Band name: BJ the Chicago Kid
Sound: BJ, born Bryan Sledge, does Chicago's rich soul tradition proud on his latest album, "Pineapple Now-Laters," veering between socially conscious head-nodders (a cover of War's 1972 anthem "The World Is a Ghetto") and silky, love-struck slow jams like "Good Luv'n."
Need to know: The South Side native, who relocated to Los Angeles almost nine years ago, co-wrote "Hurt Again" for Mary J. Blige and has worked with everyone from Snoop Dogg to Jamie Foxx to Chris Brown. And while he'll talk openly about any of these collaborations, there's one detail about his life he prefers to keep under wraps. "I lie about my age," he said. "I will be truthful in saying that."
Interviewed: Bryan Sledge, Brainerd Park
"Pineapple Now-Laters" is the last album you're releasing under the name BJ the Chicago Kid. Why the change?
Simply because I really want people to understand who they're listening to. The more mature sound is Bryan Sledge.
Was Curtis Mayfield a big influence on you coming up in Chicago?
Huge, man, huge. Just his sound, and the way he accepted his originality. It's amazing, me coming from the same place where that man comes from, breathing the same air and all of that. My mom actually went to the exact same grade school he did, called Crispus Attucks (Elementary School).
You're from a fairly musical family yourself, right?
My uncle used to rock with Smokey Robinson back in the day, singing background and playing percussion. My dad did security on that tour. It's like no matter what I always saw this for myself.
What's your earliest musical memory?
My mom was a choir director, and she needed me to sing a part for her in church. Ever since then I've been addicted, man.
Do you remember what you had to sing?
I believe it was by the Thompson Community Singers. It's a song that goes, (sings) "And they'll know/We are Christians by our love!" It's a simple song, but it's got good harmony and great tone. It's just amazing how I still remember that thing. It's almost like remembering my birthday.
You helped co-write "Hurt Again" for Mary J. Blige. How closely did you work with her on it?
Very close. At the time I was working with a pair of great producers and they wanted me to come meet with Mary J. Blige. When we got to the house, she came down in her sweats and a T-shirt and she began to play us some music she loved, some songs she recorded for the album and some songs that pointed to where she wanted to go. When we got to the "Hurt Again" track, I got super excited because that's my type of thing. I love that soulful feel on a beat. We ended up writing this song, then Mary came back in and she loved the vibe of what we had.
Is it tough to put yourself in another person's shoes when you're writing for them?
Because I write real songs--like real concepts--I can always identify with something in a song. It's finding what fits you in every song, or what helps you see yourself in the music and helps you fall in love with it.
You were actually filming with Snoop earlier today. Do you still get star-struck?
Not much, man. I've been around Snoop a number of times. I don't know what it would take. Maybe someone far outside my own generation, you know what I mean?
If I met Aretha Franklin I'd definitely probably freak out. She's still the soul queen.
You've been in LA almost nine years now. Did you have that classic, welcome-to-Hollywood moment?
I still have 'em. There are certain things you experience here in Hollywood you won't experience anywhere else. LA is probably the only place you're liable to go where you can go into a Burger King to use the bathroom and run into Babyface on his way out from getting coffee.
What do you miss most about Chicago?
My family most of all. Nothing is more important than that to me.
What's the one place you have to hit when you make it home?
I got to go to my mom's house. It's very humbling to come home and remind myself where I came from. It's like a refill at the gas station, so to speak. Then I definitely gotta stop at Harold's Chicken. I got to stop at Home Run Inn and get my thin crust, and then Lou Malnati's orGiordano's to get my deep dish.
Band name: BJ the Chicago Kid