Wonderland.

BJ THE CHICAGO KID × ARI LENNOX

The king and queen of neo-soul are pushing the boundaries of sound and genre once again.

BJ The Chicago Kid in conversation with Ari Lennox back to back

BJ wears t-shirt THE KOOPLES, suit and shoes DSQUARED2. Ari wears suit FRANKIE BY SAHAR, choker AUGUST & JUNE

BJ The Chicago Kid in conversation with Ari Lennox back to back
BJ wears t-shirt THE KOOPLES, suit and shoes DSQUARED2. Ari wears suit FRANKIE BY SAHAR, choker AUGUST & JUNE

Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

2019 has seen US artists BJ the Chicago Kid and Ari Lennox reinvent the wheel as far as neo-soul is concerned. Both released excellent pieces of music this year, Lennox’s stunning debut album Shea Butter Baby dropping in May, with BJ’s excellent 1123 coming in July. Both projects were career-defining; Lennox announced herself on the world stage with a sensuous, delicate masterpiece, featuring heavy- hitting guest appearances from the likes of her Dreamville colleague J. Cole, while BJ’s Motown-released offering saw the artist move into a temporally transcendent, lusciously relaxed soundscape. The cherry on the icing came in the form of the pair’s remix to “Time Today”, a re-mastered version of a BJ classic, with Lennox’s honeyed vocals adding an extra dimension to the much-loved track. Here, the pair are reunited in LA, where Lennox interviews BJ about his roots, using the past as inspiration, and introspection in his music.

AL: At what point did you sort of decide you wanted to do music as a career? Was your family musical?
BJ: It’s crazy – I knew at maybe about the age of 10 or 11 that I wanted to do music. My family is musically inclined: my grandmother played the guitar, my grandad played the guitar, my uncle played and sang background for Smokey Robinson. My dad and my mum directed choirs, my brothers are both into music, singing, drums, production, managing, road managing, and birthing artists. So yes, I’ve always known I would do this, but when? How? Where? I never knew that part. It’s been an amazing journey so far. Growing up, my mom was the one AL that introduced me to gospel music, my dad to soul, and my brothers to hip hop and RnB.

AL: What was the music scene like in Chicago when you were growing up? BJ: Chicago was a very blue city, a soulful city, a truthful city when it came to the music. Telling our story is our truth, and our sound is still blues to this day; the subject matter of Chief Keith music is blues, just like it was with Muddy Waters back in the day, you know? That’s our sound, and I feel like I learnt as much as I could musically from Chicago when I lived there. But, I knew that there was much more to be learned from travelling around the world, and learning from other people that were raised in different places, with different musical educations. I think that was one of the best moves I ever made in my life.

BJ The Chicago Kid in conversation with Ari Lennox loft

BJ wears t-shirt THE KOOPLES, jeans SWONNE NYC, jacket 69 USA, shoes NIKE. Ari wears jeans A.O.T.C @shopcurve, blouse THE KOOPLES, coat VIKA GASINSKAYA, jewellery MIO HARUTAKA

BJ The Chicago Kid in conversation with Ari Lennox loft
BJ wears t-shirt THE KOOPLES, jeans SWONNE NYC, jacket 69 USA, shoes NIKE. Ari wears jeans A.O.T.C @shopcurve, blouse THE KOOPLES, coat VIKA GASINSKAYA, jewellery MIO HARUTAKA

AL: Aside from blues and soul, what other genres do you think have a life in your music?
BJ: Just from the artists that were played for me before I was even old enough to touch the radio […] hip-hop is definitely incorporated, R&B is definitely incorporated, soul is who I am, gospel is incorporated… All of those things are incorporated into our music, and I think that’s what we’re a product of – simple as that. I think to be anything else wouldn’t be us being ourselves. When it comes to awards and particular categories – I think they could be worked on a little bit, because time has evolved since the last time these genre names were made. I think when time evolves, we must evolve with it, to congratulate and give people their flowers in real time.

AL: What’s your process like when it comes to recording music?
BJ: My process when I record is extremely different. I’ve been a songwriter for years before I became an artist, so that taught me to be open to the process 100%. Sometimes the background vocals come first with no lyrics, sometimes the lyrics come first with no music, sometimes the music comes first with no lyrics and no concept. But, because the song can come from anywhere, you must be open, and you must be focused on listening to what the music is saying so far. That’s always my process – I try to vibe with who’s creating the music, and the energy and the vibe always starts the fire.

AL: Your music is extremely personal; how do you deal with putting such introspective material in your work – are you ever frightened to be so open?
BJ: Being an artist, I’ve learnt to not overthink it. I trust that some of the same shows my fans would be at, I would be at too, in line, waiting to see some of the same artists, to sing some of the same lyrics with them at the top of my lungs. That comforts me when I’m [performing] my own songs, and when I’m putting myself out there. When I know what I’m going through and I’m putting it in a song, I know I’m not the only one; there’s a connection between me, the song and the people, a common ground that will allow us to have a good time together, and I think that is always necessary.

AL: What did you think of the soul music that came out this year?
BJ: Shea Butter Baby to me is an amazing album. I’m a big soul fan — I’m a soul singer — so I love singing from that place, and I think you do that in such an amazing way, in your own way. To see a song titled “Chicago Boy” – come on man, you know I’m the Chicago Kid so, you know I’m loving you for paying homage to my city – even though you’re probably talking about a particular person [laughs]. “BMO” was my joint too, and maybe one of my favourite joints on there is “Whipped Cream”; it’s so fire. “Up Late” gives me D’Angelo vibes all day. I love what you do – period, man. I love how you use your voice emotionally to express how you feel – that’s the most important [thing], that can never die. The conviction, the way you sing the songs, can never be sung [in] the same way – it’s different every night, very authentic. I feel it through the album, I feel it through speaking with you, and I feel it with the photos. I love me some Ari.

Thank you so much, BJ!
Thanks Ari.

Photography
Lili Peper
Fashion
Deborah Ferguson
Hair
(Ari) Malaika Frazier
Makeup
(Ari) Anthony Walker. Grooming (BJ) Hee Soo Kwon at The Rex Agency
Production
Federica Barletta
BJ THE CHICAGO KID × ARI LENNOX
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