Interview with R&B singer Jeremih

Jeremih: Why The Sex Master Needs More Love

Jeremih has been almost famous for the past five years. But with another radio smash and an upcoming album for the streets and the sheets, he's ready to join R&B's elite class. It's better late than never.

Story and Photos by Stacy-Ann Ellis

Jeremih’s fifth-floor suite at the Dream Hotel has turned into a makeshift karaoke spot. Next to a bag of grapes and a half-empty Cîroc bottle on a countertop, there’s a MacBook playing unfinished tracks from his next project, Late Nights: The Album. Singing along, so loud that it breaches the hallways, his three friends from back home in Chicago—Sayyi, T. Taylor and Chi Hoover—match every riff and harmony. Jeremih lumbers into the room, wearing all black, accented by a gold rope chain and diamond Rolex. It’s mid-August and the singer is in New York doing promo for Late Nights, which arrives on October 7 via Def Jam.

He dances for a minute and then stops in front of an LCD flat screen. Singing the familiar notes, he starts critiquing the material and asks his crew if he should tweak this, swap that. The finished project has to be packed and sealed, yet he's still making last minute adjustments. From the furrows in his brow, you can tell he’s jotting down mental notes. He knows he’s good, but all he can think about is getting better.

After almost five years of tiptoeing around the periphery of the spotlight, Jeremih still hasn’t stepped directly into it. An extension of his 2012 mixtape of the same name, Late Nights: The Album is his chance to align with a more visible constellation of stars. To say he’s the next R. Kelly is a stretch, but the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. This is especially true, given his self-contained music background—he plays the drums, saxophone and piano.

Part of the wave of late-2000s artists who branched out from the Pied Piper's family tree (The-Dream, J. Holiday), Jeremih is the only one who’s been a mainstay as an artist. His rhythmic-robotic earworms have earned him consistent airplay, guest features and a fond fan base. After the career-catapulting “Birthday Sex,” a soundtrack to bedroom shenanigans, he dropped the 50 Cent-assisted "Down On Me," which went double platinum, his biggest single to date. But none of it made him a household name. “He's a quiet assassin," says Def Jam A&R Sickamore. “This album is going to show people that Jeremih is not a fluke. He's not a flash in the pan. He's not a guy who just comes with a hit record every few years."

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Ripe, at 27, Jeremih should be queued up and ready to snag Kellz's baton, but he's been keeping his distance from the possibility. “I want to show people all of me, because that’s what I haven’t been doing,” he admits. “To be able to play so many instruments and no one’s ever seen me play, it seems like someone who’s bluffing. R. Kelly is one of the pioneers that I grew up listening to. If he’s classified as an R&B artist, then I want to be like that. I don’t want to have limits either.”

The Late Nights lead single, “Don't Tell 'Em,” produced by Mick Schultz and R&B's current go-to beatsmith DJ Mustard, steadily worked its way up from a party playlist bullet point to snagging the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The same day Jeremih wrote it, another song that he co-penned—Kid Ink’s “Show Me”—also topped that chart. Taking notes from what's hot in the streets, Jeremih crafted the new LP to appease ears that crave his rap-n-B mash-up niche. "Planes" (his dirty-talking second single featuring J. Cole), "Dumptrucks" and "There You Go" are all slow-grind, while "You and I" and "Gotdamn" are more party than bed sheet appropriate. His decision to pull from a pool of 2014's hit-makers is likely to spawn more radio contenders and bottle popping anthems.

Late Nights is the first time Jeremih worked with other producers outside of Mick Shultz (Vinylz, DJ Spinz, Phonix and Needlz all lend their handiwork). But “Don’t Tell ‘Em” reflects the West Coast sound that’s taken over R&B, thanks to L.A. producers like DJ Mustard (Ty Dolla Sign’s “Paranoid”) and NicNac (Chris Brown’s “Loyal”). If you listen to “Birthday Sex,” though, it’s clear that Jeremih was an early adopter of that style. He isn't naive to the fact that the party-curated genre has a timestamp.

"Turn-up R&B is a wave. Right now, we’ve got the perfect blend of hip-hop and R&B. Everything has been unified,” says Jeremih, who considers Trey, The Weeknd and August Alsina his closest competition. “I think the L.A. sound got so big because when you have people from Atlanta and New York chilling in L.A., it's hard not to go to a club and not have a record that’s hot. It made me wanna have one myself ’cause I was like, man, I like this feeling.”

