One of the notable breakout albums last year was In My Mind by BJ The Chicago Kid. For newcomers to his work, the heady, soulful sound of the 32-year-old's debut was a welcome throwback to an era were R&B and soul was more concerned with evocative songwriting than commerciality.
For fans, the album was merely a confirmation of what they already knew.
Now the wider music industry could honour BJ, real name Bryan James Sledge, as he is up for three Grammy Awards in tonight’s ceremony. He is nominated for Best R&B Album, Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best R&B Performance.
We spoke to BJ before the nominations were announced, and he told us about the creative process behind In My Mind plus singing about life's more complex side.
In My Mind is a gritty yet touching soul album. How did it come together?
The music is me. I am so glad the album came out and it is doing really well. I have been working on it for a while. But at the same time, they are not just a collection of the best songs I wrote. When you are making an album it is about the purpose – you are creating both a concept and vibe, then you follow through with that. It is all passion-driven with these songs. The way I work is just to make it all seem natural. It’s not just about doing it to make an album. I want the creative process to be effortless.
You worked with the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper on the album. What do you look for in a collaboration?
It actually all happens before the collaboration. I am normally a fan of the artist I work with it and that makes it easier. We both know how to utilise each other to get the best product out. To be useless is just terrible.
In My Mind deals with issues such as faith, relationships and owning responsibilities in life in a nuanced way. You seem to say that life can get kind of messy.
Absolutely. In a compass we got north, south, east and west, right? But in between that, you got things like north-east – now that, to me, is where real life is. Everybody’s life is not straight, it’s often 30 degrees to your left, or in the hardest part of the reach. The fact that music can go there is what makes it so special.