By Brian Josephs
July 26, 2019 at 08:30 AM EDT
Motown Records

Artists who task themselves with saving a genre rarely do. BJ the Chicago Kid hasn’t purported to be R&B’s savior, but he’s been tagged by fans as a revivalist, thanks to his religious background and his traditional aesthetic. On his newest effort, BJ remains resolutely loyal to his own lane.

The LP 1123 is his follow-up to In My Mind, a yearning effort that seldom delivered convincing climaxes. In the three years since, not much has changed. BJ toned down the religious overtones a bit, but essentially, it’s you in a velvet room with his quavering voice and clean grooves. While nothing here quite matches the highs of the sensual restraint on the Chance the Rapper-featuring “Church,” 1123 never gets lost in BJ’s ambitions for a much leaner listen.

The singer isn’t so stringently dedicated to the legacy of Chicago soul that 1123 doesn’t allow its guests to leave an imprint: Dreamville rapper J.I.D’s flow is luscious over the smoky staccato instrumentation of “Get Away,” while Rick Ross’ gruff presence adds welcome texture against BJ’s smooth vocal runs on “Playa’s Ball.” A few times, 1123 is too stuck in its own sensibilities for its own good — the inspirational, album-closing “Reach” is not much more heartening than any inspirational track you’ve heard over the past five years — but if BJ insists on staying within the margins, at least the borders are neatly kept. B-

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