For a moment there, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume Late Nights would never see the light of day. It had been three years since his excellent mixtape Late Nights With Jeremih proved to be a game-changing statement that led many to understand that the artist was much more than a major label R&B singer with a one-hit wonder in “Birthday Sex” — rather, it was clear he was a true visionary. The mixtape was remarkable in its experimentation with a style few would replicate, and songs like “Fuck You All the Time” were as far ahead of their time as Missy Elliott’s. It seemed like a harbinger of greatness to come, but then the delays hit. A decent collaborative EP with Shlohmo came after much-publicized delays, high-profile SXSW slots amounted to nothing more, and promised release dates were routinely missed. Singles “Don’t Tell Em” and “Planes” came out in June 2014 and January 2015, respectively, but the record was no closer to materializing.
In June, Jeremih told Spin that he was well aware of how the delays seemed, but adding, “A lot of the time, in a lot of those cases, it wasn’t my fault.” Now that the album is out, Jeremih opened up to the press even more. When Fader’s Naomi Zechner asked if his label wouldn’t let him or didn’t want him to drop the album, he responded, “At a point, that was the case. Where there was like, no interest in what I was doing.” After a long, difficult journey, Jeremih has finally delivered on his long-awaited project, and even if it’s not the masterpiece many were hoping for, it’s a strong display of Jeremih’s talents and shows why he is a force to be reckoned with.
Late Nights is the result of over 100 songs Jeremih recorded over the past few years, but at an hour long, the album still has some filler. While a few songs like “Remember Me” and “Enough” could be cut, the sequencing and variety of the album work in its favor, making it much leaner than recent records by R&B contemporaries like Ty Dolla $ign or Bieber. It feels evident that some of these songs may have been sitting in the vault for a while now, but the high points are beyond revelatory. The exuberant joy of club jam “Pass Dat” and free-fall romance of “Oui” show that when Jeremih ventures out of the realm of contemporary radio-friendly singles, he can string something truly magical together.
Though his appeal is multifaceted, the twists and turns that Jeremih’s voice take may shine brightest. The falsetto on “Impatient” and raw power on “Paradise” are great, but the smaller moments are the ones that stick out. There’s the little inflection at the end of the line on the hook of “Drank”, the way he slows down every word in a line until he ends up talking on “Feel Like Phil”, and the way he bounces over each syllable on the hook of “Pass Dat” that leave an impression. Jeremih exudes charisma, and whether it’s the swooning love of “Oui”, the thunderous boats on “Give No Fucks”, or the feverish sex appeal of “Woosah”, he knocks it out of the park whenever he puts his personality front and center. When faced with the improbable task of a finger-picked acoustic ballad that wouldn’t feel out of place on an Ed Sheeran or Jason Mraz album in the closer “Paradise”, he gives it the soulful, impassioned, and personal delivery that makes it a magnetic achievement that you want replay as soon as it ends.
As for the features on the album, few stand out because of how well Jeremih does. Future, Juicy J, and Jhene Aiko deliver serviceable, if forgettable takes that make the headliner stick out more by comparison. J. Cole’s effort to turn in the worst guest verse of the year on “Planes” has been well-documented, but Big Sean gives him a run for his money on “Royalty”, juxtaposing Jeremih’s smoothness with a seriously bad pick-up line: “I know when we fuck, you like that finger in your ass, though.” A sigh of relief comes when Twista’s signature flow emerges at the end of “Woosah”, in an exhilarating moment after the beat had already dropped out.
It’s been a lengthy battle for Late Nights to emerge, and Jeremih certainly had to make some concessions for it to arrive. Jeremih’s vision is astounding, and the places in which he gets to indulge in adventurous risk-taking more than make up for the safe plays that surround them. If this is the album that Jeremih made after years of fighting the labels and facing restrictions, there’s no telling what he could do with an unfettered vision.
Essential Tracks: “Pass Dat”, “Oui”, and “Paradise”