On the album, which Jeremih likens to a “big ass king bed in the middle of Supper Club L.A.,” he upped the ante topically, catering specifically to what women want. “I don’t want to say people were disappointed with my first album, but I noticed that the ladies wanted more,” he says. “The songs that people still tweet me about are the songs that cater to the ladies, that we're making love to and that we’re out dancing to in the club. I wanted to give my fans a body of that instead of scattered pieces so they’ll ride to the whole thing and not skip a song.”

“We really wanted to make an album that represented what goes on from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” says Sickamore. “The album sounds like that—like nighttime. It's a sexy album. It's a slow album. You feel like it’s about that time.”

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Jeremih and his crew have relocated to a brightly lit rec room a couple blocks from his hotel, prepping for a publicity shoot. As the photographer and her assistant test the lighting, everyone is on chill mode. Sayyi is engaged in an intense Ping-Pong battle with one of the three young women who strolled in. Jeremih’s manager, Dilla, hovers over a MacBook on a kitchenette counter with T, playing Late Nights tracks. Jeremih is hunched over a pool table, talking smack to Chi Hoover, betting money that he’ll sink the shot. He carefully lines up the pool cue and launches it forward, sinking the ball. “Bam, give me my ten!” he yells. Chi shakes his head. “Man, that was the white ball. You lost.” Jeremih laughs off the small defeat. He's betting on a bigger victory with Late Nights. “I’m pretty sure it’s my best work yet,” he says. Pretty sure.

“If it came down to it, I wish people heard different records from me that I know give you a soul R&B sound of music that I know is really my gift, gift,” he says. “But the ones that usually go are the records that radio, the fans and the clubs really love the most. The ones that I know are deep down Chicago-driven records that I haven’t released yet? I have them on the side.”

That hidden soulful side is all Chicago—109th Street on the South Side to be specific. His mother fostered a musical background for her son, whether it was buying drums and a piano to stop him from "breaking all the shit around the crib,” letting him fall asleep to classical tunes or playing him playlists in utero. “My mom told me she always had a pair of headphones on her stomach," says Jeremih. Exposure to hometown heroes like R. Kelly, Kanye West and Common also shaped his sound. “The crib influenced my whole style of music,” he says. “How I come at a record, my lingo, how I talk and the people I kick it around. It’s just the culture to me.” If things go his way with Late Nights, all that flavor he claims to have been bottling up for so long should be mild sauce potent to listeners on October 7.

Finished shooting the shit, Jeremih parts ways with the pool table and takes his place on the marked spot in front of the rapid fire of flashing lights, stunner shades in tow. YG’s thunderous "BPT" booms in the background, amping Jeremih up as the photographer guides his steps with ego-stroking direction. “Chin down,” she commands. “Hunch your shoulders like that again. Oh, and that smirk? One more time. You're a natural.”

After much trial and error, his stride is a little closer to confident. “Five or six years ago, I was letting my career be handled by other people,” he says of navigating the industry as a freshman. “Would I have changed something? No. But I stopped giving a fuck about anybody’s feelings.”

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Derrel Todd

Music Sermon: Forget The King of R&B, Raphael Saadiq Is The Son Of Soul

#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

This week, Cash Money artist Jacquees set off an internet firestorm when he proclaimed himself to be the “King” of R&B “for (his) generation.” The comment led artists, executives, music fans and #BlackTwitter in general to debate: who is the King of R&B? (Spoiler alert - it’s not Jacquees.)

While a consensus was never reached, the heated discussion illustrated how much the definitions and ideas of R&B and R&B stars varies between age groups. Ironically, one name that seldom appeared in the convo belongs to one of the most consistent and prolific presences in soul and R&B music for the last 30 years: Raphael Saadiq.

Saadiq has become like a stealth superhero of soul for the last several years of his career, moving to the background as more writer/composer/musician, so the impulse for many might be to label him as an “old school” artist. But that’d be a misnomer, as he’s still had his hand in some of the most influential music for the current generation. Perhaps he transcends a simple R&B conversation as a self-identified Son of Soul (the difference between R&B and Soul is a topic for another day), but however you want to categorize him, he is not widely-enough acknowledged for how he’s kept us jamming, constantly, for three decades.

