When I spoke with Jeremih earlier this year, barely two months after the release of Late Nights: The Album, he should have been basking in the afterglow of the album he’d been trying to make for five years. Instead, the underrated overachiever was already piecing together his next project, which he’d been planning to call Later That Night: a collection of unreleased songs and newer material that would complete the trilogy he’d begun in 2012 with his pivotal Late Nights with Jeremih tape. “Unreleased,” in the Chicago-born singer and multi-instrumentalist's case, does not mean “scraps from the cutting room floor of the Late Nights sessions.” If the five-year gap between his second and third albums didn’t clue you in — a hiatus that had as much to do with Jeremih’s uncompromising perfectionism as it did Def Jam’s apparent unwillingness to give him the benefit of the doubt — this is not a guy who puts shit out just to put it out.
His next project, as he described it then, represented a specific mood within the self-contained universe he’s been quietly building like a shoebox diorama for the last four years. Musicians often talk about experiencing synesthesia in regard to their process, and though the hard-to-explain phenomenon can refer to any number of interconnected sensory pathways, it’s usually described in terms of “hearing colors” in different sounds. Jeremih — in my completely unprofessional opinion — hears time. In his world, 10 p.m. has a sound, and 3 a.m. has a sound, and 6 a.m. has a sound, each one distinct from the others. (10 a.m. does not have a sound in Jeremih's world, because 10 a.m. is for nerds with real jobs.) Later That Night, he said then, would be strictly 4 a.m. music. It seems that Late Nights: Europe — the free mixtape he surprise-released this Tuesday night, capping off the trilogy just like he began it — is an entirely separate project, born on a whim after touring Europe with go-to producer Soundz, a spontaneous idea completely realized in the span of two weeks. But as Jeremih noted on Instagram yesterday, the sessions for the project took place in the twilight hours after every show on the European tour. In other words: 4 a.m. music.
What I am really trying to say is that Jeremih made a project sexier than Late Nights, the sexiest album of 2015 (and/or all time), in two weeks. It’s definitely a slighter work than Late Nights, which mixed minimalist, subterranean club experiments with sophisticated radio R&B anthems. On Europe, Jeremih downsizes even further: Half the tape sounds as though he and Soundz created it in some after-hours Chopped-style songwriting competition in an Amsterdam sex dungeon, wherein teams have to make beats using just finger-snaps and distant echoes of bass. But if less is more here, production-wise, Jeremih counters that with his most uninhibited lyrics yet. “Paris,” which joyously reunites him with musical soulmate Ty Dolla $ign, is probably his horniest song of all time, and that’s saying something. “Oslo, Norway” ends in a goddamn soft-porn spoken word poem (a move so weirdly audacious it forgives the song’s major misstep: choosing to feature The Game instead of letting Nicki Minaj reprise “Sell out shows out in Norway, Oslo!”). I imagine it’s not by accident his artwork’s color palette has shifted from smoldering pink to low-lit purple to, finally, flickering neon red (as in, light district).
Easily the best part of this tape, though, is the way Jeremih’s time abroad seems to have awakened the Chicago in him — specifically, the “Chi don’t dance no more, all we do is juke” Chicago in him. Little shout-outs to club music are buried all throughout the tape, like the super-slo-mo Jersey club bed squeaks on “British Headboards.” But the immediate highlight is “Belgium (Get Down),” a juked-out riff on Traxman’s classic “Get Down Lil’ Momma” that could conceivably get Chicago juke on the charts, knowing Jeremih’s history of landing unexpected hits. Plus, after two weeks through Europe and the Middle East, he takes care to close out the final chapter of his redemptive Late Nights trilogy back home in Chicago, with local rappers G Herbo and Chi Hoover beside him. You can take the genius out of the Midwest, but — you know the rest.