XXL.com – Quiet as kept, Omarion is still around the music scene. The braids are gone but the same love for singing the 26-year old showed as the front man of the teenage heartthrob group B2K is as strong as ever.
The Inglewood, California native who gave fans the 2006 hit single “Ice Box” is facing an exciting time in his life. While not quite the young guy in the R&B game anymore, he certainly isn’t hanging his mic or dancing shoes up anytime soon. To celebrate his resolve through the B2K drama, rumor mill and silent doubts, Omarion hooked up with DJ Drama to produce The Awakening. The 19-track mixtape showcases an artist re-energized and willing to experiment with different sounds, mainly hip-hop with features that include Method Man and Lil Wayne.
Omarion took time out to talk with XXL about his love for hip-hop, plans for raising his stock as an entertainer and promises you can expect him to create more music, videos and covers of memorable sounds from the 1990s (see “One In A Million” and “Come Talk” off The Awakening).—Jonathan Marshall
XXL: So is this your first mixtape? If so, why did you decide to take the mixtape route?
Omarion: Yeah, this is my first mixtape. Really I used to be opposed to the mixtape thing because the time set was so interesting from where I came from. You know I came from doing this when I was young and knowing if we wanna put something together for the fans, we put the product together and we sell it. But the mixtape is so where it’s at right now, so many new acts and young people and artists that even get in a position where their company doesn’t want to support them the way they need to support them, it’s been the route. I just sat back and I was like, “what would be the ultimate gift for my fans?” DJ Drama supported me on it. To me it’s not even a mixtape. I really went into the album format in my mind when I was creating it, man. It’s being well received and I’m so grateful that I’m able to give the fans something to cherish.
You mentioned DJ Drama. To add your name to the acts he’s reached out to, how much of a confidence boost is that?
I was out in Paris and I went to this club and I saw Drama. I was like, “what’s Drama doing here?” He’s one of the few DJs that I respect that goes around the world and really that’s what I been pushing. If I’m not in the states, then I’m in Paris. I’m in a couple different places promoting and just creating more awareness of who Omarion is. Really that’s the reason why I decided to go the Drama route. Drama is awesome at what he does. He really puts forth 110 percent effort. And he has an interesting audience. To throw something down not only introduces me in another light like records with Method Man where I’m rapping on it and its Method Man which is pretty much unorthodox. To me right now it’s all about the “it” guy. If you wanna get a certain amount of spins on radio you gotta associate yourself with people that are hot. To me that concept is so suite. When I say suite, I mean like the business man. The business man is like we need you to get attached to this. For me it’s about creating that excitement and aligning myself with people that actually respect me and appreciate my music.
On the tape you had quite a few hip-hop collaborations. How did the Method Man and Wayne records come about?
The Wayne song is actually a song I did maybe like a year and a half ago. It was along the lines when we were building up some stuff. I asked him to hop on that record. To me it was different from what people were used to hearing Wayne on. I thought it was a perfect opportunity for people to hear that record. I got the Red Café joint. I think it might be the summer time jam. I hope it is. Rye Rye is actually M.I.A.’s artist and she’s super talented. I’m doing a lot of hip hop and R&B. I think it’s funny when people say, “oh he’s rapping now.” But a lot of people don’t know, I been rapping. That’s how I got my name. I was a rapper before I was a singer and I did the whole Bow Wow and Omarion. We did that whole album and I pretty much was rapping on that too. Everybody that came to the table really showed that love.
Who are your favorite rap artists?
Man it’s hard. But it definitely would have to be between Kanye and Pusha T. I think collectively they’re both dope but they do different things. Pusha, his angle is more of where he’s from and his lifestyle. Kanye does the lifestyle thing buts it’s a different image. It’s a different picture.
What are some of the similarities between R&B and hip hop artists as far as songwriting and promotional aspects?
I think the only similarity is the girls. The approach is different but everybody has to equate at some point in time the focus of women. I think that some do it better than others, but I think that’s definitely the thing that we probably have in common. The struggles between talking about that metaphorically and that’s why I always tell people that’s why I do the rap. When you’re a singer it’s hard to put a lot of metaphors in eight bars, you know what I mean? Because, it’s a melody. When you’re a rapper you can pretty much say everything.
What is the main difference between the two?
It’s not that much of a difference. I would just say the approach and what people are talking about. It’s easier to talk about where you’re from and it’s receptive to a certain culture when you’re rapping it. You can show certain aggression. But with melody it instantly becomes a different kind of emotion when you’re listening.
At the opening of the mixtape, you talk about reevaluating boundaries and change. Is this sort of the stage you’re at in your career?
I think it’s one of those things that’s like, “what are boundaries anymore?” We’re in a whole different time where the Internet, you can become famous behind a computer. All the footwork that was done with artists like myself like the first Scream tour all the way up to the fifth one, that footwork. Being in front of people’s face has changed. Now it’s about how many Twitter followers you have. To me I think it is about reevaluating your standards and being able to say there are no boundaries. I can do anything. I think that’s what real competition is. It’s about being able to do everything. If you really want to be great at anything you gotta do it all.
Where do you see yourself among today’s R&B artists?
It’s interesting based on the history that I have. I started when I was 14. I never really stopped. I think when people think about who Omarion is they forget that regardless of my history it’s a new day. I’m a new person and I’m a new man. Really even with the title, The Awakening, it’s about opening your mind up again. It’s about reevaluating those previous preconceived notions.
You have talked about being typecast in the past and cutting your braids was a part of avoiding that. What do you mean by this?
It was a phase that I went through when I was 21. I think when you’re 21 and you really think like, “I’m grown.” I think that you recognize when you get older that you were still very young and there is someone that’s always gonna’ tell you like, “boy, you young.” I think I wanted to grow up so fast because I didn’t want people to say like, “that’s the kid with the braids or that’s the kid from B2K” because I was growing into my own. So really I wanted people to respect it. People put you in a certain box. People that are supposed to know they will know. There will be no debates and there will be no arguments. They’ll be able to be like, “O is that guy and he’s been that guy. His history displays that.” So, really it ain’t no debating to me anymore. I’m growing and we going.
Besides the mixtape, what are your plans to stay relevant in this industry that’s always changing?
I have been able to be blessed with the opportunity and talent to be able to act and produce and do other things so really, we gonna be here. We ain’t even worrying about staying relevant. It’s about creating more and better opportunities for yourself. I wanna become the young mogul that I’m growing up to be. I got a shoe in Japan, the first dance shoe ever called O Boys. I’m finally doing certain things that hopefully in time will reveal itself.
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