Jeremih knows how to make sex a powerful force, but it's a shame that the rappers he features don't
Jeremih’s music exudes sex. On his most recent album, Late Nights: The Album, the Chicagoan suavely proves the power of euphemistic propositions: in Jeremih’s world, sex is treated with a sort of debonair elegance, always insinuated but never explicitly invoked. He’s never merely having sex; he’s “put[ting her] in the mile-high club” (“Planez”), he’s asking her to “leave with [him] tonight” (“Drank”), he’s “do[ing] her body right” (“I Did”). In other words, what Jeremih is doing is nothing less than the ever-romantic “making love".
The rappers Jeremih features on Late Nights are more explicit about what they do. Everyone from J. Cole to Twista to Future pointedly and deliberately invokes not just sex itself but the specific acts involved. Ty Dolla $ign’s invitation to “have you suckin’ on my fingers while I hit it” and J. Cole’s boast that his “dick so big it’s like a foot is in [her] mouth” are the most clearly delineated examples of sex here, but most of the rappers’ verses are of similar caliber. If Jeremih is making love, the rappers are straight-up fucking. Of course, neither attitude is inherently unsatisfactory, and both implying sex and straightforwardly describing it have their places. However, in the case of Late Nights: The Album, the contrast is jarring. After falling into the rhythm of Jeremih’s crooning, it’s uncomfortable to hear the tone of the song shift so drastically upon the guest’s entrance.
Though there are likely dozens of possible explanations as to why these two approaches are so incompatible, the most probable one is this: by refusing to engage head-on with sex, Jeremih imbues it with power. His reverent depictions of physical love inspire awe towards the act, the same way that refusing to discuss a banned book inspires curiosity or (if you’ll allow me to compare sex to Harry Potter for a moment) refusing to say Voldemort’s name inspires fear. Jeremih makes sex out to be much, much more than the sum of its parts, and that ability to paint the act as all-consuming and vital is quite possibly this album’s biggest strength.
By describing sex in such specific detail, Big Sean and the like remove the aura of mystery in which Jeremih has so painstakingly shrouded the focal point of the album. And, again, to say that describing sex is without exception evil would be puritanical and totally out-of-place for the discussion of an R&B record, but in this case so much of the magic of Late Nights is due to the care with which making love is treated. In much the same way that, according to feminist writer Helen Marshall, ”bodies diminish... when stripped", the guest verses on Late Nights strip away the allure and mystique of sex. To continue the earlier analogies, the rap features are to Jeremih as a critically-annotated version of Mein Kampf is to an outright ban or as Dumbledore is to the rest of the wizarding world.
Unfortunately, so much of Late Nights: The Album is devoted to building up Jeremih’s attitude towards sex that the mundane examinations of the act clang especially harshly. The instrumentals are a gorgeous amalgamation of echoing snaps, crackling static, and gyrating bass, perfectly accompanying Jeremih’s swaggering delivery and warbling falsetto. Much like his lyrics, the music itself invokes an air of wonder, one that is polluted by the rote sexual discussion of the features here. When the aqueous piano of “Impatient” accompanies Jeremih, the effect is ethereal; when it accompanies Ty Dolla $ign, it’s weighed down by his aggressive Auto-tuning and bluntness.
And, really, it’s a shame, since a good portion of Late Nights: The Album is incredible. About three-quarters of the album is everything that makes R&B so special at this point in the genre’s evolution. And while there are some higher points (the sluggishly enfolding “Worthy” and the bumpin’ “Woosah”) as well as some lower ones (Migos drops an unexpected clunker on “Give No Fuks”), Jeremih’s consistency is admirable. That said, though, the large majority of the features drag Late Nights away from excellency. Jeremih is so, so good at creating a potent brew of all things sex -- hopefully, he’ll strike out more on his own next time.