It makes sense that the 2009 smash-hit “Birthday Sex” started in the bedroom.
Mick Schultz, the song’s producer, was just 18 when he met Jeremih at the Columbia College of Chicago. “I didn’t know anyone in Chicago, so like my first six months, I was just trying to network. Really quick, I met Jeremih.” Schultz had set up a studio in his apartment’s spare bedroom where he and the Chi-town crooner would write and record together, “not necessarily expecting to make money or anything,” he says.
During one of those sessions, Jeremih came to Schultz with a new idea: birthday sex. “He didn’t really have anything written,” Schultz says, “but I was like, ‘Yeah, it sounds crazy.’ It’s relatable, no one’s ever done that.” He laid down the beat in that fateful bedroom, and Jeremih invited his longtime friend Keith James (who is now one of Schultz’s main collaborators) to co-write the unforgettable single.
“I mean we loved the record but it wasn’t like, ‘This is the single,’ ” Schultz says of the song. “It was just like, ‘That’s an awesome f—ing song. Let’s keep making records.’ That was just one of them — but obviously that happened to be the one.”
It was Bam, the music director at Chicago’s Power 92, who picked “Birthday Sex” to be a hit. After hearing everything they had made together (courtesy of the duo’s radio-savvy manager), Schultz says, “she was like, ‘Let me have this song.’ Two days later they played it on the radio two times in a row. It was the first time I ever heard my song on the radio –the response was crazy.”
“It just took Chicago over really quickly,” says Schultz. “Like within weeks, it was the song. Then it spread around the Midwest. This was all independent, we weren’t paying anyone — it was really organic. By the time it broke out of the Midwest and hit Miami, the labels started calling.”
?In the seven years since then, Schultz’s interior decor has received some serious platinum accents, courtesy of his executive production on both Jeremih’s 2009 self-titled debut (which included “Birthday Sex”) and 2010 release All About You. Schultz is also responsible for Zendaya‘s breakout single “Replay,” and has begun mentoring up-and-coming artists like Somo and the aforementioned James. Schultz is also still working with Jeremih, and has partnered with him for a number of songs on his eternally upcoming project Late Nights: The Album, which has been so long delayed it’s spawned thinkpieces on its release date.
One thing is certain — the R&B singer is reluctant to be tied to the songs that brought him into the limelight. “‘Birthday Sex’ was robotic,” Jeremih told Billboard in an interview last November. “When I perform it, I can’t give you this church feeling I know I can give.”
“It’s such a young Jeremih,” Schulz says when asked about the singer rejecting his early hits. “[He] wanted this as much as bad as I do — we were on the same page. [But] I don’t know if he ever thought that this stuff was actually going to hit. We were working on songs as fans of music, and we were passionate, and we were having fun. All of a sudden, those songs were thrown out to the universe.”
Though they were both, in a sense, longtime musicians — Jeremih began playing drums at 3 and Schultz was producing at 13 — their overnight success still came as a shock. “When you’re a fan of music, you’re just making it — you’re just playing around. We hadn’t done this before.”
“He’s grown a lot, it’s been six years,” Schultz adds. “I think now looking back he may feel like, ‘It’s not my best.’ Now when we’re making songs, we both know that things are about to get released to the world. I think it’s just a different mindset.”
It was the beginning of Schultz’s career as well — by his own admission, he “was learning it as [they] were doing it. I engineered all those songs. I cut all the vocals.” Of Jeremih’s first album, Schultz says “it’s not like I feel like those are my best songs. I was 18 years old when I did them. [But] they’re like babies to me — it was the beginning.”
Fast forward to October 2013, three years after All About You and still no release date in sight for Jeremih’s long-ago confirmed third album. “Show Me,” Kid Ink‘s DJ Mustard-produced and Chris Brown assisted dancefloor banger (which Jeremih cowrote), had just hit the Hot 100 and was reigning the Rap Airplay chart. Jeremih reached out to Schulz to make his own hit after seeing the song’s success — as he told Billboard, “it was like, ‘Can you believe the song I helped on went No. 1?’ Let me make my own.’ “
“[Jeremih] came, and he said ‘Let’s do something West coast — simple, something cool,’ ” Schultz says. “I knew what DJ Mustard was doing — things were heating up with the West coast bounce.” The duo got in the studio, Schultz “laid the synth down, and we just started messing around with the record. [Jeremih] wrote some melodies and stuff, [but] he was thinking that we should do an interpolation of an older song, or like a 90’s record.”
Clicking around YouTube (hitmaking songwriters: they’re just like us), Schultz found the Snap! song “Rhythm Is A Dancer.” “I’m singing it, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m surprised no one’s ever used this’ — like it was a big one-time hit.”
