Iman Omari's uncle Josef Leimberg is scuttling around his Eagle Rock studio, working on improving its feng shui. He pauses by a door that's become unhinged. “A 400-pound dude busted through this, trying to get his rappers in to record.” That wasn't going to fly, however, because Bootsy Collins was working on a track.
It's Black Friday, and 22-year-old singer and producer Omari is here wrapping up the last song on his album, Energy, which is out today. Instead of the sweaty palms that usually accompany an impending deadline, however, he's remarkably serene. A gentle woman named Gia arrives to do her spoken word guest spot. Only when pressed does she reveal she's Gia Scott-Heron, daughter of the legendary soul poet Gil Scott-Heron, who passed earlier this year.
Perhaps all of this shouldn't be surprising, as L.A.'s musical scene is as interconnected as its freeways. Not only has Omari produced for Gia Scott-Heron, but also Kendrick Lamar, TiRon and Ayomari, and OverDoz. He's talented and has an impressive pedigree: His mother is Tracey Patrick of the '80s group Klymaxx, his father is a musician, and Leimberg is a trumpet player and producer for Snoop Dogg.
Omari grew up “all over” Los Angeles, the son of a Somalian mother and a Jamaican father, whose Temptations, Don Blackman, George Duke, and Joe Sample albums he got into. “They showed me a video of myself at my second birthday. I was holding a microphone up to my mouth. Just jibberish, of course, but my family points to it like, 'That's how I knew you were gonna sing.'”
While his family was sure, others weren't. He went to Hamilton High School, but wasn't admitted to its prestigious music program. He was enrolled in the “Business and Interactive Technology” department, but took gospel choir as an elective. A teacher in the Academy of Music heard him in the gospel choir, and brought him in to audition.
Although he couldn't read music (“It was like the movie Drumline. The teacher would sing a line, I'd play it on the piano”), he became one of the school's stars, and earned a full vocal jazz scholarship to Howard University. He didn't go.
“I didn't feel like I needed anything [else]. I just wanted to get started with my life. So I took all the money I won from singing competitions, and I had a great little year. Then I was broke,” he says.
His family wasn't thrilled with his decision. He worked a variety of jobs — at Ross, in the mailroom at Fox, and doing admin work for the Oscars — but he hasn't had a “real” job for two years now, making a living solely from music. “Record labels call my house now, so my parents aren't so upset,” he says with a laugh.
“A lot of people think I'm like, 50. I'm like an old man,” he says.
His swirling beats sound futuristic, though. They're often lilting, somersaulting into space; he nearly grounds them with leisurely percussion, but then he layers on his silky, airy vocals. The effect is something akin to falling onto marshmallow-y clouds. Ethereal, maybe? “Yeah, just real emo. So emo,” he says with a laugh.
Drake better watch out.