There’s no way I should tell you to be on the lookout for Jeremih. Dude made “Birthday Sex.” His last hit had 50 Cent on it, and that dude has eardrums made out of tin. Again, he made “Birthday Sex.” That’s one way of looking at it, at least.
The real reason I shouldn’t have to tell you to be on the lookout for Jeremih is you should already be in love with him. With a single mixtape, the Chicago singer managed to resuscitate his reputation amongst knowing R&B fans, proving himself versatile, daring, smooth, and most importantly, just straight-up capable of creating great-ass music.
The mixtape in question is Late Nights, Jeremih’s August offering that was –amongst those who gave it a chance — one of the most beloved of 2012, showcasing a Jeremih that we’d seen only glimpses of on his first two albums, All About You and Jeremih. On those tapes he revealed himself to be a talented but derivative singer and songwriter, showing flashes of artists such as The-Dream, R. Kelly, Lloyd, and Raphael Saadiq. He scored hits, yes, but they were written off as piffle; mere flukes from a thin-voiced pretender who benefited from the same system that allowed Pitbull to eke out an existence in the glittery gutters of hip-house. In between 2010’s All About You and his recent resurgence, however, something happened to Jeremih that happens to every actual artist: He ceased to sound like a mishmash of others, and instead began to sound like uniquely himself.
That’s not to say, however, that the format for Late Nights isn’t tried and true. The tape follows a particularly familiar template — that of a bunch of rap dudes pumping up an R&B guy as the premiere sexual entity in the entire universe, and said R&B singer delivering the goods over some of the hottest beats imaginable. (For an example of the most recent entry into this category, please see Lloyd’s King of Hearts, an album that was so ahead of its time that it nearly doomed itself to be a misunderstood classic.)
Late Nights is a document showcasing the insider who was cast out and slowly clawed his way back in, learning a thing or two about craftsmanship along the way. The beats he favors might best described as “Post-MDMA,” providing the exactly perfect type of music to take a bunch of molly to and either dance or fuck to — it’s uniformly full-bodied, alternatively tense and welcoming, sometimes gruff, sometimes tender, always rendered in widescreen. It’s The Weeknd without the druggy and pretentious horseshit, R. Kelly with a straight face and an open mind, Lloyd if he were capable of generating good ideas on his own.
The tape’s centerpiece is “773 Love,” a song that’s so good one of my friends got its title tattooed on her arm. Elsewhere there’s “Fuck You All the Time,” which takes the general conceit of “Birthday Sex” (fucking) and multiplying it by infinity, as well as “Keep It Moving” and “Ahh Shit,” both of which proves Jeremih an able sing-rapper, and closer “Letter to Fans,” which is a song in part about smoking pot and playing videogames, which makes me think he’s a really cool guy. Overall, I rate it higher than the Weeknd, Miguel, or Frank Ocean’s output in 2012 — it managed to operate in its own universe while still remaining in communication with the rest of mainstream hip-hop, creating its own diegesis in which rappers from Gucci Mane to E-40 to Twista were free to operate, as long as they remembered to play by Late Nights’ rules and not ask Jeremih to play by theirs.
What’s more, Jeremih’s been making a tenuous and totally non-embarrassing return to the radio, appearing on Drake and Meek Mill’s “Amen” as well as 2 Chainz and Meek Mill’s “My Moment,” and proved himself a more than capable guest rapper on E-40 and Too $hort’s “Bout My Money,” which would have been a radio hit if there were literally any semblance of justice in this world. Anyways, Jeremih’s set to fuck 2013 the fuck up, and if you’re not already looking out, you’re sorely mistaken. Jeremih’s third album Thumpy Johnson is reportedly due out in June, and it’s got a terrible title but that’s whatever because it’s gonna be great.