A native of Hollis, Queens, and current resident of Los Feliz, producer Om'Mas Keith broke through with Ice-T signees Raw Breed in 1997, and has since accumulated production and mixing credits on Jay Z's Kingdom Come, Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War and Rick Ross' Rise To Power.
He's also a member of Sa-Ra Creative Partners, a hip-hop trio that was Kanye West's first G.O.O.D Music signee. And, oh yeah — he snagged a couple of Grammys nominations for his contributions to Frank Ocean's Channel Orange. We spoke with Om'Mas over lunch at Delphine's about that album and a whole bunch of other stuff.
How did you originally link with Frank Ocean for Channel Orange?
As is the case with almost all my clients, we started off with a friendly relationship. For a few weeks, there was no work. Michael Uzowuru brought Frank to my house one day. Frank would come over with the Odd Future crew and we'd all just be playing everything for each other. My first observation of Frank was that's a talented brother. I knew something was going on with him. He was very quiet and reserved. At the time, he was playing songs from nostalgia, Ultra before he put it out. So we had a couple listening sessions after our first meeting. And not too long after, he asked me to work on his album.
Did any song from nostalgia, Ultra immediately stand out to you as reason to work with him?
I really liked “American Wedding.” It's so crazy how nostalgic energy can trigger you to remember things, you know? What a gutsy move.
That's a relatively unpopular choice in the critical world…
And that immediately makes it the most brilliant shit. That's how you flip it in this business.
You formed your own group Sa-Ra in 2000 with Taz Arnold and Shafiq Hussain. Five years later, you guys signed to G.O.O.D Music. What made you decide to do that?
To further the creativity. We didn't sit around, thinking, “Oh we're going to be so big.” We just did us everyday. We would sit around and talk about peace and love all day and Ancient Nubia. That's what Sa-Ra really is, dude. “Ra” as a concept could be literal or ethereal. Instead of dealing with peoples' ideas of organized religion, that was our thing. How energy emits and has sources. What I'm talking about isn't “mystery spooky talk.” We're talking about measurable frequencies. It's all science to me.
You speak of energy a lot and peace and justice. Did you discuss these notions with Frank?
We definitely dealt a lot with peace and love as concepts. And wanting to be happy.
Can you describe the day-to-day working with him?
Frank rented a mansion and the purpose of it was for Frank to have somewhere comfortable to record outside of the studio we had been in for a couple months already. The Odd Future kids were always running around. To make a great album, you need to be in different environments and I think Frank knew that. That was a very special time during the making of the album. I think the most memorable things that came out of that place were “Lost” and “Pyramids.”
Are you already working on the follow up to Channel Orange?
Oh, yeah. Frank has been over here and we've been having creative discussions of what we're doing. He's played me some records.
Aside from Frank, Yuna and Vince Staples, are you working on any other projects right now?
I'm about to be working on [Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt's collaborative album] EarlWolf. I don't use the word “tracks.” But there have been creative and musical offerings made on my part for both Earl's album and EarlWolf.
You seem to prefer building new artists more than working with established stars.
I want to make sure it's a main focus. But I don't leave my eggs all in one basket because it's not wise for me as someone who wants to leave this legacy as someone who did it all. Quincy [Jones] did it all. He had a focus on youth while he had a focus on film while he had a focus on television while he had a focus on spirituality and the universe.
Clearly you're thinking of your legacy quite a bit.
I see myself leaving behind a legacy of being a world renowned creative force. I would say, I see myself as going down as someone who made great videos, television shows, records, unique art offerings 'cause I'm a craftsman. I hope to see myself as someone who continued to make offerings to the very end. And strived to be the best at all costs, aside from destroying peoples' lives and going to the dark side.
Perhaps wanting to leave a lasting legacy and saying you don't particularly care about the recognition conflict with one another?
No, I don't feel that [way]. It's just saying: I'm not going to destroy my mental well-being questing for this vanity play. The quest for the recognition is a vanity play. It's like a scene from Coming to America. Why shouldn't we wear princely robes? With the level of craftsmanship available, why shouldn't we enjoy these wonderful things?
Companionship and peace are the most important things to me. The worldly things? I see friends who have been destroyed by that. I did not try to get a Grammy award. But I will rejoice in a general consensus about my good nature. That's what the Grammys really is. The general consensus is that I am one of the top professionals in my field — I didn't say it, they did. I'm with it. I'm not going to buck the system and say fuck y'all. That's bullshit. I'm not saying I need it but I'm not going to shun it away.
That said, how important would winning a Grammy be to you?
It is in fact the pinnacle of any form of recognition in the music world. I view it that way personally. I care. To elaborate, I don't care that more people will know who I am. But I appreciate and accept it. My quest is to leave a legacy for my down-line that is respectable, admirable and rooted in love, truth, peace, freedom and justice. And I think garnering accolades, though it's not part of my quest, that's why it happens.