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Dreamville Underdog Omen Talks Girls, the Grind, and Elephant Eyes

Anybody that has heard a J. Cole mixtape or attended one of his concerts (like the consistently sold out Dollar & A Dream Tour), knows the Dreamville Records roster has a lot more to offer than just the Fayetteville native. And while Cozz and Bas both released proper studio albums in 2014, Dreamville’s first signee, Omen, has been patiently waiting for damn near a decade now. We talked to the Chi-Town double threat about what the hell the hold up has been.

Mass Appeal: Tell us where you’re from and how you got started in the game.

Omen: I’m from the Southside of Chicago, born and raised. I’ve spent most of my time in Chicago, but I lived in New York for like three years. I feel like when I went to New York is when things started moving a little more career-wise. Cole had just got signed when I moved out there. He took me on his first tour. I think it was a Pringles/BET/Music Matters thing or something like that. That was the start of things moving for me. I was doing music in Chicago, but there wasn’t real traction with it.

What would you say would be the first cut that people would recognize you from?

It’s probably the features I’ve had with Cole. So, either “The Badness” from The Warm-Up or “Enchanted” from Friday Night Lights. Those were the two most prominent tracks people knew me for.

The album, as well as your promo videos, give a sense you’ve been waiting to get Elephant Eyes out for a while.

Oh, for sure. I put out a project called Afraid of Heights, I wanna say, three or four years ago. It was received pretty well. It had Kendrick on it, it had Cole on it… It was received fairly well online, but there wasn’t real movement offline. I wasn’t doing shows from it. I didn’t have videos lined up. It wasn’t strategically planned out. So, when it came time to do this project, I just really took my time to get it, not only creatively right, but a lot of it was just me trying to get my team right…even though I’m with Dreamville. For instance, Cole is on RocNation, but Dreamville is his team. So, it’s like I’m on Dreamville, but I needed my own team to get things moving in the right direction in all areas. It took me probably two and a half to three years to finish the project. It wasn’t all creative, like I said, but some of it was. I feel like I did 60–70 songs for the album and there’s only 11 that made it. That was probably the toughest part of it was just cutting songs. I kept going back to it like, is this necessary? Even though it might have been a great song, I wanted the project to feel like everything was there for a reason.

So, on that note, give us three songs that didn’t make the cut.

Sure. I had a song called “Wilted Rose.” A lot of the album is storytelling, but this was like a movie scene…like Nas type storytelling. I might put that out at some point. I still really like that song. What else was on there…a song called “Black Genius,” which was really just me rapping, spitting bars. And then there was a song called “Stories Pt. 2.” I had a song called “Stories” on an older mixtape called Afraid of Heights, and this was like the part two of that. It was just a real heartfelt, emotional song that I still love to this day, but I touched on some of the subjects already throughout the tape. So, it just felt unnecessary.

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Elephant Eyes has a distinct sound. Speak on the sound, the production.

I did nine of the 11 songs. The other two were [produced] by this guy Ron Gilmore. I met him through Cole. He plays piano for Cole and Lauryn Hill and a couple other people. He’s an incredible producer. He kinda helped me throughout all the songs. It was really just us two for the entire tape.

Some of my favorite tracks on Elephant Eyes are “Father Figure,” “Big Shadows,” and “Things Change.” It feels like “Things Change” didn’t really need the Cole verse, like it would have sounded complete without him.

Possibly. I placed it after “Big Shadows” on purpose ‘cause it’s about being in the shadow of another artist that is a friend of mine. It’s kinda like owning up to the position I’m in and the perception that people have of me, but saying, “This is not accurate. This is not what I want to accept. And things have changed.” So, it was kinda like a strategic move to have him on that song. But I feel you. Really on that song I’m summarizing the album with my verse, what the album means to me.

You focus on ladies on quite a few of your songs, like “Jezebel,” “Zion,” and “Elephant Eyes.” Speak on how women effect your music.

Even though I’ve always rapped about women, it was as prevalent as it was on this tape. I think that’s just a product of the experiences I’ve been having: being on the road a lot these last few years, a lot of travelling, and obviously meeting different women. The tape is loosely inspired by a woman, like a woman gave me that name, “Elephant Eyes,” years back. The reason I made “Zion” last is because throughout the tape I’m talking about trials and tribulations, whether it’s with my father, or being in the shadow, or growing up in Chicago. But, throughout those trials, it’s always been women that have gotten me through it. Whether it was my mother, or an old relationship, or a fling, or whatever. So, that’s why I made that song last because it was a real summary of the theme that ties things together. It wasn’t really conscious to have a lot of songs about women. It just sort of happened that way and I didn’t shy away from it.

The album cover art is real dope. Who is responsible for that?

I go to a lot of these different art blogs. I’ve always been into art ’cause I can’t really draw, so I’ve always admired people who could. I happened to go on this art blog one day and this guy was featured on there named Ryan Bubnis. He’s from Portland. I just reached out to him. I gave him an idea of where I was going with the album and I sent him one song…maybe two at the max. It’s crazy because so many of the images in the cover go with themes of the tape. It’s just crazy how he called it. Even the cloud with the rain drops, he didn’t hear that song where I say, “Raindrops do fall.” So, it was kinda weird, like it was meant to be or something. It came out really dope. I was happy with it.

How has the response been to Elephant Eyes?

It’s been amazing, man. On the Internet, whenever you put something new out, it’s always a quick response that’s usually overly emotional. Whether it’s positive or negative, it’s like over-the-top, always. So, I was gauging it a week or two later like, lemme see what they’re saying now. And it’s been consistent from the day it dropped. All these people saying how much they love it. So many people say it’s classic. Very, very kind words. I don’t know if it’s classic because, to me, classic is, you’ll be playing it five years from now.

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