Music

Can Jeremih Be A Hipster?

Four years after the release of his last album, the 27-year-old crossover R&B star has finally found life after “Birthday Sex.” But can he build a coalition of both mainstream fans and cool kids?

David J. Bertozzi / BuzzFeed

Jeremih is a lot of things to a lot of people, a position that might be stressful or confusing for a different kind of artist but one he seems to genuinely relish. To many, the 27-year-old R&B star is the single-minded savant behind the meme-able 2009 smash “Birthday Sex.” To others, he’s the author of the shameless and shamelessly catchy 2014 club hit “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” currently No. 5 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs. To still others, he’s the silky voice on a series of downtempo bedroom bangers with the trendy Los Angeles producer Shlohmo, a collection of which, No More, was released last month.

“It’s like being a scientist,” Jeremih says, explaining his knack for experimentation and reinvention. “I’m just trying different potions out, looking for the cure.”

Wearing a grey fedora, black baseball jersey, and black and gold high-tops on a recent afternoon in New York, he’s taller than you’d expect and soft-spoken. We meet days before he’s set to follow up No More, which received rave write-ups on indie music websites like Stereogum and Noisey, with N.O.M.A. (Not on My Album), a pre-full-length buzz mixtape that bridges the gap between No More’s bass-heavy, minimalist trap inversions and more radio-friendly fare à la “Don’t Tell ‘Em.”

“I’m familiar with what it’s like to have a hit record, but right now it’s about more than that to me,’” Jeremih says. “Even when I hear ‘Don’t Tell ‘Em’, I’m like, ‘OK, what else can I do right now?’ Because I’ve felt this feeling before.”

Def Jam.

Perhaps more than any other artist working today, Jeremih personifies the splintering of R&B music into several, hazily defined sects. After making his name on urban radio and 106 & Park with “Birthday Sex,” he released a zeitgeisty 2012 mixtape called Late Nights With Jeremih and started collaborating with Shlohmo, a producer whose dark, ghostly concoctions have helped build buzz for hipster-leaning R&B artists like How to Dress Well and Banks. Now he’s juggling both audiences simultaneously, serving a largely internet-based Pitchfork crowd with No More even as “Don’t Tell ‘Em” climbs up the R&B charts.

Jeremih says he first realized that he wanted to play to more than one crowd after performing his first show with Shlohmo at L.A.’s Fonda Theater last April.

“We did ‘Bo Peep (Do U Right)’ and it’s the slowest R&B song ever, but whenever I came out on stage everybody was so Juicy J turned up,” he says. “These are people that would have never popped up at the club where I’m from.”

“I looked at my peers and where they are, from Miguel to Ty [Dolla Sign], to Weeknd to even Chris [Brown], and I really felt like, you know what, I can drive in all these lanes really quick,” Jeremih adds. “Shlohmo opened me up to a different kind of audience. Hopefully, now I can grasp everyone together and everybody will be rockin’ with me.”

Later this fall, Jeremih will release his long-awaited third solo album, Late Nights: The Album, which will feature collaborations with Tre Songz, J. Cole, Juicy J, Ty Dolla Sign, Fabolous, and Flo Rida, among others. As you might have guessed, Late Nights: The Album will be a kind of kindred spirit of Late Nights the mixtape, complete with alternately atmospheric and chest-rattling production and plenty of the sexually explicit soliloquies for which he is known.

But Jeremih says he also took inspiration from another source: Twitter.

“On Twitter I was starting to see what my fans’ favorites were from the first two albums I dropped,” he says. “It was always the fun songs like ‘Birthday Sex’ and ‘Waiter.’ So I thought, why not just give people a big batch of the kinds of songs that they still tweet me about?”

If Jeremih is catering to his fans’ desires on his new album, he’s also getting further in touch with his own. Late Nights: The Album will be the singer’s first LP that wasn’t recorded while he was in a relationship. Being single, he says, has led him to be more honest — and more brazen — than he’s ever been before.

“When I was in a relationship I was always lying my ass off in interviews and then feeling bad about it,” he says. “But ever since I got rid of that burden, I feel like I’m just in a different space. I don’t care about what I say on the mic, or bringing a girl on stage and doing whatever she wants me to, because I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s emotions.”

In love then, like in music, Jeremih has figured out a way to play by his own rules.

“There are no boundaries anymore,” he says. “I live my life lawless now.”

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