Jeremih and Shlohmo are an unlikely combination for a lot of obvious reasons. One is a black guy from Chicago who sings slick, radio-directed R&B, and the other is a white guy from Los Angeles who produces tricky, intricate instrumental bass music. They probably would’ve never gotten together if Yours Truly hadn’t matched them up to make the single “Bo Peep (Do U Right)” as part of the Songs From Scratch series more than a year ago, and they probably wouldn’t have kept working together, making the new free EP No More, if that first song hadn’t turned out to be something transcendent. But beyond the surface differences, both of them have something much more important in common: They’re both really, really good at what they do, and that’s the reason we still know their names.
Jeremih first hit big with the 2009 almost-novelty single “Birthday Sex,” and that’s not typically the sort of song that launches careers; if it was, there would’ve been more to J. Holiday than “Bed.” But Jeremih’s got a quiet confidence, and he knows how to make his voice glide silkily over whatever track he’s singing on, a gift that was on full display on his great 2012 mixtape Late Nights. He does little things, things that aren’t super-obvious, but he’s got a clear sense of what his voice can do best, and that’s what’s kept him around five years after he could’ve easily disappeared into one-hit-wonderdom. As for Shlohmo, he came out of L.A.’s bass music scene a few years after Flying Lotus, when the field was crowded with guys like the Gaslamp Killer and Nosaj Thing, and he could’ve easily become yet another anonymous laptop guy. But he’s got a way with warm, spacey melody. His tracks don’t just push your brain cells around; they fill up a room, warping and oozing where other producers’ tracks would skitter and skip. And he knows what to do with a vocal melody. “Bo Peep” happened partly because Shlohmo remixed Jeremih’s Late Night track “Fuck U All The Time,” substituting its spacey echoes and claps for jittery hi-hats and warm swells of synth, lending a certain symphonic grandeur to the track without losing its fragile intimacy. And even if he’d never worked with Jeremih, he probably would’ve still gone on to do what he’s been doing recently, producing tracks with singers like BANKS and How To Dress Well.
No More probably isn’t the beginning of some grand collaborative project. There were unexplained delays in its release, and there was a moment where Shlohmo vented a bit on Twitter about the fact that it wasn’t out yet. And of the six songs on the album, the three best are probably the ones that have been out for a long time: The “Fuck U All The Time” remix, “Bo Peep,” the advance single “No More.” Jeremih is doing just fine as a mid-level R&B star, and his DJ Mustard-produced single “Don’t Tell ‘Em” might be my favorite R&B track of the year. It’s more likely that No More is a one-off curio for everyone involved, a side-project exploration of a few further-out ideas before these guys get back to the business of their regular careers. Still, there’s something liberating about it — two guys from different musical spheres finding similar ground, recognizing each other’s strengths, and figuring out the best ways to combine their styles into something different.
The thing I like best about the EP is the way both guys sound giddy, secure in the knowledge that they can use the other guy’s gifts to do some new thing. Jeremih can dominate a straightforward beat seemingly without effort, so these Sholohmo tracks must look like shiny new toys to him, or like new video-game levels to explore. When Shlohmo hits him with a screwed-up synth-arpeggio sample on “Let It Go” (I can almost recognize that riff, but I can’t quite place it), Jeremih dives completely into the track, hovering and diving and getting lost in the drum-programming thickets. Given a mutated grime track like the one on “The End,” Jeremih starts playing games with hesitation, leaving all these extended pauses in counterintuitive places, a vocal equivalent of a limping strut. (When Chance The Rapper, the EP’s sole guest, shows up on the same track, he has a similar reaction, using a garbled syntax and a half-drunk slip-sliding cadence that I’ve never heard from him.) Last year’s great “Bo Peep” sounds like a conversation between a seductive falsetto-mode Jeremih and the remixed beep of a backing-up moving van. And Shlohmo recognizes the majesty in Jeremih’s voice, leaving it alone plenty but also figuring out that he can make great things happen when he slows it down or speeds it into a chipmunk burble or multi-tracks it into a mob of lovelorn Jeremihs. For both guys, the mere fact of the collaboration is an excuse to try out all these new ideas and tricks, and most of them work.
The six songs on No More lounge and sprawl over nearly half an hour, long enough to be an album in plenty of genres. And there’s easily an album’s worth of ideas in there, with all these little ghosts of melody that disappear and return minutes later. I’m not convinced that the final product lives up to the promise of those first few collabs, but then, not much would. And that early promise notwithstanding, we have here a full collection of thoughtful and pretty and tricky R&B, a free EP that sounds like nothing else, in any genre. That’s all I could possibly want it to be.
Download No More for free here.