A video of Michael Jordan running across the Utah Jazz basketball court flashes on the large projector screen, serving as a backdrop for the stage. The house lights remain off as singer Xavier Omär—known then as SPZRKT, or Spazzy Rocket—opens with "The Motive/ Used To The Melody," from Hours Spent Loving You, his 2015 collaboration with Soulection DJ/producer Sango: "I don't wanna make mistakes, cause I rush instead of wait for the right one / Think about you when I pray / Hoping god will maybe say / That you're coming on the way, when the night's done," he sings. The stage is still dark, Omär illuminated only by the image of Jordan.
It was February 2016 and Omär's first performance in Chicago, at Emporium Arcade Bar. Though he wasn't so well known in the city, his audience—about 200 or so—were still deeply captivated by his voice, his tone just as serene and arresting in person as on wax, seamlessly intertwining with Sango's soulful blend of electronic, gospel, and trap rhythms.
Though I'd met Omär a few times before that night, he was shy, soft spoken, and wasn't quick to say hello. But, at that point, that was the persona he'd created for himself, maintaining a fairly obscure presence: His name was difficult to pronounce, there weren't many photos of him online—at one point, his Twitter avatar was black—and he hadn't done many interviews. But later in 2016, leading up to the release of his most recent solo effort The Everlasting Wave, he shed the moniker SPZRKT and instead took on a variant of his government name, Xavier Omär.
Growing up, Omär was a military kid who never lived anywhere for more than four years. As he moved across the U.S. with his family, from California to Colorado, Maryland, Texas, Japan, and Georgia—where he's lived the most, at three separate times in his life—music was his only constant. He sang with his family and played drums in church; his dad played the keys and his older brother—now a minister of music in Massachusetts—is a self-taught keyboardist.
Omär absorbed everything he could from each city's scene: In Warner Robins, Georgia, he embraced trap music; in Waldorf, Maryland, he was exposed to the originality of DC go-go; and in San Antonio, Texas, he became fully immersed in the Christian hip-hop community. His high school rap group—yes, he rapped first—broke up in 2010, right before he moved to San Antonio. While in Texas, he took a chance and performed at a local church's open mic, singing his old song, "Clouds At Night." The audience went crazy for it. "That was the first time I felt people's reactions to my live singing," he says to me in the Chicago cafe Brew Brew.
Watch the premiere of Xavier Omär's new video for "Speculate."
Though he'd been making music since he was 12, things finally started coming together in San Antonio. In 2012 and 2013, he released five projects under SPZRKT—also in 2012, Sango reached out to Omär online, after hearing the song "Laminin" from his 2012 tape The Loner, and the two began working together. Omär eventually signed to the independent label STRT TRBL (pronounced Straight Terrible) in 2013. Yet at that time, even when he and Sango released their first song "Middle of Things, Beautiful Wife," and even until Hours came out, Omär was a part of the Christian hip-hop scene. Then that changed.
"Hours Spent Loving You was the first project that came out after I made a definitive statement that this is what I'm trying to do, this is where I'm trying to go with this. It's odd and awkward that I even had to make a statement, but that just shows you the thinking, the mindset of the scene that I was in. Hours was the first time I was able to just go be totally free with myself."
Omär began making music with Sango and quickly knew it was the right move.
"I think after I saw how much people responded to 'Middle of Things'—to a degree, it was my first taste of like, 'Wow, people are listening.' You could see and feel that people felt it differently, and we were like, 'Hey, we should just do more together.' So doing more just turned into a project." Hours centers on earthly and heavenly relationships—and on Omär being the mouthpiece for both himself and Sango's piety.
At the time of the release, Omär still went by SPZRKT, but after he changed his name, he shed much of his enigma. "Spazzy ended up mysterious, and not because that was a game plan," Omär says. "I wanted the music known, but what made that difficult is people not being able to share it—while a lot of my personal, close friends could say the name, still a lot of people on the outside couldn't. So changing my name opened everything up because people are far more willing to just share the music. I want people to have a full knowledge and connection of who I am."
Omär is now front and center, clocking 600,000 monthly plays on Spotify. With the video for "Speculate" from The Everlasting Wave, he showcases his self-determination. For his new EP, he worked with an all-new set of musicians, mostly from Chicago: J-Louis, Thelonious Martin, Hit-Boy, Louie Lastic, Brasstracks, Josh Jar, Carter Lang, Will Miller, IAmNobodi, and Peter Cottontale.
The Everlasting Wave is the next step from Hours. Boom bap and bass heavy tracks like the Martin-produced "Grown Woman," ethereal, soul-laden cuts like the IAmNobodi-produced "If This Love," and the rock-infused "Poison"—produced by Omär and Josh Jar—are distinctive, but become cohesive under the particular heavenly lilt of Omär's voice. But still, there is a central theme: "With love always being the center, that will always connect everything that I do."
Photo: Screengrab of "Speculate" video via Youtube
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