Om’Mas Keith: Frank Ocean Producer Chats with Amalgamation

Om'Mas Keith
Om'Mas Keith
Om’Mas Keith

Songwriter, producer, musician Om’Mas Keith is having a banner year due to the success of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange album. Om’Mas is one of only four producers (Ocean, Malay and Pharrell) credited on the Grammy-nominated project. Loyal followers of the Neo-Soul movement may be familiar with Om’Mas as a member of the artistic collective, Sa-Ra Creative Partners—once signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label. Over time, Om’Mas [an ASCAP member] has scored collaborations with Kanye West, Dr. Dre, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Common, Andre 3000, J Dilla, Jill Scott, and N.E.R.D., and is preparing for the release of his own album, City Pulse, later this year.

Channel Orange received so much critical acclaim. What do Frank Ocean and the project mean to you and your career?

Frank is one of the most creative individuals alive. He epitomizes the modern artist; I didn’t say musician, I said artist. I’m very adamant about his demonstration as an artistic person. He’s got vision, chutzpah and determination. I hold these qualities dear; which is why I enjoyed working with him so much.

Did the many Grammy nominations come as a surprise?

The Grammy nominations do not come as a surprise as much as being the most humbling experience of my musical career. This has brought me back to square one. I recall as a young brotha—when I was looking for guidance and mentors—then I was only dreaming about the Grammys. And, here we are. Frank Ocean has taken me full circle.

You have worked with a plethora of artists before. How has this put you back in demand again?

As soon as Channel Orange came out, the requests started coming. I’d already been working with [producer] Michael Uzowuru (who introduced Om’Mas to Frank) and [rapper] Vince Staples, two artists I’m heavily focusing on. I’ve been in the studio with Malaysian Pop star Yuna. I’m producing the entire album by Simphiwe Dana, a huge star in South Africa. I’ve been in the studio with Pop star Jojo, who is signed to Blackground. I’m working with Syd tha Kyd and Matt Martian of Odd Future, and working closely on projects for [Universal Music Group artists] Azaelia Banks and Jenna Andrews.

A lot of the music you have produced is left of the mainstream. How do you reconcile what radio wants and what you and the artist may deliver?

People often ask me that. How is it that you can work with million sellers, yet be in a group that is a cult classic? It’s very natural for me. It’s the way I was raised. I was raised on the American songbook. Those early popular records were very good musically. I can be avant garde when the client needs it. Once you enlist me as a service provider, you now have access to my entire repertoire. When I’m producing for myself, that’s one thing, but when you hire me as a producer, well then that’s different. Whatever the situation calls for, I’m it. I’m that dude!

What are your expectations for the City Pulse album?

My objective is to share with people a part of my story. This album calls upon my experiences as a musician, as a creative person. The project is really about love, relationships, travels and its drawing upon my time that I’ve been in the business. It’s coming out on my own label, White Line Recordings, and features some very well-known people; musicians of the highest caliber.

Are you going on the road anytime soon?

Right off the bat, [clothing company] Carhartt WIP (Work in Progress) is sponsoring a tour with [German Techno Pop band] Brandt Brauer Fricka, and is taking me on tour for 30 days to promote their album in which I’m a featured artist. They decided to bring me in as the featured vocalist for the entire tour. Touring is a part of my life. I’m going to jumpstart my movement being on tour with them, while in the Western European regions where my fan base has always been strong.

You’re a vocalist and a drummer. What other instruments do you play, and what brands do you prefer?

I often tell people that if you put it in front of me, I’ll play it. I’m particularly fond of the [electronic piano] Wurlitzer 200. When I play keys, It’s a true extension of myself. I like my Fender P-Bass. I like all things vintage. Anyone who knows my history with Sa-Ra knows we always prided ourselves on being collectors and playing the finest vintage instruments.

Who would you say are your contemporaries?

Producers like Salaam Remi, Pharrell & Chad, ?uestlove, Robert Glasper 100%. Glasper is one of my brothas. We just hang out as friends talking about politics. That’s the hidden side. Part of the reason you come into the business is for the camaraderie, for the brotherhood, the sisterhood, and the love of humanity.

What are you listening to currently?

The only new music I’m listening to are my clients, and the clients I’m seeking out. When I’m in the car, I’m probably listening to talk radio. When listening for pleasure, I’m probably listening to Donald Fagen & Steely Dan, or Roy Ayers. Anything that Quincy Jones touched and Rod Temperton wrote, then I’m studying. Every time I listen to music, even for pleasure, it’s always an exercise in studying for me. That is the key to my success.

You seem to be highly engaged when it comes to education—speaking at the Red Bull Academy, or the Electronic Music Fest. How important is it for you to give back?

It’s one of the most important things that I will put aside time to do. I’m hoping that young people are taking lessons that will empower and enable them to see their creative messages through to the end. I always say, ‘See things through!’ I want all of these young brothers and sisters out here to be finishers!

Interview Conducted By David A. Mitchell