An almost perfectly executed album of nocturnal R&B bliss.
The singing equivalent of Jay Electronica? Hardly. Some grandiose, Detox-style statement? Nah. The Chinese Democracy of R&B? Bruh. Jeremih’s commercial follow-up to his wildly successful 2012 mixtape Late Nights With Jeremih has been hyped and swiped several times over the past three years, making it the undisputed unicorn of the trendy R&B world, but when it finally arrived out of the blue early on Friday morning, it felt blissfully low-stakes. Buckling under pressure is one thing, side-stepping the burden is another, and the latter is the path that the Chicago crooner took. A few big-grab collabs made the cut, as is standard for albums of the stature and genre these days, but the 15 track outing’s almost entirely free of risky production choices and plays for mass appeal (the inclusion of played-out, mood-killing single “Don’t Tell Em” being the exception). Jeremih reinvented his career on his last tape, and now he’s merely tightened up the sound that wowed everyone into a more distinguished product. Come into it expecting a sprawling epic and you’ll be disappointed. Instead, press play on the most satisfying collection of bedroom jams we’ve gotten since Terius Nash’s glory days.
If albums portray the full spectrum of artists’ emotions, they can often feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. To Pimp A Butterfly managed to do it in a substantive fashion, but Jeremih seems to have realized that fun one-night stands and drug cocktails could never hope to achieve the depth of trickier subjects. Instead, he gives us a carefully-designed window into the good times, where hook-ups and hangovers alike are presented with carefree optimism. Namely, album highlight “Paradise” describes the rare “morning after” in which the previous night’s fading chemicals mix with hangover cures to give you a rose-tinted view of the world while pausing for deeper reflection than you were able to focus on during all of the revelry.
Mine Late Nights for melancholy moments and you’ll find the slightly morose delivery of the line “I’m kinda faded” on “Impatient” as the most noticeable one. In an era that’s seen increasingly hedonistic themes tempered by pangs of emotional and sonic regret (the dark side of the turn-up in Future and The Weeknd’s music, the tremors of real life interrupting Drake’s fantasy worlds), Jeremih retains bedroom R&B’s sunny disposition. “Everything gon’ be okay,” he assures himself during a brief moment of doubt “Feel Like Phil.” Really, he spends an hour explaining the taste of exotic pussy and the rarified buzz produced by upper echelon drugs, clothes and women, but it’s somehow more affecting than your average bacchanal. Does this guy have days where his lifestyle catches up with him? Does he just not sing about them, or was getting out of a long term relationship the cure-all for his life? Why question it when he’s so effectively selling us on his current routine?
The album fits in perfectly with the velvety, piano-laced place Drake and Young Thug have taken their sounds this year, combining beautifully understated melodies with subtly discordant wrinkles to recreate that slightly uneasy glee that certain substances give you. Some have complained that it’s too much like his work with Shlohmo, leaving behind the decidedly R&B focus of his last two albums, but that’s entirely not the case. He strips the genre’s sounds, modern and classic, to their roots and makes things more minimal and moody, brushing up against a specific part of modern R&B that Late Nights With Jeremih was actually instrumental in creating.
In the features department, the most pressing issue is J. Cole’s snatching of Wale’s trophy (from Miguel’s “Coffee”) for worst mood-killing verse on an R&B track this year. Other than that though, Late Nights is never interrupted by its guests– their verses are usually unfocused but entertaining, and never distracting. Migos are the winners, but Future also gives one of his rare 2015 guest verses that doesn’t feel like it was airlifted in. Even Big Sean manages to keep things charming, if not as mature as you’d hope from a Jeremih collaborator. “Royalty” negates the big-fireworks mentality of other all star collab album cuts by making its verses some of the most spare moments on Late Nights. The radio-baiting “Blasé” this ain’t.
It’s surprising that in these songs (even the one entitled “Impatient”) and the one interview he’s given since the album’s release, Jeremih seems so happy-go-lucky and unbothered by the numerous delays. It just goes to show that sometimes the narrative that fans construct about artists– in this case, that Def Jam has been stifling the singer’s creativity— are totally false, and that impatience runs counter to the fact that great albums often take more time than originally expected. More so than Ty Dolla $ign‘s recently-unshelved project Free TC, Late Nights feels like the product of multiple artist-initiated trips back to the drawing board to achieve a more cohesive sound (the label-mandated inclusion of “Don’t Tell Em” notwithstanding), rather than executive orders to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. We can only guess what Jeremih said to convince Def Jam to give him more time after hearing early versions of the album, but the central mantra of “Paradise” would have worked: “It gets better.”