One thing Jeremih — the versatile singer and rapper from Chicago — would like, is for people to say his name correctly. “Yeah, a lot of people have mispronounced it,” he once told AllHipHop. “It’s actually Jeremih (je ruh my).” The R&B star has carved out a specific style in the music industry, describing his songs to Billboard as “clatchet,” which stands for “classy ratchet.” That might be the best the best way to describe his breakout single in 2009, “Birthday Sex.” But despite the self-proclaimed term for his tunes, Jeremih’s talent shined at a young age and he’s continued to find inspiration from multiple influences.
However, Jeremih made national news in November 2020 when he was placed in the ICU while battling COVID-19. At just 33 years old, the virus “viciously attacked his body” and forced Jeremih to go on breathing support, his family explained in a statement to CNN. His famous buddies and collaborators showed their support of the artist during his health battle. Chance the Rapper, for example, tweeted, “Pray for my friend Jeremih, he is like a brother to me and he’s ill right now.” A spokesperson for Jeremih later told Billboard that, fortunately, he was transferred out of the ICU to “spend the rest of his recovery time in a regular hospital room.” This wasn’t the first setback for Jeremih, but certainly the scariest.
What’s your favorite song by this silky-smooth singer? Turn up your speakers, because it’s time for the untold truth of Jeremih.
Jeremih's high-profile support team
Teamwork makes the dream work, or so the saying goes. And for Jeremih, his team of supporters, friends, and mentors comprises the biggest names in music. One of Jeremih’s two best charting songs, 2011’s “Down on Me,” features rapper 50 Cent. After working with Lloyd Banks — a member of Fiddy’s group G-Unit — Jeremih reached out to the controversial 50 Cent to appear on the track. Not only did he receive a hot verse, but also a dedicated friend. “I’d say out of the whole entertainment business, he’s probably been more like a mentor to myself,” Jeremih revealed in an interview with Billboard.
During Jeremih’s fight with COVID-19, his famous friends lent a helping hand. A member of Jeremih’s management team, Adam Smith, detailed the tremendous support for the artist in an interview on V103.1’s The Kenny Burns Show. “We had a lot of people in the entertainment capacity that we’ve reached out to that helped us with their resources. Chance the Rapper has been super helpful. He’s been connecting us with a lot of the doctors at the hospital,” Smith said (via Vibe).
Plus, one of the wealthiest men in hip-hop, per Forbes, rapper-mogul Diddy, connected Smith “with his entire team at UCLA that he works with” as advisors to the hospital treating Jeremih. “J has a lot of people in a lot of high places that really want to put their resources together to really help,” Smith explained.
Welcome to the Jeremih world tour
Jeremih’s most popular display of affection of foreign cultures came from his 2015 song, “Oui,” in which the singer turned a French language pun into a sexy R&B single. While discussing the tune, Jeremih explained to Genius, “I was just playing off the actual English word ‘we’ as well.” In the chorus, he sings, “There’s no we without you and I,” with Jeremih noting in the interview, “The ‘oui’ spelling in French is actually O-U-I.”
The following year, Jeremih released the album, Late Nights: Europe. The title of every song is a different city or country, partly because “recording sessions took place during the overseas stops of his summer tour,” per Pitchfork. In an interview with Billboard, Jeremih recalled that after his live shows, “We’d set up small little booths in the hotel room, which I had never done before … We came up with a body of work, like 20 songs.” During this creative flourish, the singer said he took in all the sights and sounds for inspiration, “Whether it was the people, the food, the girls with their accents.”
But of all the stops abroad, where did Jeremih have the best experience? “London was really the highlight to me of the tour,” he shared. “We had two or three shows back to back to back sold out. I was shocked.” Thanks to the big support from his British fans, Jeremih said, “I couldn’t help but record afterwards.”
Jeremih's many musical influences
As a kid, Jeremih — at that time simply known as Jeremy Felton — was a bit of a musical prodigy. In an interview for Blues & Soul, he remembered, “I was raised on the Southside of Chicago, and my whole family was musically-inclined. Like, at family reunions, we’d have TALENT shows — and I don’t think many families can DO that, or SAY that!”
When he was just three years old, Jeremih started playing drums “before moving on to the sax, piano and bass guitar.” He even taught himself how to play. Or, as Jeremih described it, “Rhythm is just in my blood, and it’s always BEEN there.”
The musician recalled growing up listening to R&B classics like Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green, with Jeremih’s mom telling him that when she was pregnant, “She’d put the headphones to her stomach and play those songs to me!” As he grew older, he joined several school bands, including concert, marching, and Latin jazz, where he learned how to play even more instruments, such as piano, snare drum, and “various percussion instruments like congas and timbales.”
