Bryan Sledge aka BJ The Chicago Kid is no stranger in the world of soulful hip-hop. Already demanding attention with self-released PINEAPPLE NOW-LATERS, and mixtapes The Life of Love’s Cupid and M.A.F.E Project, his instantly recognisable voice has also featured on tracks for old and new school magnates alike including Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, SchoolBoy Q, Chance the Rapper, Joey Bada$$ and many more. At the age of 19 he was already performing as a backup singer for gospel stars Mary Mary and Stevie Wonder and penning tracks for gospel and R&B artists in L.A.
This week, the son of a couple of church choir directors from south side Chicago is dropping his first studio album with Motown Records, In My Mind, and it is as smooth as some fine Egyptian cotton sheets (which will no doubt also be a prime listening ground for its fifteen sultry tracks.) At the top end, already released single Church featuring long time collaborator Chance the Rapper sets the tone for the record with it’s swaggering gospel funk and laments the divide between purity and pleasure: “She wants to drink, do drugs, have sex tonight, but I got church in the morning.” Its addictive slow groove revisits the common theme of struggles with faith among young rappers, but undoubtedly tops the game with a stellar production and vulnerable relatability.
The Resume sits on the upper end of the spectrum of songs to make you hot under the collar, wedged right between L$D by A$AP Rocky and Coffee by Miguel on a bedroom mixtape, with saucy hook “I wanna work that body like it’s a 9-5,” aided by a killer appearance from Mississippian Big K.R.I.T. Sensuality and romance run throughout the record, with Shine capturing all the feels of a Boys II Men ballad minus the kitsch, carried by exquisite harmonies and lyrics that will probably see it accompanying many weddings of the future. The New Cupid, featuring Kendrick Lamar, takes a more cynical approach, telling the story of a cupid gone AWOL, too busy in the club to make people fall in love. It’s not Kendrick’s finest verse, with a total focus on “skirts” a little below his aptitude, and the song is one of a very few on the record that falls flat.
Gospel elements reach the greatest heights on Jeremiah/World Needs More Love, complete with a spoken bridge about the tale of the titled prophet. The epic track that transitions into a repeated call for more love in the world is another clear standout. The juxtapositions across the album between the spiritual and material worlds strike the perfect balance and work on a deep level, with perfect shades of light and dark, and vocal tug of wars between power and subtlety. Two tracks feature female vocals – Love Inside features a restrained verse in french from Isabella, while Isa performs on Wait Til The Morning. With the slinky female tone paired so well against the potent voice of Sledge, perhaps more dual sex collabs will be in his future.
The fifteen tracks of In My Mind float by with easy elegance, cementing BJ’s place as one of the slickest voice in modern R&B, rivaled only in recent time’s by Miguel’s Wildheart.
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