“We started both singing it to the beat, it sounded good, and that was the story on that,” Schultz says. Once they found the melody, the rest of the song came easily. “The beat’s simple, but there wasn’t even bass in it. Jeremih cut the whole song literally to just the synth and a snap.”
Playing the finished product for Jeremih for the first time, Schultz says “we knew we had something special — it felt so current and it was so infectious. You didn’t have to think, you could just put it on.”
Jeremih then sent the track to Compton rapper YG in hopes of getting a feature. He “loved it,” and asked if he and DJ Mustard (who is, among other things, YG’s longtime collaborator) could get on the track. “At that point, I was like, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Schultz says. “Mustard’s killing the West coast sound, and YG’s dope — let’s make it a movie.”
“Mustard did some tweaks on it, and mixed it,” Schultz says. “It was a freaking bomb when it dropped.” The peak of DJ Mustard’s 2014 wave of output, it took over radio and dancefloors internationally, becoming one of the year’s defining hip-hop tracks. “Out of every song that came out last year,” Schultz says, “the craziest thing about that song [is] that throughout the life of the song, there was no visual to it. That song got to No. 6 on the Hot 100 with no video.”
The reclusiveness that kept Jeremih from doing a video for one of 2015’s biggest songs is something that many suspect is contributing to his next album’s delay. As the singer put it to Billboard, “When you can count on your hands how many videos you’ve done in your career, when you’ve never performed your hits on TV, something’s not right.” But Late Nights: The Album is coming, and probably by the end of the summer, according to Schultz. “I can see that possibly happening,” he tells Billboard. Don’t relax too soon, though — the producer says “the way that he has it right now, he could shock people because he’s got a lot of songs done. I did five or six songs with him that are like, done.
Schultz confirms that last fall’s leaked tracklist “was real,” though he adds that “a lot has changed since that listing, so it’s not really accurate anymore.” At this point, he says they don’t have a “100 percent confirmed tracklist” anymore, but “he’s got it there — it’s just a matter of flip-flopping a few songs.” (Schultz says “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” “Planes (ft. J. Cole),” and “Tonight Belongs To U!” ft. Flo Rida” are included.) Schultz also alludes to one of his own contributions, “There You Go,” which he says is “more R&B sexy — it feels like ‘Jeremih’-Jeremih, what people really love him for.”
So why have fans been waiting so long for an album that was first announced in 2011? “I think he’s just trying to make sure that the whole album is perfectly cohesive,” says the producer. “We just keep working on it — I don’t know if he’ll want to cut a couple new songs still. He’s making music all the time.” But, according to the producer, he at least has his concept figured out. “He’s on a track. Really, it’s just about putting it together and putting it out. He knows how he wants to be perceived — he wants to make records for the radio but still be artistic and cater to the underground at the same time, which I think he does pretty well with his features.
“When the third album comes,” he says, “people will be satisfied.”
Schultz is pursuing a number of other production projects as well. When it comes to his work, he says, “I’ve discovered myself more. I’m really in tune with what I’m doing, and my production techniques.” Though he’s upgraded that bedroom studio to one inside his oceanside Malibu manse, he’s hardly resting on his laurels — “You’re not going to catch me out partying — I have friends and all that, but I spend a lot of my time in the studio. A lot of my stuff now has a lot more detail and depth than it did. I’ve been playing piano, I picked up guitar three years ago.
“I listen to everything — I love electronic music, I’m a huge pop/mainstream guy,” he says. “I listen to what’s on the iTunes top 100 — every song. That’s how I am. I’m a modern guy — I like listening to new stuff that’s coming out. Every Tuesday, I’ll listen to the new stuff that comes out and sometimes things will catch my ear.”
The producer has recently been working with SoMo, a singer-songwriter who hit the big-time via his years-long #SomoSunday series of cover songs on YouTube. “It’s inspiring working with people like that, who just have new ideas, or different visions of making music,” Schultz says.
The other artist Schultz is promoting is Jeremih’s longtime friend and fellow Chicagoan Keith James. “I’ve never really put my stamp on an artist, or put someone out independently,” he says, “but Keith is the first guy besides Jeremih that I’m 150 percent confident and excited about.”
“He’s just a true entertainer,” Schultz says. “I told him, ‘Not My Day’ [his first single] is your record. Keith is a writer, he hasn’t been promoting himself. The song is really special — we shot a big video to it, we kind of built the foundation.” The producer plans on taking the track independently to Adult Contemporary and top 40 radio over the summer, ahead of James’ debut EP (which will be released early June). The five song release has a “vintage retro vibe, but very commercial,” according to Schultz. “[James] just smiles, he’s funny. He’s not too cool for school.
“Developing an artist is difficult, but he’s the right guy,” says Schultz. He would know — after all, he’s done it before.