Last updated: 12/17/2011 11:00:00 AM
Def Jam’s latest sensation, Jeremih, was born with rhythm pulsing through his veins. Growing up on Chicago’s infamous Southside, the 21 year-old singer/songwriter behind the nationwide breakout hit “Birthday Sex” started making big noise when he was just a little boy. “When I was three my mom and dad gave me a drum set for Christmas,” recalls Jeremih. “It was a little Sears set and I ended up busting every head on it that year. That’s when it hit them and me that I was really into percussion. At a very young age I really fell in love with making music.”
As a student at Chicago’s Morgan Park high school, Jeremih joined the marching band where he learned to play a multiple instruments including the saxophone, bass drum, cymbals, and quads. “I gradually started picking up the keys too ‘cause they had everything in the band room,” he says. “I would listen to the radio and I learned to play by ear. I tried to take classes but the teacher would always yell at me because I wouldn’t read the music. I would close my eyes and feel it and that’s how I taught myself.
Because he also excelled academically, Jeremih skipped his junior year and graduated high school when he was 16. With his mom and dad’s encouragement, he enrolled in the University of Illinois’ engineering science program. “I went there for a semester and had no problem,” says Jeremih. “I was fully focused but then I started getting involved with the on-campus talent shows. That’s when music really started taking control. I would be in class just writing lyrics. So I told my mom I wanted to enroll in Columbia College in Chicago because it was an art school and that’s what I was into.”
In 2007, Jeremih began working towards a music business degree at Columbia College. He also started participating in the school’s talent shows. In order to differentiate himself from the masses of aspiring rappers, Jeremih started to sing. After developing a reputation as a talented crooner on campus, Jeremih began collaborating with another one of Columbia’s musically inclined students named Mick. “He was studying engineering and he knew how to use protools,” says Jeremih.
Soon Mick and Jeremih spent all of their free time laying down new music in Mick’s homemade studio. They recorded a demo in 2008 and got the idea to bring it to Power 92, their local radio station in Chicago. Their first song to hit the airwaves was the catchy car-centric song called “My Ride” which first played on the station’s local radio hour. But the song they recorded next would become their golden ticket, “Birthday Sex.” Power 92’s music director Bam fell in love with the sultry track and added it into the station’s regular rotation.
“That very next week, on October 30, 2008, I was in my car listening to the radio and next thing I knew, ‘Birthday Sex’ came on,” remembers Jeremih. “They were like, ‘Man, this is the new kid on the block, Chi-town’s own Jeremih! They played it back to back like it was a new R. Kelly song.”
In February of 2009 Jeremih flew to New York City, to perform in front of Island Def Jam President LA Reid. L.A. was so blown away by the budding superstar’s live performance and wide-ranging sound, he quickly made him part of the notorious label’s roster. “I feel like I can hang with these artists at Def Jam,” says Jeremih.
Now the young soul singer is getting ready to release his self-titled debut album that he describes as “Urban pop.” Produced entirely by his producer Mick, Jeremih’s debut album blurs the traditional lines of musical genres. Tyra Bank’s fierce swagger was his inspiration for the sonic stylings of “Runway” where he sings about captivating women who work the catwalk. Jeremih cranks up the energy on the up-tempo “Jumpin’” that will have clubs rocking nationwide.
On “My Sunshine” Jeremih finds light on a gloomy day in the company of his loved ones. Then on “Starting All Over” the multi-talented songwriter channels Stevie Wonder’s classic soul by crafting a song about new love. “Sometimes one of the hardest things to do in a relationship is to start over,” says Jeremih. “You really have to get to know this new girl and her brand new lips, or brand new scent. I feel like it’s one of the timeless records off the album that can be played 20 or 30 years from now.”
Even with his debut album mixed, mastered and ready to be released to the masses, Jeremih is still hard at work in the studio exercising his gift for making music. “I have no boundaries,” he says. “It excites me to see what there is to come. I’m a writer, I’m a singer, I’m a producer, and I can play instruments. I feel like that’s what sets me apart from all the other artists out there.” Hallelujah.