Soaring but centered pop star OMI (Omar Samuel Pasley) has delivered a radiant debut album that is sure to keep the momentum surrounding the affable star rippling throughout 2016 and beyond. The 14 track offering, ME 4 U, arrives on the heels of one of the biggest singles of this – or any – year, with the global smash hit “Cheerleader” striking a genial chord with music fans around the world at the peak of summer.
Spurred by a sublime remix by melodic-house production wiz-kid Felix Jaehn, the song was officially hailed as “Song of the Summer” by Billboard after a lengthy six week reign at the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Tied for the longest run at #1 on the Hot 100 for a reggae song in more than 22 years, the track was produced by Clifton “Specialist” Dillon for Oufah Music (he also helms the new album), achieving triple platinum status in the U.S. “Cheerleader” has also snagged an incredible 500 million combined video views, streamed over 400 Million times on Spotify and recognized as one of this year’s biggest smashes at multi-format radio, hitting #1 at both Pop & Rhythm radio formats, and Top 5 at so many others. The unstoppable hit headed to the top of iTunes in almost every major international territory that tallies music around the globe, notching platinum-plus sales in the UK, Sweden, Italy, Germany, and Australia, 3X platinum certification in Spain and Diamond certification in France. With the charismatic OMI nominated for a host of awards including an MTV VMA nomination for “Song of Summer,” and a Teen Choice 2015 Nomination as “Choice Summer Song,” and others.
But stats alone do not do justice to the imperturbable vibe he radiates in song and cool-headed countenance. Now, ready to spring an irresistible mix of songs on fans that have waited patiently for ME 4 U, OMI defines the album as a revealing spectrum of “new colors” destined to further illuminate the uplifting rainbow he’s cast over the music scene.
Serving up the delectably catchy “Hula Hoop” as the album’s new single, it’s more than a worthy follow-up to “Cheerleader” and harbinger of the myriad of infectious surprises OMI has in store on ME 4 U. Songs include the bouncy confection, “Drop In The Ocean,” featuring young Swedish DJ/producer/artist Aron Chupa’s playful production chops; the optimistic anthem “These Are The Days” with a remix from Luca Schreiner; the driving confessional “Hitchiker,” and a more plaintive change of pace, the sultry and wistful “Babylon,” and others.
“I’ve been so blessed with the success of “Cheerleader,” I’m often asked what do you do next,” he says. “But I have never stopped writing. I took a deep breath and took it ‘everything’ in, for sure, but I have always written songs as a fan and student of music, thinking ‘what do I want to hear’ from me. Knowing that the gray days of winter are coming, I see “Hula Hoop” as a song to carry us through those darker days. What I’m really excited about is the rest of the tracks on the album all have a life of their own, and spread the spectrum of musical lights and darks around pretty good.”
He says that his spry collaboration with Chupa – the airy “Drop In The Ocean” – “reflects the diversity of the album’s creative choices. I will always be Jamaican in my root, that’s my DNA, but musically I’ve always been open to new doors to walk through. He’s a guy with great ideas.”
He calls “Hitchiker” a “song for people “who have lived on that edge but know at the end of the day there’s always a home to return to.” The back-looking “Babylon” strikes him as his most provocative song on ME 4 U. “It was sent to me when I was in Jamaica, and at first seemed a little controversial because we all know the story of the biblical ‘Babylon,’” he says. “But I stayed with it, remembering some of my favorite moments delivered by great artists is when they do dig deeper and show you something personal, something different. For me, breaking down barriers and bringing people together has been at the core of all my musical pursuits.”
OMI’s own ‘deep’ roots can be traced to the rural Jamaican parish of Clarendon – ‘a stone’s throw from Kingston’ he says – and he recalls how art and music have always been a part of his DNA: “My father did both. He passed away when I was 9, but imprinted on me the lessons and tools for a lifetime,” he says. “I think it was genetically encrypted. I started writing music when I was 14, always interested in words. The poetry side of the music artist fascinated me.”
Others began to notice by the time he entered high school, where OMI and his peers would rap and dance on top of desks during their class breaks. “Everyone knew I had a passion for art, but when they saw me rapping over beats – and doing music that I wrote – they were like ‘you got to get into a studio, man.’”
OMI did just that – determined to ‘see what I sounded like on a record,’ he says. He became fascinated with lyrics, transitioning from influences like Tupac, Biggie, and Eminem, transitioning to singer/songwriting stylists like John Legend and even mid-century crooner Nat King Cole. “I knew that if it didn’t sound like something where I could make a difference in the world, I wasn’t going to pursue it.”
OMI is proud that “Cheerleader” ranks as the first reggae song in more than two decades to lockdown #1 for such a durable run, and is very conscious of Jamaica’s captivating hold on popular music throughout history: “So many different genres have been touched by Jamaican roots,” he says. “For people to enjoy my music on so many levels, fans knowing that I always try to sustain those roots in my music is really special to me.”
He met ‘kindred musical spirit’ Clifton ‘Specialist’ Dillon in 2009, and the two formed a special creative relationship, with Dillon (Shabba Ranks, Patra. Alborosie, Ky-mani Marley) setting up OMI with his own studio in Kingston. “A great vibe was born, another great learning process where I fell even more in love with music and dedicated myself to a fulltime career.”
The touchstone song “Cheerleader” would eventually become part of that process, with OMI remembering fondly that ‘Cheerleader’ originally “started out as just two verses and a chorus.”
The song ‘grew’ on him, however, and when Dillon first heard it, he made a bold prediction. “He said immediately that ‘Cheerleader’ was going to be the ‘one.’ The hit,” recalls OMI. “We put a third verse to it, worked on the beat, and sent it out into the world.”
“Cheerleader” originally took off in Hawaii, but OMI was getting a larger sense of the song’s ‘stickiness’ where ever he performed it live. “People just gravitated to it, always remarking how it was their favorite.” Felix Jaehn’s perceptive 2014 remix captured the blissful tenor of the track.
With diverse music mags like Entertainment Weekly and Fader hailing Omi’s magnetic hold on pop culture right now (‘represents a new reality for global pop music’ raved Fader) OMI still manages to maintain an even keel when it comes to song making. “I don’t underestimate the power of what a song like “Cheerleader” has done for me,” he says. “It’s become the foundation for so many other things. But I’m always striving for growth and development. One of the worst things any artist can do is think that you are ‘there.’ That’s why I’m so excited about ME 4 U. I know now anything is possible with the right song.”