Let’s explore the iterations through which “Ray Ray” has blessed us over the years.


During the birth and rise of New Jack Swing and then the subsequent evolution to Hip-Hop Soul, Tony! Toni! Toné! was one of the last of a dying R&B breed: the band. They – and a few years later Mint Condition - were standouts as live musicians in an R&B landscape turning to sample-based production. This set both groups apart, establishing them early on as serious soul acts, and making them forerunners of the neo soul sound to come in the late ‘90s.

Like almost every black musician and/or producer of note in his peer group, Saadiq developed and honed his musical chops in the church. Exposure to Motown and Stax by his blues singer father led him to the bass and served as inspiration for his future style. But he, brother Dwayne and cousin Timothy Christian received their formal Tony! Toni! Toné! training on the road: Raphael and Christian toured as part of Sheila E’s band on Prince’s Parade Tour and Dwayne with gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.

Having been properly trained, educated and tested in blues, soul, gospel, and funk, the three formed Tony! Toni! Toné!. Their first album was a modest success, achieving gold status from the RIAA, but wasn’t a standout. The trio started taking the reins on writing and production on their sophomore effort, and the Tonys as we now know them showed up. They announced both their musical background and intentions with their album titles: The Revival, Sons of Soul, House of Music. They were not there for catchy, formulaic R&B. They developed a signature blues, soul, gospel and funk hybrid, rolled up in modern R&B and hip-hop fusion.

The Revival is arguably a new jack swing album – “Feels Good” is a must-have on any new jack playlist – but they were taking the existing marriage of R&B and hip-hop and adding an even deeper soul element, reaching back to ‘70s sonic roots. It was the sonic equivalent of taking new jack swing chicken and shaking it in a paper bag of old-school musically-seasoned flour.

The group still had the kind of jammin’ uptempos found on their debut, Who?, but started to establish themselves as producers of some of the greatest R&B ballads of the ‘90s.

When you think of the Tonys’ music, aside from “Feels Good,” the first song that comes to mind is probably a slow jam. Most acts are fortunate to get one true signature song in their career. Tony! Toni! Toné! has several, and they’re timeless. Put them on today and see if you don’t hit a body roll.

They also established themselves as formidable soundtrack players (as any 90s act worth their salt did. Remember soundtracks, by the way?). They had cuts on the House Party II and Boyz in the Hood albums.

By Sons of Soul they’d found their pocket, and they pushed the sonic limits of contemporary R&B to the extent that some outlets classified the album as jazz, it was such an outlier. Saadiq recognized that they were doing something important for genre. Something that was connecting old style and new. In an interview about the album in 1994, he expressed what he saw as the group’s role in music. "We've been very blessed to be able to be a group that writes our own songs and people have accepted us from both sides, hip-hop and the R&B…I feel very fortunate to be able to do that here in 1993-94, because like you know, it was starting to be a dying thing that was happening. But I guess we were like the bridge between hip-hop and soul and R&B.”

Going back to the aforementioned King of R&B discussion, Diddy chimed in the conversation (he knows a little something about the topic) to run down some criterion to even be considered. His list included vulnerability and adoration in the lyrics and subject matter, the ability to sing a woman’s “draws” off, and the pen game to write hits. Check, check and check. Sons of Soul deservedly landed at or near the top of a gang of 1994 year-end lists and the Tonys continued to raise the bar for the ballad game. Real talk, the last four and a half minutes of the “Anniversary” album cut are better than some entire R&B albums.

With House of Music, the group sought to even more fully showcase all their influences and inspirations: the Al Green-esque “Thinking of You;” the Stylistics-inspired “Holy Smokes & Gee Wiz;” the Bay Area connect with DJ Quik for some G-Funk with “Let’s Get Down;” the straight-up church moment of the “Lovin’ You” reprise closing out the album, with Christian putting all that good anointing on the Hammond B3 organ. This was our clearest glimpse what Saadiq had in store for the future.


When Tony! Toni! Toné! broke up and Saadiq put together supergroup Lucy Pearl, we realized he was on some other sh*t. First, the very idea to bring En Vogue’s Dawn Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Saadiq together was genius. Then, oh…what’s this sound? Tony! Toni! Toné! with a little somethin’ extra on it? Saadiq revealed his ability to reinvent himself, stylistically and sonically, and play in different music spaces. Successfully. Hits, check.


