February is a month to celebrate love and black culture, and if you’re at Stanford, the Black Student Union puts on an event each year where you can do both. On Friday night, Black Love, the BSU’s annual concert, brought out two big name singers, BJ the Chicago Kid and Mario, to cap off an evening of flowing gowns, dress shoes, student art and community. I was only able to stick around for BJ’s set, but I still count myself lucky for witnessing just part of one of Stanford’s most joyous traditions.
The concert, held under the gothic chandeliers and curving arches of the Toyon Hall lounge, was an elaborate affair. Students arrived dressed to the nines in evening formalwear and after receiving their wristbands, were guided down a red carpet and into the main hall. Some early arrivers staked out spots on the balcony overlooking the venue, their legs dangling over the crowd, and others pushed out across the dance floor, pressing toward the low-level stage for a better glimpse at the performers.
BJ the Chicago Kid took full advantage of the intimate venue and shared his infectious energy with the packed house. His set was an odd mix of original music, guest features and start-and-stop cuts from songs he played no part in. When his DJ put on Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” the viral, swaggering Atlanta anthem of the moment, the crowd went so wild that he rolled back the tape and did it again, giving everyone another chance to sing along: “Raindrop, drop top…”
His own songs, like the suggestive single “Church,” also got a warm response from the crowd, who loudly sang along with the sin-lamenting hook: “She say she wanna drink, do drugs and have sex tonight / But I got church in the mornin’.” A few lucky audience members were even brought on stage at various points to sing along and take selfies with the star.
Over the past few years, the 32-year-old singer has made a name for himself as a go-to source for silky hooks and standout features for some of hip-hop’s finest. He laced his set with cuts from his better known features, like Joey Bada$$’s “Like Me,” Kendrick Lamar’s “Kush and Corinthians” and Anderson .Paak’s “The Waters,” and it was no doubt features like these that played the biggest part in drawing the Stanford crowd to his set.
But in 2016, BJ finally had a breakout year of his own, and he’s proud of it. “This year,” he said during an early break in the evening, “has been the best year of my motherfucking life,” before shouting out the fact that he had just been in L.A. for the Grammys, where his major-label solo debut “In My Mind” earned three R&B category nominations. He took the opportunity to deliver a motivational speech, shoutout his Southside roots and soak up the crowd’s feel good energy. Yet for an artist who has, by most measures, just made it big — last month he was chosen to perform the national anthem at President Obama’s farewell address — he still seemed perfectly happy to play a crowded college dorm show.
BJ punctuated the evening by jamming out with his band over a thundering instrumental, trading the mic for a pair of mallets as he switched to a mounted drum kit at the front of the stage. It was celebratory, joyful and loud — the climax of an exuberant evening. It was a bit surreal to see such a successful artist enter his element in the middle of the Toyon lounge. But then again, he had a lot to be excited about: his achievements, his roots, his future — in BJ’s eyes, things are probably looking bright and beautiful. So in a way, maybe Black Love was the perfect place to celebrate.
Contact Benjamin Sorensen at bcsoren ‘at’ stanford.edu.