In early 2009, an overachieving arts student dropped out of college, signed to Def Jam, and attained instant success with his debut single, Birthday Sex. He quickly followed it up with two unremarkable studio albums, and then, essentially, vanished.
Until recently, that was the story of Jeremih’s career. All we’d heard in the meantime was a 2012 mixtape entitled Late Nights, which tantalisingly showcased a progression from the safe-sounding commercialism of his earlier works. Thankfully, this new style was brought to fruition on last year’s long-awaited Late Nights: The Album, an inventive and accomplished breath of fresh air amidst the scrappy, ultra-prolific experimentation of the rap/R&B landscape. Jeremih, now 29, has sneakily re-infiltrated pop’s A-list, with the Gold-certified Late Nights having jetted his career to dizzying new heights.
In the seven years since that career-birthing single, however, hoards of young upstarts began to experiment with R&B, pushing it well beyond its perceived boundaries: Ty Dolla $ign, The Weeknd, Anderson Paak, and so forth. Jeremih knows he spent five years making a great album, but he also knows the competition won’t allow him to rest on his laurels. So, on his recent tour, he recorded fourteen tracks named after the cities he’d played, and released them as a time-buying, for-the-fans freebie: Late Nights: Europe.
Whereas The Album was all lavish production and polyrhythmic vocal harmonies, Europe hones in on the trap scene that flourished while Jeremih was in absentia. This approach, however, is a dubious one: opener Dubai is driven by repetitions of “I came to fuck this shit up”, with Jeremih’s flow, as well as the production, sounding troublingly reminiscent of something from Future’s peak output.
Across the footwork-esque Belgium, the nocturnal cityscapes of Lebanon, and the probably-intended-for-Gucci-Mane production of Oslo, Norway, it’s easy to imagine Jeremih’s half-conscious croon being replaced by Future’s mournful drawl, or Young Thug’s deranged wailing (both would probably generate stronger results in the process). Indeed, besides gorgeous standouts such as Czech Republic, there’s little that sounds as though it actually belongs to Jeremih; even London, another highlight, is built upon Popcaan style production that renders the singer’s vocal fairly anonymous.
But on a second run-through, the complacency of “I came to fuck this shit up” becomes loaded with dramatic irony. These songs are all about sex, only Jeremih sings about sex in ways that most artists wouldn’t. His girls are never mere objects; hearing just one of his songs suggests that he genuinely falls in love with someone almost every night of his life. As he speedballs through Europe, however, this hopelessly romantic, Prince-esque persona becomes audibly exhausted. Three tracks in, Berlin sounds as though he’s slipping in and out of consciousness; by the time he reaches Copenhagen, he’s wearily spewing declarations of lifelong devotion. At a mid-tour stop in London, he goes: “what is this feeling I cannot deal with?” In Amsterdam: “under the red light, you mean… ain’t no stopping here?”
As such, the mixtape is the perfect format for Jeremih to explore this new onslaught of destructive emotional whiplashes. It allows for ideas, thoughts, and feelings to be scribbled down and recorded while the inspiration is still fresh. But Europe won’t earn Jeremih any extra fans, nor does it intend to. Like with Drake’s If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late, the point of Late Nights: Europe is to offer a deeper insight into Jeremih’s mindset for existing listeners, an update on his new lifestyle following his commercial and artistic renaissance. As a chapter of a wider narrative, it works fine; with few real highlights, that’s all it amounts to.