After Lucy Pearl, Saadiq embarked on his first solo projects. We’ll get to those, but the more remarkable part of this era was his expansive work as a writer, producer and session musician for others. As mentioned earlier, Tony! Toni! Tone! was an inspiration for neo soul (a term Saadiq loathes), which pulled from ‘60s and ‘70s influences, paired with the return to live instrumentation, mixed with hip-hop swag. Saadiq was a sometime member of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and J Dilla’s Ummah production collective, but had also been working on outside projects since the Tonys were active. Through either the Ummah or alone, Ray was behind hits you may have attributed to someone else.

-D’Angelo, "Lady:" Saadiq co-wrote, co-arranged and co-produced the still-perfect ode to #WCEs (Women Crush Everydays) with D’Angelo.

-Bilal, "Soul Sista:" Soul and R&B great Mtume on the pen, Saadiq on production.

-Angie Stone, "Brotha:" OK, who’s gonna create the 2018 “Unproblematic” edit of the “Brotha” video?

-Total, "Kissing You:" No, this wasn’t Stevie J. Now, imagine this as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song. You can absolutely hear it, right?

-Erykah Badu and Common, "Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip Hop):" Saadiq again proving he’s a master of the perfect fusion of hip-hop and an old soul groove.

-D’Angelo, "Untitled (How Does It Feel):" Saadiq has admitted he later realized he was channeling Jay Dee’s style throughout the D’Angelo session.


As a solo artist, Saadiq has accomplished what few can: continuously evolving his sound and aesthetic while yet managing to still always sound like himself. The retro-influence has been a constant in his work, but that influence ranges between decades and musical eras. He’d given us a taste of solo Ray through “Ask of You” from the Higher Learning soundtrack, but that could easily pass as a Tony! Toni! Toné! song.

With Instant Vintage (again letting you know what he came to do with the title), Saadiq expanded on his existing signature sound of soul, funk, gospel and R&B; a sound he coined “Gospaldelic.”

With Ray Ray, he delivered a modern blaxploitation soundtrack. But then, in 2008, he went all the way back to Motown and the purest soul sound for The Way I See It. Saadiq was committed to an authentic return to ‘60s soul for the entire process. He eschewed slick, modern production techniques for old-school practices, including vintage equipment, all live instrumentation and single-take recordings. He donned slim-cut suits and classic frames for his look, and delivered a retro soul package via the 45 inch LP box set. But it still sounded incredibly fresh and modern, and that is his gift.

His last solo album, 2011’s Stone Rolling, was a progression of The Way I See It, staying in the same retro soul pocket, bringing some funk and rock’n’roll back into.

Or did he?


The thing about Saadiq is that he doesn’t just look a perpetual 30 years old (he’s 52. It don’t crack.). Unlike a lot of “old heads,” he keeps his ear current, as well. Kendrick Lamar, Kamasi Washington, Anderson Paak, and BJ the Chicago Kid are his musical nephews. He praises them and their music often in interviews, heralding them as the current bridge-builders between eras and urban genres. Labelmate Leon Bridges adapted his The Way I See It and Stone Rolling formulas - from the sound to the ‘60s-style dress and imaging - for his own, and had Saadiq’s enthusiastic blessing. He listens to SZA, PJ Morton and Daniel Caesar. And he still has his finger on the pulse of current urban musical movements.

Saadiq was an executive producer on Solange Knowles’ 2016 A Seat at the Table, garnering a Grammy for the anthemic “Cranes in the Sky.”

He’s also helped to bring the full authenticity of the West Coast to Insecure for the past three seasons, serving as the show’s composer.

And he hasn’t abandoned his peers and contemporaries, garnering a “Best Song” Oscar nomination last year with Mary J. Blige for Mudbound’s “Mighty River,” and just recently executive producing John Legend’s first Christmas album, A Legendary Christmas. Only time will tell what he brings on the forthcoming solo album he told VIBE about, titled Jimmy Lee.

Whether his name is included in King of R&B conversations or not, Saadiq has been booked and busy in every area of black music since before 1988, keeping both aunties and nieces grooving, with no signs of slowing or stopping.

RELATED: Raphael Saadiq Talks New Music, 'Insecure,' And Why Tony! Toni! Toné! Won't Reunite

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Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

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