The Breakdown: In My Mind, by BJ the Chicago Kid

Micah: BJ The Chicago Kid has been on my radar for a while now, and I have been eagerly awaiting this release. It’s not often that you seen a modern artist releasing under the Motown label and collaborating with the likes of Kendrick, Anderson .Paak and Bilal. I don’t know what it is about 2016, but everybody is feeling the gospel spirit, and I’m so into it. Please keep it coming.

Henry: Agreed. I love just about every feature I’ve ever heard BJ do, and I liked Pineapple Now and Laters quite a bit. In My Mind seems like more of a throwback, perhaps inspired by the recent work of some of the collaborators you mentioned. Let’s get into the album.

1. Intro (Inside My Mind)

Henry: “I love god, but I also love mob movies. I don’t agree with everything I understand, but I understand.” I like this little statement of purpose, and for what it’s worth, I think the rest of the album does at least try to explore these ideas.

Micah: It’s a 41 second intro. It’s good for what it is. Let’s move on.

 

2. Man Down (feat. Buddy & Constantine)

Micah: This reminds me of “Deep Water” off Dr. Dre’s Compton. I know BJ worked extensively with Dre leading up to the Compton release, and has said that none of that material made it to In My Mind, but I can hear the influence here. “Man Down” is hard hitting, driving, yet seems to hover in place with natural hi-hats and thick, controlled bass. “Staying up till the sunrise / Won’t stop till I get mine.” This is the perfect song to play on repeat when you take the night shift driving on a road trip.

Henry: I love this beat and I like the vocals, but they all feel like pickups to a verse that never comes. BJ shoulda worked the TDE connect to get Jay Rock to murder this.

 

3. Church (featuring Chance the Rapper & Buddy)

Micah: The best record on the album. This song accomplishes the juxtaposition of church and club in the way Kanye’s The Life of Pablo tried to do. BJ’s pseudo-rap is hypnotic and Chance continues his no-miss streak that has lasted nearly five years. Seriously, if you’re still sleeping on Chance, it’s time to wake up and stay woke.

Henry: I totally agree that this album is a more successful exploration of what Kanye was trying to do with The Life of Pablo, and like Pablo, Chance steals the show here too. He’s the perfect counterpoint to BJ’s all out R&B, holding his own with the melodies and also providing the more lyrical sections that some of the tracks on this album seem to be missing.

Micah: By the way, there is a remix of this song that features one of Anderson .Paak’s best verses to date. Definitely worth a listen.

 

4. Love Inside (featuring Isabella)

Micah: Here the album begins to settle into itself. The large, over the top production begins to break down into rich suspended chord structures and minimal percussion. This song is very heavenly, but didn’t leave much of an impression on me.

Henry: This beat is basically a reworked, smoother version of OutKast’s Jazzy Belle, but that’s one of my favorite Kast songs, so I’m into it. Love the horns on this track and this album in general. This is one of the songs I wish had a female rapper on it though. Rapsody, anybody?

 

5. The Resume (featuring Big K.R.I.T)

Henry: I like this song in spite of its goofiness. “I wanna work that body like it’s a nine to five” is just a hilarious pickup line to me. There’s also an interesting subtext to the idea of a relationship being like a job, although I don’t think it BJ reads too far into it. He also comes off a little desperate towards the end. Relax man, the interview is going fine. We’ll call you.

Micah: I was really excited to see the K.R.I.T. feature on this song, but was disappointed to see he was just on the intro. That’s where you put Hannibal Buress or Bernie Mac. Let K.R.I.T. do a hook or a bridge or something. Anyway, I like this song. It isn’t the best on the album, but the subdued piano and over-processed synthesizer make a nice backdrop for BJ to deliver some sticky syrupy harmonies.

 

6. Shine

Micah: This is the song that made this album click for me. I can hear a bit of John Legend in BJ here and it suits him. BJ’s vocals are right up in front in the mix and the music behind is bombastic, but never introduces drums or bass. The first couple times I listened to this on the album I was waiting for “the drop” but it never happened. Once you let the drop go, you can appreciate this song for the melodic and thematic merit it has. This song doesn’t quite make the rotation, but adds to the album as a whole.

Henry: I agree, this is a good example of a more classic, less poppy Chicago Kid. The placement makes it a nice segue between the start of the relationship in “The Resume” and the end of it in “Wait ‘Till the Morning.” This song is the good part in the middle.