Jeremih's got the brains and the beauty
Most people know Jeremih as a singer-rapper, but the young man could have gone down many career paths. In addition to his gifted voice, Jeremih is extremely intelligent — so much so that he graduated high school early at the age of 16. Blues & Soul reported that after graduating, Jeremih “initially enrolled at the University of Illinois, to pursue a career in engineering.” On the side of his studies, the future star performed at campus talent shows. Per the outlet, “Having received unanimously-positive feedback after performing a Stevie Wonder tribute at one of the campus talent shows, he finally accepted that singing was indeed his calling and instead began attending Chicago’s Columbia College to pursue a music degree.”
But rather than earning a degree in performance, Jeremih transferred colleges and focused on the behind-the-scenes work in music. According to Chicago Defender, “[Jeremih] was more interested in becoming familiar with the business end of the music industry and studied for a music business degree.”
Behind Jeremih's breakthrough song
Back in 2009, Jeremih’s song, “Birthday Sex,” put the singer on the map, thanks in part to one of the original social media platforms: He achieved “the No. 1 Myspace song for more than three weeks with 60 million plays and counting” for the track, Soap Opera Network reported. Having written the track one year earlier with Mick Schultz, Jeremih told Blues & Soul, “[We] were basically just having fun in the studio. We weren’t thinking about a record label, we weren’t thinking about a single, we weren’t thinking about radio.” He added, “We were just making records purely for the love of music.”
Luckily, fans responded by loving the music. According to Jeremih, a Chicago radio music director picked up the single, played it for the first time on air, “and it just got an immediate reaction from the listeners! Like I’d hear people calling every day — and every night! — and be like, ‘It’s my BIRTHDAY! I wanna hear my birthday SONG!'” Jeremih also recognized the power of a theme and felt the song was a “timeless record” as a “birthday anthem.”
Revealing to Billboard that the song “is actually based on a birthday story of mine,” Jeremih was also surprised that he was the first one to think of its theme: “One that caters to females on their day. It’s the perfect hit.”
Record label highs and lows for Jeremih
The artist lineup of Def Jam Recordings includes some of the biggest names in music, like Rihanna and Justin Bieber (thanks to Usher). Jeremih is also signed to the label, but he had to work hard to earn his spot among the stars. As his song, “Birthday Sex,” shot to the top of the charts in Chicago, labels began to recognize the young man’s talent.
As the singer remembered in a 2009 interview with Blues & Soul, “In January/February of this year we were still standing outside various record labels trying to get a meeting, come March every label was calling US!” And none bigger than Def Jam. Jeremih met with the president of the label, L.A. Reid, and representatives to show off his tunes. “I knew we had them hooked!” he explained. “Because I looked round, and everybody there had their eyes closed, just bobbing their heads to the speakers.”
Unfortunately, it would not be a perfect match forever. In a series of tweets in 2015, Jeremih criticized his label by writing in part, “Y’all don’t even deserve my voice,” HYPEBEAST summarized. The anger was a result partly for the rollout of Jeremih’s Late Nights: The Album. According to Chicago Magazine, the record had been “pushed back five times since 2012 and then plunked in stores with no tour, media junket, or music video.” This left the singer frustrated, as people couldn’t “ride around New York and see [his] face on a poster.”
Is Jeremih a good role model?
As a former student in Chicago schools, Jeremih seemed like the perfect representative for the Chicago Public School system (CPS) once he became famous — especially since the smart young man graduated high school when he was only 16 years old. However, some people were outraged by the CPS’ 2009 campaign featuring Jeremih to encourage kids to stay in school.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, “Certain community members that claimed his music is inappropriate for students.” The issue in question was the song “Birthday Sex,” with one student telling ABC News, “It’s not just a song because a song represents what’s on the minds of young people. So if this is all that’s on our minds, there’s a problem.”
However, the mayor at the time, Richard Daley, didn’t back down from the decision. Noting that artists and their words may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Daley said that, most importantly, Jeremih “made a real commitment about keeping kids in school.” From Jeremih’s point of view, he felt “Birthday Sex” was “just a song,” adding to ABC News, “I write a lot on the experiences or what I think other people would go through.”
Jeremih's broken promises with fans
The wait between albums from our favorite artists can be the hardest part of being a music fan. So, it’s thrilling when a musician finally announces a new project. That is, unless the works never see the light of day.
In 2016, Jeremih revealed in an interview on Real 92.3 LA that he and PartyNextDoor planned to release a collaborative album called Late Night Party “real soon.” As if that wasn’t reason enough for fans to rejoice, Jeremih announced that he would follow this up with another solo effort in his Later That Night series. After the success of Late Nights: The Album and Late Nights: Europe, Jeremih wanted to give fans a grand finale in the series, telling Billboard, “I gave them the mixtape, I dropped the album — now I want to give them a complete trilogy of work.”
In the end, neither album was released. Did this stem from contractual issues with his label at the time, Def Jam Recordings? We can’t say for sure, but Jeremih did tell Billboard that he had “been working a little more to try to perfect” Later That Night. However, according to the singer, “It’ll be my last album under Def Jam and under a lot of the obligations that I’ve been having to work with the last couple years.”
