Thursday, September 6
Better than: Going to sleep and hoping that someone else got this story right.
Generally speaking, I have no problem with a narrative. Artists influence artists, and sounds influence sounds. Sometimes an artist or a sound is so compelling or so right for the moment that traces of it seem to appear just about everywhere. Other times, however, that narrative becomes a crutch on which critics can lean and blinders that can turn a genre as diverse as ever into a reflection onto the souls of two men. Sadly, this is how things work in—or really around—contemporary r&b, where either a poverty of knowledge or imagination leaves many unable to talk about Jeremih’s excellent new mixtape, Late Nights, without invoking the always coupled, actually-very-different “Frank Ocean and the Weeknd,” sometimes even in the subhead.
For all the confusion surrounding the tape, the title alone should have made it clear to my sleep-deprived brain that last night, the Chicago singer wouldn’t be taking the Webster Hall stage until the rest of the city began commuting to work in the morning. I had heard 2:00, arrived at 1:30, and didn’t see Jeremih until 3:00, but this was hardly a problem, as the venue’s Ladies Night Out party kept the whole building in motion. Down in the studio, I entered just as Mr. Vegas’s song-of-the-summer “Bruk It Down” was being blended into its own Soca remix, which quickly gave way to the Coolie Riddim and Nina Sky’s Vybz Kartel-featuring “Move Ya Body” remix. From there, some Rihanna and some Chelley, and soon LMFAO’s “Shots” bridged the gap some Baltimore club, a transition that would be repeated in reverse upstairs an hour later.
Right, upstairs. There, Hot 97’s DJ Spynfo (uncomfortably nicknamed “the Nympho”) warmed the crowd with some New Jack Swing favorites and the kind of records that are only throwbacks when 18 year olds are allowed entrance. Having paid upwards of 30 dollars at the door, they deserved all the Yung Joc records their hearts desired, and having to turn in copy mere hours after this affair ceased to go down, so did I. Jeremih was late, but when Spynfo turned up the “Tipsy” base until the song sounded for a moment like the best dubstep record ever made, that ceased to matter.
Over the course of his nearly 40 minute set, Jeremih only played one song from the aforementioned mixtape (“Ahh Shit,” unforch), but don’t think that will keep me from repeating how much more this tape is than some timely “Frank Ocean and the Weeknd” trend-hopping. Then again, Spynfo made that case better than I possibly could, playing not “Sweet Life” and “The Birds Part 1” but Miguel’s “Adorn” and Chris Brown’s “Strip” as his technicians readied the stage.
This is closer to the world in which Late Nights resides: Presumably for the sake of narrative, Brown’s influence, which extends from the beat selection to Jeremih’s occasional forays into sing-rapping, has been almost completely elided. Hell, both even have recent songs where through some creative metonymy, bass comes to stand in for sex, and Jeremih’s “Body Operator,” a screechy banger that’s less Late Nights than peak hour and thus fittingly not on the mixtape, seems to split the difference between Fortune‘s lead single “Turn Up the Music” and its stunning closer, “Trumpet Lights.”
How does one follow such an uncharacteristically uptempo club cut? Last night, it was by sitting behind a keyboard and playing another throwback, “Birthday Sex,” without accompaniment—or rather, accompanied only by the majority of the women in attendence and at least one sleep-deprived man. Soon, Cassidy appeared to rap “Hotel” with Jeremih on R. Kelly’s hook, and Lloyd Banks showed up for the duo’s “I Don’t Deserve You” and a solo go at “Start It Up.” Soon after, the singer left the stage with his DJ playing “Amen” and his hypeman throwing mixtapes into the crowd, perhaps some of them landing in the hands of fans who will come away with a better idea of what they’re listening to.
Critical bias: More of a morning person.
Random notebook dump: Actually did bring a pad to this, but only ended up writing notes on a pre-show Google doc, the back of my hand, and drafts of text messages.