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(Review) BJ The Chicago Kid Makes Great R&B On ‘M.A.F.E’

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Chicago R&B talent BJ The Chicago Kid has been on the scene for a few years, most notably being featured on Schoolboy Q’s “Studio” and mixtapes from Big K.R.I.T., Freddie Gibbs, Chance The Rapper, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar. Two years following BJ’s studio debut Pineapple Now-Laters, he has compiled his previously released records from the year as well as several bonus tracks creating The M.A.F.E. Project (Music Ain’t For Everybody.) The project honors the R&B greats with an incredible cover of Aaliyah’s “One In A Million,” R. Kelly’s “R&B Thug” and Jodeci’s “Feenin’.” In addition, bringing an authentic contemporary feel to R&B, The M.A.F.E. Project features Schoolboy Q, Freddie Gibbs, Smoke Dza, Kobe and Sasha Go Hard and the marriage of hip-hop and soul is at the core of this project.

The M.A.F.E. Project opens with a cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Strawberry Bubblegum” and the record has a similar vibe as JT’s rendition, but the production is stripped allowing BJ’s vocals to shine. The syrupy voice that propelled “Studio” returns on “Strawberry Bubblegum” with subtle backing vocals and a snapping percussive sound.

The Freddie Gibbs assisted “B.A.M.” and also begins the celebration of the beauty of women. The record is an upbeat banger and Gibbs delivers an effortless flow in his deep timbre that contrasts BJ’s melodic hook nicely. Despite the upbeat nature of the track, the production doesn’t possess the normal intensity of bass prevalent in hip-hop records, but the beat is the perfect blend of snare and kick, allowing room for both an emcee and R&B singer to excel.

One of the best additions to the project is “One In A Million.” At over eight minutes long, BJ provides one of the greatest covers I’ve ever heard to Aaliyah’s iconic “One In A Million” and just days after the disastrous Lifetime biopic, BJ’s tribute is refreshing and essential. As if flawlessly covering Aaliyah isn’t enough, BJ transitions to R. Kelly’s “R&B Thug” and then Jodeci’s “Feenin’” in the same track, honoring the pioneers of R&B. BJ’s contemporary yet soulful voice brings innovation to the classic feel of those records and they sound relevant and stunning.

“Perfect Skit” touches on the themes Bernie Mac presented tracks earlier and praises the aesthetic of a natural woman. In the hip-hop world, where women are constantly objectified and judged against unrealistic standards of beauty, “Pretty Skit” reassures us women that we are perfect just the way we are. The Fabolous and Jeremih “Thim Slick” sample layer BJ’s testament to the perfection of his woman’s body, which contrasts the normal stipulations of beauty. Kobe supplies a smooth and warped sounding verse urging his lady not to compare herself to anyone else: “just because she thicker than you, don’t mean a n-gga can’t have fun wit you too.”

Similarly to the original Chicago collaboration, BJ protests with his remix of “Cant Hold My Liquor,” challenging the monetary and immoral principles the United States was founded on and continue to uphold. Over a blend of “Can’t Hold My Liquor” and “Send It Off,” BJ employs the rant-like verse tactic that was heavily prevalent on Kanye’s Yeezus. On the second part of the track “It’s True,” Schoolboy Q joins BJ for a powerful look on the violence plaguing inner-city communities and the general restrictions black men face living in a country that treats them as second-class citizens.

Although The M.A.F.E. Project isn’t twelve tracks of original material, BJ The Chicago Kid delivered a mixtape that is incredibly innovative. Paying homage to the musical influences who came before him, BJ provides tribute after tribute, honoring the early sounds of R&B and soul while bringing contemporary lyricism and cadence. BJ’s vocals serenade over the many tempos of production present and his skills are impressive and magical. The Project may be titled “Music Ain’t For Everybody,” but after this project, there is no way BJ will be deemed as a featured artists any longer, but rather a solo soul singer who is bringing some of the most incredible contemporary R&B to the forefront.