Jeremih has had some trouble being late. The Chicago R&B singer’s first album in five years, Late Nights: The Album, came out without prior announcement late on Thursday night, more than a year after Def Jam originally scheduled its release. Last October, Jeremih adoration was at a fever pitch thanks to the album’s first single, the DJ Mustard-produced “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” which helped make ratchet the sound of summer 2014; it peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100 last October. Between then and Thursday, though, all Jeremih released was a few more singles, including last week’s “Impatient,” which summarized how I felt about the long wait for Late Nights.
I had plenty of chances to remember that feeling last night during Jeremih’s intimate album-release party at Double Door. He kept the crowd waiting there too: he didn’t arrive till about three and a half hours after doors opened, which was roughly an hour and a half after he was due onstage. His relaxed cool dissolved my anxiety and agitation, but he was too late to help some other fans—they didn’t bother with the wait and bailed early. By the time Jeremih made his entrance, wearing sunglasses and an oversized fur hat topped with faux bear ears, the crowd was comfortably small. Some people were probably surprised he’d actually showed up—when a swarm of cellphones rose up to greet him, the screen of one young gentleman’s phone was still on Tinder.
Few places provide a better opportunity to consider your romantic outlook than a Jeremih show. On Late Nights he mentions Uber and Netflix in his twilit, sensual slow-jams, demonstrating a thoughtful understanding of the tools that people who aren’t R&B stars use to find their special someones, whether for real passion or gratifying flings. The technology is a detail, though, not a driving force, and it helps make Jeremih’s songs vivid, alluring, and empathetic. His voice and his flow do the heavy lifting, providing the amorous spark in his words: the hushed, intoxicating “Impatient” is ostensibly about fucking, but Jeremih puts more on the table, singing about the excitement of a new lover, being unable to “keep my eyes off your face,” and the worries of two people whose experience together has no precedent for them. His tender, earnest vocals express a connection that’s as deep as love; of course, this is a pop performance, so maybe it’s not, but Jeremih occupies that gray area with aplomb.
Jeremih didn’t break out “Impatient” during his breezy, catalog-spanning set at Double Door. But he hit many of his highlights, and the crowd shouted through the hooks to his hits. He got behind the piano for a stripped-down rendition of “Birthday Sex,” busted out “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” and stumbled through “Fuck U All The Time,” one of the sterling tracks from his 2012 mixtape that’s also titled Late Nights. Chance the Rapper popped up to deliver his verse from the remix of Jeremih’s recent “Planez,” though the main attraction could’ve handled it fine on his own. On the album Jeremih certainly should’ve thought twice about inviting guests—North Carolina rapper J. Cole wrecks the ecstatic, sensual vibe by declaring that his “dick’s so big it’s like a foot is in your mouth.” It’s like throwing on the house lights when somebody’s trying to set the mood.
Jeremih was a little sloppy in spots, but he owned the stage with a laid-back, celebratory vigor. At the end of his set, surrounded by friends, he half-sang his way through one of the best songs from Late Nights, a party cut called “Pass Dat.” Jeremih didn’t appear interested in singing so much as in bobbing along to the track with his crew, but when one of his friends grabbed a mike and announced that his favorite “Pass Dat” verse was about to hit, Jeremih snapped back into headliner mode to tackle his lines. Jeremih sings about the pleasures you can experience with others, and watching The pleasures Jeremih sings about tend to be private, not public, but it’s still pretty euphoric to watch him surrounded by legions of fans constitutes a different but euphoric satisfaction.