Tour troubles for Jeremih
Fans were disappointed in 2016, when Jeremih tweeted that he would postpone his big United States tour “due to unforeseen circumstances,” per HYPEBEAST. But luckily, he hopped on the road later that year for the Summer’s Over tour with Canadian singer-songwriter PartyNextDoor. Only, things quickly went downhill, which led Live Nation to kick Jeremih off the tour.
“In the week prior to his removal, Jeremih reportedly left the Chicago stop of the tour after only three songs, citing technical issues,” HYPEBEAST reported. “Then, a few nights later in Houston, fans claimed he sent out an impostor — something that he appeared to confirm in an Instagram post.” As chronicled by Stereogum, fans watched a “hooded figure” onstage who reportedly lip-synced along to Jeremih’s songs and tried to hype up the crowd. “Fans also claim the hoodie was on for the entire performance,” according to the article. When Complex asked Jeremih about the stunt double rumor, the singer responded, “I was there in Houston, just to answer that question.”
Jeremih faced further touring troubles during his 2018 Later That Night tour, when one of the guest artists, Teyana Taylor, dropped out. Claiming that she’d been “extremely mistreated” on the tour via Twitter, she specifically called out Jeremih as “lazy, sneaky, jealous, conniving, [selfish], lame” in a follow-up tweet. She added that she could no longer work hard every night while, in her opinion, Jeremih did “nothing this whole tour but act like a DIVA in ya princess chair.” Yikes.
Jeremih is equally talented off the microphone
In addition to singing and rapping, Jeremih also wrote the songs for his debut album, which makes him a hot commodity in the music business. “It wasn’t until I performed a song I’d written before an audience in college that I realized I could even do it,” Jeremih told Billboard, adding, “The feedback made me feel like a star.”
When he was attending college in Chicago, Jeremih and his classmate, Mick Schultz, began writing songs in their spare time. At Schultz’s “home studio,” The Georgia Straight summarized, “The pair crafted a couple of tracks that caught the ear of a programmer at a local urban-music radio station.” One of those songs, of course, was “Birthday Sex,” which took off and caught the attention of Def Jam Records. Jeremih auditioned for the label with “a ready-made album of lusty R&B songs, each written and produced to industry standards by a pair of relative neophytes.” Recalling that his team only needed a few adjustments, Jeremih said that the label execs were “really happy that we could come to them with something we’d done on our own.”
On top of Jeremih writing his own hits, he’s helped numerous other musical artists with their own songs. According to Billboard, Jeremih is credited with writing for the likes of Kanye West and Nicki Minaj (no big deal). Admitting that he didn’t know if West was “going to use the work that we’ve done,” Jeremih quipped in 2016, “But if he doesn’t use it, I sure will.”
Jeremih is proud of where he came from
While speaking with Billboard, Jeremih opened up about what it was like to be from the Midwest. “Everyone knows how dope of a talent Chicago is, and how we breed the greats of our generation,” he said. Indeed, in addition to Jeremih, other talented musical artists started out in The Windy City, like Kanye West and Chance the Rapper. The singer did, however, go on to acknowledge that the history of violence in Chicago makes many people “scared to come visit my hometown.” But he remained optimistic: “I can’t wait ’til the world embraces Chicago — not only for our talent, but just to visit our city and not be so scared to come to it.”
Jeremih’s Chicago pride includes his love of sports, too, supporting the Bulls’ basketball team and the Blackhawks of the NHL. This has also influenced his music. On Late Night: The Album, the song “Feel Like Phil” is all about the legendary basketball coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, Phil Jackson — the “Zen Master.” Jeremih remembered growing up and watching the Bulls win the NBA Championship with a team consisting of Michael Jordan and his supporting cast of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. “But they’re winning because of Phil’s plays!” Jeremih told MTV News. “And I feel like the reason why I’m still here is because of plays that I made, without anybody. And when I make the calls, that’s when things work.”
How much is Jeremih worth?
One might assume that Jeremih is doing well financially just based on the fact that he does celebrity-like things like interviews on the top of fancy Hollywood hotels. But even early on in his career, the singer spoke with MTV News about his “deep sneaker fetish that is rivaled only by his love of car audio.” But then Jeremih became a star in his own right, releasing multiple solo albums and three joint albums: two with Chance the Rapper and one with Ty Dolla $ign, per Pitchfork.
Due to his own music credits and lending his voice to other artists’ hits, like “Somebody” by Natalie La Rose, Jeremih has greatly increased his bank account. According to estimates by Celebrity Net Worth, Jeremih was worth $2 million as of 2020. But back in 2013, when he shared with Fader what he kept in his backpack, the contents were much humbler than one would expect from a future millionaire, featuring a mix of “touring essentials” and “new dad” items for Jeremih’s son, like teething rings. The singer also carried playing cards, a toothbrush, and “a goofy hat for Chicago winters and a partly-consumed roll of Smarties.”
The only thing alluding to his success at the time? A loose stack of $100 bills.
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