Like Huey Lewis & the News, Thomas Johnson was born out of time.
Since Detroit’s heyday, people have been trying to recapture its essence. In the past decade though, the 60’s soul revival has peaked. There’s no fault in being indebted to greatness, but while a few have put out some fantastic work, like Raphael Saadiq, Lee Fields, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, hell, even R Kelly, so many fail to live up to tradition and end up sounding trapped within it’s time-tested parameters. Listening to John Legend or Anthony Hamilton, there’s nothing inherently bad about their projects, but they come off as missed opportunities. Just because you have a soulful voice, doesn’t necessarily mean you can make a soulful record.
Out of it’s many revivalists, the Motown-signed, LA-based BJ The Chicago Kid, is one of the only crooners to sound like the source material they’re drawing from. His most notable cuts have him sounding firmly planted in modern times, from his many recent features on some of TDE’s biggest hits to a few key appearances on fellow Chicago-ins Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper’s last tapes. It’s on his own though, like 2012’s Pineapple Now-Laters,, where he stretches his vocal chops and reveals the timelessness of his music. A Bilal for the post-Soulquarian generation, his name will get the most shine for his guest spots but it’s his solo work where he makes his inherent star power evident.
On his latest drop, his fourth of the year, BJ enthusiastically lets his lady know she’s a big deal. Classically comparing her in all the right ways to her family, he still keeps it playful by giving her the most contemporary of compliments. “Like a queen girl you got swag / But all the other girls they hate that / You’re strong like your grand daddy / Nothing’s perfect but you make me happy” Not a lot of guys could pull off lines like that, juxtaposing your girl’s street cred with her grandfather’s strength then transitioning to what could be a quote from a Nicholas Sparks novel, but BJ delivers with such sincerity and contagious joy that it’s hard not to share the sentiment.
BJ’s music is just as enjoyable today as it would have been decades ago, because he makes it without concern of era. He’s not trying to recreate a sound from back in the day; he’s content with his own. It just happens that his shares the qualities that made them great enough to be recreated. He’s not so much a contemporary Marvin Gaye, but rather a student with the ability to add to the pantheon.