Less than a year ago, Omarion‘s music career was at a stand-still. Now, when he’s on the street, people congratulate him by hollering the phrase “Maybach O!”
“The changes that I needed to make?” Omarion says confidently. “I made them.”
Two weeks after Omarion Grandberry, the R&B singer/actor/dancer and former member of the vocal group B2K, was announced as the latest signee to Rick Ross‘ Maybach Music Group imprint on Warner Bros. Records, the 27-year-old is calling from Atlanta, where he’s been holed up in the studio for the past week. Wale, his new label mate, has been in the room next to him, recording new music of his own. Omarion can’t say what specific project either artist is recording for, mostly because they’ve each been producing new material nonstop.
Wale, a D.C. rapper whose debut album, “Attention Deficit,” flopped upon its 2009 release (159,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan), saw his career effectively resuscitated by Ross, who signed the MC to MMG in February 2011 and helped his sophomore release, “Ambition,” reach 425,000 in sales. As Omarion preps his first batch of material for Maybach Music Group — his debut single, “Let’s Talk,” received a video on Wednesday (May 23), a new mixtape is on the way, and he says that he has probably has at least two tracks on the forthcoming posse album “Self Made Vol. 2” — the singer, with a chip firmly on his shoulder and a new nickname in “Maybach O,” believes that his new team will help guide him to a similar rebound.
“I’m writing more. I’m dancing different. And I really want to entertain the people,” says Omarion. “I think that people didn’t foresee this move for me — that people were like, ‘Oh, what’s up with Omarion?’ Omarion fell off this, Omarion did that. What’s gonna be his next move? This is my next move.”
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Omarion was only 18 when B2K’s self-titled debut album was released in 2002. Along with Lil’ Fizz, J-Boog and Raz-B, Omarion helped create pop-tinged, teen-friendly R&B singles like “Bump Bump Bump” and “Uh Huh” for roughly two years before stepping out on his own. His first solo effort, “O,” sported production from the Neptunes and Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins, and has sold 765,000 copies since its 2005 release, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But by 2010, when his third solo effort “Ollusion” was released and moved only 78,000 copies according to SoundScan, Omarion was in an unideal label situation with EMI Music Group (an announced partnership with Lil Wayne‘s Young Money in 2009 failed to materialize) and needed to take some time for himself.
“This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever just lived life — just walk in the mall, spend time with my family,” says Omarion. “I do think that having a career is about transitioning through peaks and valleys. No one stays hot forever. There’s times where you need to take a break.”
That break ended when Omarion ran into Ross in North Carolina in early March at an event during the CIAA basketball tournament. The two had spoken to each other in passing before, but this time, Omarion told the hip-hop star that he wanted to have him contribute to one of the new songs he was working on. “He told me, ‘We should sit down before you finish up,'” Omarion recalls.
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Ross flew the singer down to Miami, where they “sat and talked,” and Omarion played him a handful of records. The pair saw eye-to-eye immediately. “Probably the most important thing that anyone in this position has ever said to me — and when I say in this position, I consider Ross an executive, not just an entertainer and a lyricist but a mogul… He was just like, ‘I believe in you. You’re an icon [in] everything that you’ve done, even the time that you’ve taken to just live.'”
Ross molds his Maybach Music Group roster, which also includes Philly native Meek Mill and Ohio mixtape specialist Stalley, based on not only inherent talent but the volume of an artist’s output. “[Ross] will have somebody for five to seven days, and he’ll measure how many songs can this person do in this amount of days,” Def Jam president Joie Manda told Billboard earlier this month. With Omarion, the process was no different — but for the R&B singer, his first studio sessions with Ross demonstrated why joining the MMG team was the right move for him.
“I remember being in the studio for the first time with [Ross], and just going through records,” says Omarion. “He was sitting in the studio, and he tells his engineer, ‘Get Meek on the Skype.’ He got Meek on Skype, and was on the phone with Wale at the same time, and was just orchestrating. And then he had me in the studio and was like, “All right O, I need you to hop on the hook. Wale, I need you to do that. And Meek, send that song over to me.'” For the former B2K member, that group mentality immediately resonated. “Coming from a group, being part of a group, you understand how much value that holds in the success that you do, because everybody’s on one page and everybody can see one goal,” he says. “I was just like, ‘Wow, they have the relationship that I’ve been looking for in a new team.'”
When it hit stores on June 26, “Self Made Vol. 2” will give hip-hop fans the first taste of a Maybach Music Group with a veteran vocal presence handling the hooks. And while a new solo LP could take a while for Omarion to finalize, the singer says that his next project will be an emotional one. “I’m singing from my gut, I’m singing from my heart, and it’s just gonna be passionate music,” he promises. “I feel like I’m bringing back what I’ve done, but in a bigger and better way.”