A few years ago, Jeremih came off like Trey Songz’ younger cousin, or like a poor man’s Usher: A slick young R&B loverman who sounded happiest when he was playing songs that could conceivably get played in the club. Some of his songs were great — I loved the way he glided over the track on “Imma Star” — but he wasn’t interesting; he was a professional doing a job and doing it well. Then came 2012′s Late Nights mixtape, on which Jeremih showed how he could slither and slide through murky, druggy, internet-friendly beats, making himself a low-key critical darling in the process. Just a couple of weeks ago, Jeremih finally released No More, his EP-length team-up with Shlohmo, and while it wasn’t as focused as their original collabs had suggested, it still showed Jeremih to be perfectly capable of cooing his way through dizzy bass music, as comfortable on those tracks as he is on slick radio-centric R&B. At this point, Jeremih can cross over between R&B’s internet underground and its radio mainstream with absolute ease, and he seems like he could do just about anything.
With the new N.O.M.A. coming so soon after No More, Jeremih seems like he’s clearing the slate, letting out all the loose stuff he’s been tinkering with, before he does something really special on this next album. No More seems like it’s been sitting in the vault for a few months, and it’s possible that Jeremih and his team kept it locked away because they knew it wasn’t quite the game-changer that those first singles made it seem like it would be. Meanwhile, Jeremih’s excellent DJ Mustard-produced single “Don’t Tell ’Em” is getting serious airplay, to the point where Jeremih seems like he might get to release an actual album and not get stuck in the waiting-for-a-single-to-pop holding pattern that so many major-label rap and R&B types get lost in. N.O.M.A. is, quite explicitly, a mixtape full of songs that weren’t quite enough to show up on this next album. And while there’s no one amazing song on the mixtape — none of these are potential singles — it’s still a slick and easy listen, and I’d rather hear these songs on this context that tacked onto the album as Target-only bonus tracks or whatever.
The ease of Jeremih’s delivery is his greatest asset. His syllables dance their way across tracks, and at times he’s practically doing Bone Thugs-style melodious quick-tongue rapping, as on the verses of “Wake Up.” And there’s a sort of controlled abandon in his delivery; even when he’s singing about losing yourself in the moment during sex, he keeps himself restrained until it’s time to let loose with a big note or two on the chorus. On “Can’t Go No Mo,” he slips into this ethereal falsetto for one line — “no concept of time” — before lurching right back into his almost-rapping zone, and then Juicy J shows up to play some of those same rhythmic games. “Already” has a screwed-up hook and a sinister percolating keyboard line, and it’s about as macho as Jeremih gets, at least until the moment when he seems no negotiate a threesome during what seems like a real taped phone call. (That call takes up half of “Chillin,” and it’s a little hard to make out what the girl is saying, but the basic gist is clear enough.) Closing track “What I Like” is probably the best thing here; it’s got an orchestrally stoned synth-beat big enough to let Jeremih’s vocal’s echo around in there and urgent enough that it forces him to snap out of his daze.
This was a pretty disappointing week for mixtapes; I had high hopes for a lot of things that didn’t pan out. Young Thug’s Black Portland partner Bloody Jay dropped #NAWFR, which might actually be too weird; it’s like an entire tape full of the random what-the-fuck-is-this track you’d hear in the back half of a Suave House or Rap-A-Lot compilation in 1998. On All Out, West Coast hardhead Joe Moses proves that he doesn’t really have anything interesting to say when DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign aren’t around. Beyond that one great song with Kendrick Lamar, I don’t know why I expected anything from Chicago drill B-teamer Fredo Santana, but his Walking Legend tape is a turgid snore that only perks up for a really strong guest verse from, of all people, Childish Gambino. In that climate, Jeremih is something special: A rare sure thing, even when he’s not on his A-game. N.O.M.A., practically by design, is not the man’s best work. But it stays fun and fresh and interesting, and during a week like this, that’s enough.
Download N.O.M.A. (Not On My Album) at DatPiff.