Jeremih Featured In The Chicago Sun Times 7/2/2009.
A year ago, Jeremih Felton was at Columbia College Chicago working on a degree in music.
Jeremih, who went to Morgan Park High School, is an up-and-coming artist who signed to industry powerhouse Def Jam Records.
That was before "Birthday Sex" hit the airwaves.
Thanks to the success of the salacious breakout single, he's now an up-and-coming artist known by his first name and signed to industry powerhouse Def Jam Records. "It's been surreal," said Jeremih, 21, during a phone conversation from Wilmington, Del., where he was promoting his self-titled debut album, in stores and at online retailers today. "That one song was like a rocket. I had no idea it would get this big."
After its March release, "Birthday Sex" quickly rose to the top of Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart. It crossed over to Billboard's Top 100, where it hit No. 4 -- a phenomenal achievement for a new artist. The song has gotten more than 75 million hits on Jeremih's MySpace page and even spawned a hilarious Chipmunks spoof on YouTube.
Fueling its popularity: the song's memorable beat, Jeremih's vocal delivery, which recalls Rihanna's megahit "Umbrella," and of course, those bawdy lyrics. "Birthday Sex" gets hot and heavy, but slows down for a few PG-13-rated moments, such as "Girl, you know I-I-I /Don't need candles or cake/Just need your body to make ..."
Despite the title, however, there's no triple-X backstory to "Birthday Sex." "We just came up with it one day working in the studio," he said. But it definitely has raised his romantic profile. "Every day, girls tell me it's their birthday," he told Rolling Stone magazine. "I'm thinking of working for hire."
Jeremih, who grew up in the Morgan Park neighborhood on the South Side, met his producing partner, Mick Schultz, while at Columbia College, where he was also a student. "The minute I met him, I knew he was a star," said Schultz, 20. "He brings a different vision to each song that takes it to the next level."
Last summer, the partners turned out song after song before deciding it was time to try to sell their music. "We weren't even thinking label or radio," Jeremih said. "We were making music because we really enjoyed it. If anything, I thought we would sell a few songs. I never thought of myself as a performing artist."
They pitched another song, "My Ride," to Barbara McDowell, music director at the Chicago urban radio station WPWX-FM (92.3). But the "Power 92" programmer thought "Birthday Sex" had more mass appeal.
Music has long been an important part of Jeremih's family life. His mother and grandmother are singers, and his cousin Willie Taylor is in the urban-pop group Day26. Jeremih, who grew up listening to Al Green, Sam Cooke, R. Kelly and Kanye West, taught himself to play piano, saxophone and drums by ear. He would learn songs off the radio, flip them around and make a whole other kind of song.
Rosita Sands saw this ability firsthand in her Music of the World class at Columbia. Students were asked to analyze a piece of world music and present it to the class.
"Jeremih chose a modern-day work song from Ghana," Sands recalled. "At the end of his presentation, he took it one step further. He incorporated samples from that piece into a song of his own creation. It was very creative and rather impressive."
At Morgan Park High School, Jeremih excelled academically, graduating at 16 and heading Downstate to the University of Illinois to study engineering. He did well in his course work, but music kept interfering.
"I began getting more involved with on-campus talent shows," he said. "The music was just taking over."
When he performed a Stevie Wonder tribute, he got his first inkling he also could sing. "The feedback was great," he said. "I began to think I could do this on a different level. That's when I decided to transfer to Columbia."
Jeremih is determined not to be defined by one hit. "You won't be hearing just one sound from me," he said. "I want to be able to top all the charts with my music. I'm hoping people will embrace my other songs just like they embraced 'Birthday Sex.' "
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