February 29, 2012 3 comments
There are certain artists who are a study in practice. Musicians who access a certain level of consciousness within their audience that arrests their attention, forcing them to observe music at it’s most tangible. And, beyond that, there are artists you just feel. BJ the Chicago Kid is feeling personified. Raw, yet in control. Soulful, but focused. And, more than anything, his voice is an instrument of consistent emotion and elegance. None of this is new. BJ’s contemporaries are plenty in supply, but this isn’t on the same side of the R&B spectrum as John Legend, nor is it in the same proximity as The Weeknd. BJ is BJ, no disguises. And, the fact that he understands this better than anyone is what, ultimately, makes Pineapple Now & Laters one of the most impressive releases this year.
BJ’s influences, and how he organically filters them into his sound, are what really make this album stick with you. His resume shows why he’s such a dynamic singer. From features on tracks with Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy and Cunninlinguists (among others), to penning songs for the likes of Mary J. Blige, Musiq Soulchild and even Kanye West; he’s no rookie. The Life of Love’s Cupid, BJ’s mixtape from late last year, was my first introduction to him. And, even then, within a collection of covers ranging from MGMT to Beyonce, BJ stood out as commanding presence. Despite there being someone else’s name all over the track.
Pineapple is all BJ, though. He asserts that from the first quiet hum of “Tom’s Diner” on the intro, following that with a true-to-score rendition of “Fair Eastside” (yeah, that one), and what needs to be the next single “Sex X Money X Sneakers”. It’s one hell of a way to begin your debut retail release, yet, that’s merely the warm-up. It’s when BJ digs into his love life that the album truly takes form. Flashes of Dilla-era Bilal (whom he’s worked with as well) permeate throughout the confidently sultry “Good Luv’n” and the vocal showcase “Alright”. BJ’s falsetto is a weapon, and he deploys it so selectively that, every time he peaks into that upper register, it forces the listener to consider every emotion on display.
Emotion is the most pivotal asset BJ has to work with. Nothing is subliminal here, and his verses promote this earnestness. The line between genuine confession and cringeworthy cheesiness is acrobatically tethered, with lyrics that relay familiar cliche’s like “I’m gonna love you ’til they put me in the ground”, on “Other Side”, and “I’m stuck on your love”, on “Good Love”. This is where the separation between “hearing” BJ and “feeling” BJ occurs. In less equipped hands, lines like those would seem amateurish at best. Instead, his concessions come off candid and, many times, laborious in their authenticity. “His Pain II”, an early highlight this year, features an almost-in-tears sounding Kendrick Lamar (something Game’s been trying to pull off damn near every album). And, even for a faithless heathen like myself, hearing K-dot breathlessly repeat “I don’t know why he keep blessing me” definitely tugs at the heart strings; no matter what you believe. That fearless approach to sentimentality is part of what holds Pineapple together.
Another part of what keeps this album unfailingly cohesive is its production. BJ tends to seep into the very fibers of these beats, adjusting his voice accordingly to fit some of the most soulful, and effective instrumentals of recent memory. “Fly Girl Get ‘Em”, the deep-bassed ode to black women, floats on persistent guitar plucks and atmospheric wind chimes via Jairus Mozee. Elsewhere, Roosevelt injects some testosterone into the latter half the album with the ominous “King Kong”. And, Boi Josh even sneaks in a Sufjan Stevens sample (A BQE flip at that) on “Plai Boi”, yet, BJ handles this diversity in sounds as if he were a veteran in each field, respectively.
Nostalgia plays a large role in finding a frame of reference for BJ. But, while his style is certainly derivative, it’s not indebted to any era it recalls. While the themes and emotions on Pineapple Now & Laters may not be new, they feel just as urgent and relevant as anything else being released today. Nowhere is that more evident than on “The World is a Ghetto”, a cover of the classic War song from ’73. Aside from the greatness and appropriateness of that cover, the short, sampled snippet at the end exemplifies what BJ brings to R&B as a whole:
That perspective, more than anything else, is what will eventually bring change to the genre. And, if BJ sticks to this axiom, he’ll soon become the change that he speaks of.