one, both of them I absolutely love.
UUM: What artist’s do you listen to or inspire you?
B.J.:I love artists like Little Dragon, I’ve always been a Cee Lo Green fan. I love John Mayer, Kendrick Lamar. I like J. Cole’s music. I listen to my brother’s music, Aaron Sledge, his project is nominated for a Stellar Award, that’s like the gospel Grammy’s. I listen to Fly By You from Columbus, Ohio.
UUM: Who’s your favorite artist that you’ve worked with?
B.J.: In studio or on stage?
B.J.: Just as a person, without working, just like as a person?
B.J.: I would have to say Anthony Hamilton. He’s a great dude. He’s a comedian; I think his second job is a comedian. He’s a great businessman; he’s just a good guy. He’s not just an artist out for himself; he makes sure his people are straight. I respect him.
UUM: Do you consider yourself to be a gospel or R&B artist?
B.J.: I like to call it World Soul R&B.
UUM: Chicago is gaining ground as the place to find new, hot talent as a result of Kanye, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco, GLC, Twista. Do you think this will continue?
B.J.:I say, the only way as a unit to really show people what we have is for everyone to really study a craft and really go hard and try to improve.
We had Crucial Conflict, Do or Die and Twista, then you got Common on his b-boy and then you got R. Kelly coming out with Honey Love and Vibe and then you hear about Donnell Jones and then you find out that this guy you’ve been hearing singing all along is Dave Hollister and you never knew Dave Hollister was the guy singing on Keep Ya Head Up for Tupac.
Just knowing that different voices of the town is popping up let’s you know that it all isn’t one thing, that some guys and some artists do have the same understanding but today its so many voices of the city, I feel like I’m one of the rare voices of the city, my brother is a rare voice of the city as far as what you chose to stand for as an artist and what you want your message to be to the world.
If people could say ok, if you release eight albums, out of all of those eight albums, what is the one message you want people to understand from you as an artist? Summing your artistry up, what is your message? If we are start up and finally find out what we want to be and what we are to be as artists, as musicians, as producers, as A&R, as managers as PR’s as anything we’re doing that’s going to affect the world and put that internationally, I feel like that’s what’s going to help.
Kanye found out who he was, that’s how he’s able to show the world who he was. I can’t show you nothing unless I show myself first and I gotta know what it is to show you to make you believe it.
The fans, and I’m not belittling them, but you have to feed them in ways to understand it the first time or close to the first time as possible. You got to really concentration and hone in on how you want to do it and do it correctly.
UUM: How do you feel about the notion that Chicago is full of haters?
B.J.: I agree that we don’t really help each other as much as we could but I think that’s the artists that are dope. It’s a lot of people that don’t need to be doing this, let’s just be honest. That’s why I can came up with my crew M.A.F.E. (music ain’t for everybody), because its not, some people are suppose to enjoy it, everybody ain’t meant to make it. Some people are just wasting money and wasting time. Wasting a lot of energy I feel. But it’s not up to be to tell them that, it’s up to me to prove it through my music.
UUM: Let’s talk about you upcoming CD. Do you have a title for it yet?
B.J.: The pre album is called Pineapple Now and Laters, the reason why I call it Pineapple Now and Laters is because it was one of my favorite candies as a kid but I didn’t want it to be an actual theme for this pre album; its just a taste of some of the best things that BJ creates. It’s a little bit of laid-back soul type stuff and R&B stuff, it’s a combination of the sounds of BJ but the best sounds of.
Some of them are songs I can’t use for the album, some I recently created and the others are songs I created to round off the project, so the thing is still fairly new, it’s not old and I aim for timeless music.
Its going to have somewhere between 12 to 15 songs and it will be available on Amazon, ITunes and everywhere else you can buy music on the internet. I have a few videos together for it. I’m super excited about this. The album is coming out sometime in the summer or after the summer this year.
UUM: Will you have any guests on the pre-album?
B.J.: I don’t think I’m going to have any guest stars until the main album.
UUM: Who would you like to work with that you haven’t already?
B.J.:Those people I named earlier like Little Dragon and John Mayer. I would love to work with Rascal Flats, Leona Lewis, Natasha Bedingfield, Brandy.
UUM: Do you have anything else in the works other than releasing your pre-album and debut album?
B.J.:I’m working on some stuff with Snoop Dog for his album, he has an album coming out to show his appreciation to women – I’m glad I’m apart of that one, cuz God knows I love women. I got something coming out with Busta Rhymes. Busta Rhymes and MF Doom are on the same track as myself, that’s pretty heavy. Working on some stuff with Anthony Hamilton, Chris Brown, my brother Aaron Sledge, his album is going to be ridiculous.
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