 

7. Wait ‘Till The Morning (featuring Isa)

Henry: Played yourself on this one BJ. I like the story here and I like Isa’s contribution. It gives the song a nice narrative dimension, although I’d like to hear her lay into him a little more, or maybe get a back-and-forth going.

Micah: To be honest, I didn’t really like this song until I sat down and read the lyrics. I usually don’t do that, but it really put the song together for me. It’s middle of the road sonically, but the quality of the concept keeps this song interesting. It works in the sequence of the album, but I wouldn’t seek it out on its own.

 

8. Heart Crush

Henry: This is a good follow up to “Wait ‘Till The Morning.” The organ and guitar and reverb heavy drums give it a stadium anthem feel, and I like the chopped-n-screwed mini verse that comes in at the end.

Micah: This songs starts off sounding like a 90’s rock song. Didn’t see that one coming. While this song sounds big, it also feels empty to me. Maybe I don’t like the guitar work or the drumming, but this song didn’t click for me. I like the idea of placing a song here that sounds like it could be played in a large venue, but I think it could have been done better. That pitched-down verse is pretty sweet tho.

 

9. Jeremiah/World Needs More Love (featuring Eric Ingram)

Henry: Get your lighters up for this one. Awesome instrumentation, this song swells from a crackle to a blaze, soul fire.

Micah: I like this one a lot. I think Heart Crush would have worked better if it was more like this song. I want to hear BJ singing from the pulpit of a massive sanctuary, not some bank-sponsored sports arena. The outro is great too. BJ’s vocals are vulnerable and extremely prominent. You can hear his voice shake.

 

10. The New Cupid (featuring Kendrick Lamar)

Henry: Maybe my favorite on the album, love the drums and the strings, and once again Kendrick provides a great counterpoint to BJ’s singing. It’s not as powerful as “His Pain,” but it’s also more listenable if you don’t want that level of heaviness.

Micah: Definitely one of my favorites as well. It’s laid back, and creates a lot of space for BJ to be inventive vocally, both in his melody-writing and the arrangements of his adlibs. I love the harp fill that leads the verse into the chorus. Kendrick’s verse is predictably fantastic. Everything came together well here. The skit at the end is a nice touch.

 

11. Woman’s World

Henry: Shots fired. Where you at James Brown?

Micah: This song is great. The piano is exposed and has a lot of personality. The strings add a layer of polish and coupled with the slick drums, make this song make it sound like it could have been lifted out of a broadway musical.

 

12. Crazy

Micah: This song picks up from Woman’s World continuing with that musical sound. Pretty quickly the song morphs into something that seems out of place on the album. I like the very natural way this song segues from Woman’s World, but the song itself is one of my least favorite on the album.

Henry: “At the end of the day man, be crazy about something.” I like the sentiment but I think this is one of my less favorite tracks on the album. For my money I’ll take BJ over the more traditional instrumentation, the strings and organs and horns and that classic motown feel. This one isn’t bad but it feels a bit overproduced. This is another of the songs that leaves me waiting for a solid verse that never comes.

 

13. Home

Henry: The return home from touring is a classic trope, and BJ does a decent iteration here. I think it could be cut down a little though and it might be even more powerful.

Micah: Here the album is really beginning to lose steam for me. I like the vocal ideas and those ridiculous drums that come and go out of nowhere around a minute and a half into the song. To be honest, if that bit was extended, I think it would make a much better song. Someone should flip that.

 

14. Falling On My Face

Henry: I love BJ’s voice but sometimes his lyrics are a little blunt, and I think this is an example of that. It’s not bad but not my favorite, just a little over the top for me.

Micah: Meh.

 

15. Turnin’ Me Up

Henry: Great closer, a funky vamp that could go on for just about ever. This one makes up for the last two tracks, I think.

Micah: I like the way this song starts. Feels like a jam session. I love the tambourine and the shaker work. Very appropriate and groovy. I would be shocked to hear that this song was recorded with a lot of overdubs. It feels live and spontaneous with a lot of interplay between the parts. BJ leads the band gracefully and with a lot of taste. A great closer to the album. I love this.

In rotation: Man Down, Church, Shine, The New Cupid, Turnin’ Me Up


Henry Whittier-Ferguson & Micah Roehlkepartain