Omarion has quietly become one of the best examples we have of longevity in R&B. His DJ Mustard-produced single "Post To Be" peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 2014, making it the most successful single of his twelve-year solo career. Later that year, he released his Sex Playlist album—a project with content that rarely veered away from what the title implied. That album, while displaying Omarion in a much more mature manner than some are used to, didn't showcase what many fell in love with: his ability to join his dance expertise with heartfelt lyrics. It's something that he's conscious of going forward.
His newest single "Distance"—which will be featured on his forthcoming fifth solo album Reasons—revisits those origins.The song embraces the afrobeat-influenced R&B that catapulted Drake's "One Dance" to historical success—which is tailor made for Omarion to show off his moves. Its video is set in a lush and vibrant South African landscape, where he dances around before joining a group dressed in Zulu attire.
When Omarion stopped by the VICE headquarters in January, he showed us the video and mentioned the pride he had in connecting with his African heritage. We also discussed the transformations he's gone through in his long career and how fatherhood has helped him musically.
NOISEY: As a young person who has been around for almost 20 years, how do you continue to transform yourself for the better?
OMARION: For me it's really about information. When I think about growth, in the past, maybe when I wasn't as experienced as I could be. Experience has really gave me the great fortune of understanding the importance of living in the now, It's really about truth to me. I've always had that personality that nothing was never good enough. Like, if you wanna be great you have to set these kind of standards. That's how it's always been for me: repetition and acquiring a certain level of skill. So as I continue to grow as an artist, it's like 'How many hours you putting in?' That's really the separation of the greats and people that kinda do it as a hobby.
Have those goals you set changed over time?
For sure, because sometimes when you see certain things you really don't understand the steps that it takes to really obtain it. Life isn't a store where you just go in and be like "Oh, Ima get that." It's a process. Especially if you don't really know how to acquire certain things.
With "Post To Be" being the most successful song of your career, does that influence how you approach songwriting and song making going forward?
Definitely. It showed me that there is no structure. That particular time when I first heard the beat, Mustard was going through a series of beats and that's the one I picked. One thing is for sure, when you create in the spirit of whatever it is you're creating and you have the intention to share, give multiple perspectives, and the dialogue is the correct way, for me, that's been my process. It's just making sure all the proper ingredients are in there.
You've had hits that both cater to your dance roots and ones that are transparent emotionally. Which of those comes easier to you?
I think they're all blank canvases and you have to approach them with the right intention more than following a certain algorithm. It's just experience. That's what has given me a bigger appreciation for all creativity. Not just creating or writing songs. When I became a father, I think that my understanding of what love was and my connection to that emotion shifted. I saw my children being born and recognizing what they call a miracle. When you see that, it really changes something inside of you. After having my kids, I definitely feel way more intense. I'm more clear. More sure.
Have your kids influenced the music you absorb? My daughter is six and she puts me onto songs I had no idea about.
Yeah I play all my new songs fresh from the kitchen. I ask my son what he thinks and even though he's two, if I see him moving I know. I think because I am a musician, they'll definitely have an innate connection to music. Even now when we play music around the house, I make it a part of their life regimen. When I wake up I put on certain songs.
A lot of popular dances are seen as silly or for kids. Your foundation is in joining choreography with fairly serious songs. Do you think there's still room for dance routines in heartfelt music or do they function better separately now?
There is a marriage between movement and sound. That, for me, will always exist in correlation to lyrics. That's how I'm able to relate words to the sound. I could dance and hear something else. For this new project, Reasons, there's definitely a lot of movement. Most people would probably categorize it as dance music. It's really just feels. Any music that moves me, it truly has this emotion inside of it that forces you to lose control and move to the beat. You can embrace it or not embrace it.
When making songs about relationships, do you feel like they're most effective when they're autobiographical or just if they touch on subjects everyone can relate to?
I pull from my personal experiences and the things I witness. Things my friends go through. It always hasn't been like that for me, though. That's fortunate and unfortunate. On one hand, starting as young as I did, there were always waves prepared for me. It was always songwriters and music that was like, "This would sound good in Omarion's register, so here." From that point up until this point, I feel a lot more connected to speaking about stuff that's personal to me. It's nothing more potent than that—your truth. The Reasons album is a lot of truth.
What song was the hardest for you to open up in?
It's one song that I haven't finished writing but the track is probably gonna take me a little while to because it's a lot of emotion. A song that's out is "It's Whatever." That song is a very personal perspective about a situation that a lot of people go through. That song is a little hard to listen to because I know what my intention was when I sung certain parts.
Is there anything on Reasons that people wouldn't expect from you?
I think when people finally see the videos and they understand my intention behind the space that I'm in, I think they'll have a different appreciation for the music I previously created. We shot two videos in South Africa. We went that far for the art. I'm really excited about my first single "Distance." It's like a clash of culture and sound.
I saw an interview you did at the top of last year when you said in contrast to the idea that R&B is lacking, that it's actually at a greater spot than ever before. Did the rest of 2016 uphold those thoughts?
I'm going to be honest with you, there are some wack songs out but there's some great melodies. A great melody can save a song from not having powerful lyrics because it just rings in your head. So anytime there's melody, that's what Omarion considers rhythm and blues.
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