When Jeremih first contemplated a career in music, it wasn’t silky soul, but rap that intrigued him the most.
“I had so many beats on my computer (and) people were telling my I sounded like I could be the next so-and-so,” says Jeremih (pronounced JEHR’-uh-meye). “But after all the beats and rhymes, I felt like everybody around me was rapping and so I was like, ‘I got to do something to stand out’ … so I started singing.”
It’s clear he made the right choice: The newcomer, who turns 22 on Friday, has a No. 1 smash with his very first song, the bedroom slow groove “Birthday Sex.”
While that’s a major accomplishment in itself, the Chicago native (who plays drums, piano, saxophone and base among other instruments) doesn’t want to be just a hit-making singer. He’s had a game plan for long-lasting success that stretches beyond singing.
“I wanted to make that P. Diddy move — to get my own company, birth talent and make stars,” Jeremih said, whose looks are reminiscent of a young Sean Combs.
The Associated Press: Was it always easy for you to pick up different instruments?
Jeremih: I feel like I always had an ear. I have the ability and the gift to hear a song and really play it in a matter of five to 10 minutes and make my own version out of it. So it’s always been easy playing by ear. Now reading, that’s a whole other story.
AP: Was school just as easy?
Jeremih: I was always pretty organized in high school and my mother, she always pushed me to just overachieve, both my parents. (They) let me know education is key and without it nowadays, you probably wouldn’t be able to get a good job or have a decent living … that was imbued in my head.
AP: You graduated high school at 16 and went to college at 17. What was that like?
Jeremih: It was a challenge. At the University of Illinois, I stayed at an unisex dorm and everyday it seemed like there was something going on non-school related. And with me being so young, with the clubs out there you at least had to be 19 to get in the clubs, let alone drink. So I found myself getting in a lot of trouble by graduating (high school) early. It was all lessons learned.
AP: Will you go back?
Jeremih: At first I was like, “Man, don’t tell me I just wasted four years of my life without even getting that piece of paper.” At the same time, I didn’t want to miss this opportunity. I really do plan on finishing — I came too far.
AP: Was it a challenge to get Def Jam to let you and your friend self-produce the entire CD?
Jeremih: My biggest fear, honestly, was that you got Ne-Yo, you got The-Dream, you got Rihanna and Kanye West, all artist-songwriters, and how am I going to blend in? How am I going to make it at this label and not get lost in the mix? But once I thought about it, I’m 117 percent confident in my music … I felt I could blend, I can hang with the rest.
AP: A lot of young fans listen to your music. Will you be an advocate for education?
Jeremih: Yes. It’s so important. I felt it’s really helped me out with speaking with executives and even with this interview right now. You want to know everything, what’s going on, what’s the meaning of these words people are saying, just to stay in tune.