The Come Up: Omen Experiments With New Sounds Following ‘Elephant Eyes’ – Exclusive
Standing in the shadow of one of hip-hop's biggest names is no easy task. But for 34-year-old Omen, it's all family love and only a matter of time before he gets his chance to really shine.
The Southside Chicago MC, known for his honest, introspective raps, first met his Dreamville label leader, J. Cole, as a teen frequenting the same rap chat rooms. Since then, Omen has made it a point to develop an organic, family-like bond with everyone in the Dreamville crew. Though he's one of the more quiet artists on the label, Omen feels no pressure to compete. The self-proclaimed "turn down king" prefers sticking to his roots, staying low and working on his craft.
His debut album, Elephant Eyes, took three years to come to light from the time it was announced and was very much a labor of love. Executive produced by Omen himself and Dreamville in-house producer Ron Gilmore, Elephant Eyes, which dropped last summer, features vivid storytelling and guest appearances from Cole and Bas. If you haven't noticed by now, the Dreamville team plays it close to the chest.
The synergy of the group is evident on not only on Elephant Eyes but also the compilation cut, last December's Revenge of the Dreamers 2. Now, Omen hopes to push a second wave of promo for Elephant Eyes (including shooting a video for "Father Figure") while still working on his next album. XXL caught up with the talented MC to see where he's drawing his inspiration from and how he plans to navigate 2016.
XXL: What'd you grow up listening to?
Omen: A lot of different types of music. I come from a musical background. I have music all within my family. My uncle was signed to Motown in like a child group. They had like one big hit basically, but they had sneaky management so they kind of faded out. It’s called “Remember the Rain,” it’s been sampled a bunch of times, actually. My mother wanted to sing. My step dad is a singer, guitarist, pianist. My grandparents are in music.
So, it’s like in my blood. Because music was so big in my family, my parents would be playing all types of stuff. My mom would be playing Jackson Five, Beatles, Prince, Michael Jackson. And then my step dad would be playing Joanie Mitchell and Miles Davis, De La Soul. It was a crazy range of music. And my uncle was probably the most influential because he was a DJ. So he’d be play A Tribe Called Quest and Rakim, LL Cool J, Nas, Jay Z. He’d play all this East Coast rap. A little bit of West Coast as well but not so much, that’s why a lot of my influence was East Coast and to this day Nas, Common, Dilla are my favorites. I like storytellers, so that’s the foundation.
Do you remember the first CD you bought?
I do. It was something I knew I shouldn’t have been buying. It was Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. I definitely had to hide it. I got home and I don’t know if you remember the booklet was crazy! Cartoons having sex and stuff and I’m looking at it, knowing I’m not suppose to be having it. But that just made it even better.
Who would you say your style has been compared to, if anyone?
I would say someone people compare me to the most is Common. I like it because Common’s one of the greatest to me. Him being from my city, especially at that time when Common was first coming out, people were rapping fast. Twista, Do or Die, there was a lot of that. But then you had Common who was a totally different type of artist and to me, he was like the South Side.
I would see this guy on the South Side. I would see the stories he’d tell and I knew the world liked him but there were certain parts of his verses that I knew you would only get if you were from Chicago. I always liked that. I think because of my content, because I’m mellow, it’s cool I don’t mind it at all.
How did you become friends with J. Cole?
Well, it’s interesting because I’ve known Cole since he was like 15. It was kind of weird how we met. We’re both huge Canibus fans -- the rapper Canibus from back in the day. So we were both on a fan site for Canibus. On this website was a ton of other rappers and producers, kind of like a community for rap nerds battling each other. There wasn’t even audio sometimes, it’d be like text battles. It was so early on before the Internet was what it is now. We just kind of connected through there. He was in New York, I had family in New York so we’d meet up, became cool with each other. And we’ve kind of just been cool since then.
Why did you choose to sign to Dreamville?
Obviously, once [Cole] got signed to Jay Z, we just continued working. But it really wasn’t until Elephant Eyes we made it a business relationship, like a real thing, I’m a part of Dreamville. And I think it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made because it’s really like a family thing. You know, the business is there but I consider Cole and Bas and Cozz and all these people my brothers. Even Ari, that’s like my sister. Ib, the president, that’s like my brother for real.
I don’t know if I would have this kind of connection with any other label because of like the way it’s structured. There’s people that really care about each other, there’s no egos. We’ve all slept at each other’s houses on the floor. We’ve been through the grind with it so there’s a sense of camaraderie that I don’t think you’ll find on another label.
That’s dope. That’s how you realize who you can depend on.
For sure and I think that way, it’s artist development all the way because it’s artist developing each other because we trust each other. So, it’s like if you tell me, “Man, I think you should do this on stage more or do this less” or “What do you think about this on this song?” it’s because we all know we want the best for each other. It’s a good environment to develop each other, not just one artist or two artists.
What do you have coming out in 2016 as far as new music?
We’re in like a phase two with Elephant Eyes because I don’t feel like we really got everything out of it that we could have as far as videos, songs. Just getting into that. And I’m in the early process of working on the new project. I’m not sure if it’s going to be an EP or an album. But I am really excited for where I am doing creatively right now. I feel like I’m experimenting in ways I haven’t before so I’m excited to see what comes from it.
How are you experimenting?
Just in terms of I’m doing a lot of different flows I’ve never really tried before and just being more open. For whatever reason, when I made "48 Laws," that kinda triggered something in my brain that I could playful with flow but still say something That’s just a cool combination I’ve been playing with and experimenting with and so I’ve found a lot of creative ways to use it. I’m still in a search thematically of what the next project will be but I’m in a good place as far as throwing ideas right now, seeing what comes in terms of the whole project.
Have you been working with anyone new for this project or are you still going to keep it in the Dreamville family?
Not too much. Yeah, this is probably the most open I’ve been to working with other producers other than myself and outside the team. I think with Elephant Eyes and even the project before that called Afraid of Heights, they were both really personal and I feel like it told so much of myself and my story that now I want to touch on other things, other people’s stories. It’s more than diving deeper into my own. It’s not so strictly about me. I think I want to tell stories about things I care about, things my friends care about, more social issues. So that’s giving me more of an opportunity for a new sound.
And you don’t have a timetable for this yet?
Yeah, I’d definitely like to release it this year.
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