When Omarion sings, "I done cut the braids, low cut, got my grown on," in a raspy croon on his new single "I Get It In," he's referencing a turning point in his career.
"I felt like my braids defined who I was, and there's so much more to me," says the 25-year-old singer, who -- in the wake of Ludacris and Mario -- shed his signature hairstyle in July. "I'm not a kid in the industry anymore; I have a sense of self."
"I Get It In" is No. 26 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and No. 18 on Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop. The track, which features a cameo by in-demand rapper Gucci Mane, provides a solid setup for the former B2K singer's third solo album. Due Jan. 12, "Ollusion" will be released on the artist's own Starworld Entertainment imprint through EMI Label Services.
"It's the first record I've put out since [2005's] 'Touch' that has a high-energy dance vibe," Omarion says. "I have a new look and my own label now, so it felt like the right way to kick things off."
Omarion, whose real name is Omari Grandberry, recently released a choreography-laden music video for "I Get It In." His second single will be a song he co-produced with four-person production team 253. Titled "Speed'n," the midtempo number recalls past hits "O" and "Ice Box." The singer adds, "It's got that classic Omarion feel."
Other standout tracks include "Hoodie," a boastful jam featuring Jay Rock, and "What Do You Say," a ballad Omarion co-wrote with his friend Chris Brown.
In early August, the future of "Ollusion" and Omarion's label home looked unclear. The singer's deal with Young Money fell through two weeks after label founder Lil Wayne introduced him at a concert, sparking rumors that he was dropped. This followed an earlier split from Timbaland, who was originally set to produce and release Omarion's new album under his Interscope-distributed Mosley Music Group.
"Timbaland had so much on his plate," Omarion recalls. "And when I saw I couldn't have the relationship I wanted to have with him, I knew it wasn't the home for me. With Young Money, it was getting close to the end of the year, and I wanted to build momentum for the first quarter. Wayne had other plans, though . . . he's the captain of his ship."
Those events could have easily derailed another artist's career. Yet Omarion pushed ahead, striking a new deal with EMI by late September.
"Everyone was speculating that I was out for the count," he says, "but I never sweat. Stepping out as an entrepreneur was the smartest thing I could do."
"Now we have Omarion the artist and Omari the boss," says Cheryl Trimmer, who previously worked with the singer's manager Chris Stokes and is now president of Starworld. "He wouldn't have been able to wear both hats at Young Money."
Omarion already has a stable of acts under Starworld: one female and one male solo singer, a singing group and a male rapper, whom he'll likely introduce while touring in support of "Ollusion."
"You'll start to see his artists roll out in the fourth quarter of next year," Trimmer says. "Right now the focus is getting him established where he needs to be."
Omarion says he's ready for the challenge, noting that he's been especially determined to take his career to the next level ever since his idol, Michael Jackson, died. "I was sitting at his funeral next to Chris [Brown]," he recalls, "and I just had this moment where I said to myself, 'I have to step up to the plate now and drive myself further than I've ever gone before.' "