CHICAGO — BJ the Chicago Kid’s first Grammy nomination came courtesy of the soulful hook he laid on ScHoolboy Q’s “Studio,” a song he worked on so intensely he couldn’t leave the studio to see his girlfriend until it was finished, according to its lyrics.
The ode to hard work is a testament to the young, up-and-coming R&B star’s hustle. According to his annotations of the lyrics, he slept overnight in the studio 27 of 30 days while creating his album “In My Mind,” which dropped a year ago Sunday.
So it’s not surprising where he was when he got the news of his Grammy nominations this year: “In my studio asleep,” said the vocalist, who was born Bryan James Sledge. “I did a session so late the night before it made no sense going home. I let the phone buzz for about an hour… [but] it just kept going until the point it destroyed my sleep.”
His lock screen was flooded with congratulations. It took him a minute to figure out why. Despite an earlier heads-up from his manager, the possibility of another Grammy nomination had slipped his mind.
Fame vs. family
BJ’s childhood on the South Side was filled with music: Both his mother and father were choir directors. He was the youngest of three boys — all drummers. His uncle played the piano and bass guitar, and his cousins were into percussion.
“My grandma played guitar better than my granddad, who was a guitar player,” he said. His earliest memories all have common themes: “mama singing, daddy singing, cousins singing … [music] is very potent in our family.”
Though his home life was filled with the joy of music, tragedies were frequent outside the family’s home near 92nd and Vincennes Avenue. The neighborhood park that shares its name with the area — Brainerd Park, 1246 W. 92nd St — is “the heart of the area,” BJ said, and “it’s an actual war zone.”
“The park is a beautiful park. Everyone has played ball there, from NBA players to AAU grade [players] to playground legends,” he said.
But a contentious gang boundary divides the square park “like a grilled cheese,” he said.
“One half of the square is one gang, but the outer crust is a whole other gang in a whole other area. It goes down through this park,” he said, tracing the boundaries from memory with his finger. “Through this place built for love, creativity and [for] people to have fun, and kids to play.”
He remembers the park’s ups and downs throughout his childhood: big parties and family picnics interwoven with memorials and random bursts of violence.
“I got a homie that got shot midair for a jump shot. He got shot out of the air and died. He was a rap artist — very talented — from the area,” BJ said solemnly of the slain rapper “Kid,” who he’d known since childhood.
“I still remember some of his raps. That’s how powerful and potent his gift was to us in that neighborhood. He was a staple in the area. Everybody knew Kid from our neighborhood,” he said.
In the early 2000s, BJ left Chicago and headed West. By 2006 he was inching into the scene as a featured artists, with credits that included Kanye West’s “Impossible,” a song featured in “Mission: Impossible 3.”
After releasing three mixtapes, he dropped his debut album, “Pineapple Now-Laters” in 2012. In 2015, it was his feature work appearing on ScHoolboy Q’s “Studio” that caught the Recording Academy’s attention, which BJ says opened…