Omen is a Chicago-based artist and producer currently signed to J. Cole's Dreamville Records. He has received recent acclaim for his production work on Ari Lennox's single "BMO." He has also gained more recognition with his appearances on Revenge of The Dreamers III. EARMILK had a chance to talk to the ascending artist as he shared his beginning process with Dreamville, his musical influences, and his journey to a successful career.
Born Damon Coleman, Omen is riding the train to hip-hop stardom but that doesn't change how his seclusive poet heart. He shares, "I am really into storytelling and what I'm saying having meaning. I was able to study poetry when I was younger. Overall I think I have an interesting perspective as I am a quiet and observant person, not an expected demeanor for a rapper. But I think that makes my music stand out."
Omen makes relatable music that is very close to the heart. His social shyness is camouflaged behind a vibrant veil of intimate lyricism and personable songwriting. Always diverse in his song topics and production choices, his influences range over a number of different genres. "My mom was an aspiring singer, she would sing Prince, Micheal Jackson, The Beatles around the house. My dad was a singer in a 1970's soul group called 21st century. They were signed to Motown Records. They had a big hit called "Remember the Rain" You could find it on those random "soul hits vol:12" type of complication albums. My stepdad was into Jazz, was a vocalist, pianist, and bassist. Even my grandparents were musically involved in church. I had an uncle who was a DJ and he loved east coast rap. My older cousin was super into West Coast hip-hop. So I had a balanced musical pallet. My childhood made me appreciate music. I was learning without knowing I was actually learning about music. I had friends that liked music but they probably only like rap. I was into other genres as well."
Though Omen can be known for his work alongside J.Cole, the two having met in their last years of high school, Omen attributes much of his work to the influences from Jamaican-born legendary rapper and lyricists Canibus. "He [Canibus] was known for being a lyricist. As a high school kid, I was impressed that he was using such big words. I was an avid reader so it was kind of fun to me. I was like a rap nerd. Because I lived on 51st street and Canibus rapped about these scientific things so we named our rap group Area 51. It wasn't anything too serious. We didn't have equipment so we rapped into the boombox I had at the crib. It was real bootleg but eventually, I got a radio shack mic, then used my refund check to buy a real mic in college. So I really went through all the steps of becoming a rapper."
It was actually through a Canibus fansite that Omen and J. Cole first connected, also how they connect with producer Anthony Parrino (a.k.a. Elite). They started bonding and eventually, Omen went to New York and met Cole. "I went out to New York to visit some family so I decided to meet him (J.Cole) in person. Meeting on the internet was perceived a lot more sketchy back in that day. So after we were hanging out, making sure it wasn't anything weird, we recorded like 2-3 songs together, like that same day. Then after that, we started sharing music, critiquing each other's work. In 2009 I ended up moving to New York full time, as nothing was really happening for me in Chicago. I was going through a rough patch and he had been trying to get me to move there for years and we've been rocking there ever since."
But to many people's surprise, Omen wasn't officially involved with the Dreamville Record Label, though he was present and there for it since it's early beginnings. "We were always together so people attached me to it [Dreamville] immediately. So that's when we had the conversation about it because I didn't want to be claiming something that we never talked about. He was like nah, it's cool. At that time Dreamville was more of an idea so he told me just to roll with the name."
It became a business when the imprint landed a distribution deal with Interscope Records in 2014. Omen officially signed to the label the following year after the release of his debut album Elephant Eyes. Music critic Evan Vogel from The Early Registration described it, "By the end of the album, you feel like you are hearing a much more confident Omen than the shy, closed-off artist we got in the beginning. It shows progression, not only in music but in his number one concern, personal growth. He is more accepting of the randomness of life and seems more comfortable about who he is." Unfortunately, that early album has disappeared from many streaming sites due to sample clearance issues. It is only available on Soundcloud but even though his debut isn't widely available for his audience, Omen doesn't regret using samples on his debut.
"What happened was real wack but we went into it knowing that was a risk because he [J. Cole] was coming out of pocket. Cole wanted to help me with the rollout of the album. We went to Interscope, they liked the album and they were interested in me as an artist. The album started gaining more traction than expected so they snatched the album off Apple and Spotify while I was on tour, that was a big blow. Dreamville was restructuring the label situation with Interscope while we were on tour, I couldn't officially sign until that was done. That caused a big gap in between projects. I address this on my next project, the single is coming out very soon."
The first volume of Revenge of the Dreamers was a compilation mixtape between J.Cole, Omen Bas and Cozz. Recorded during the Forest Hills Drive tour in 2014 when Dreamville first started feeling like a label. Omen describes the process as, "Basically, it was us emailing songs to each other and playing songs we were working on to collaborate on. When it was released, it got decent reviews."
For the second volume of Revenge of the Dreamers in 2015, the roster grew to include Ari Lennox and Lute. According to Omen, "It was actually meant to be an album. It was the same process of emailing songs to each other but it was a high standard on how good we wanted it to be. It still kind of felt like a mixtape almost, not quite an album."
The Revenge of the Dreamers III would greatly change the process and the perception of Dreamville's music. At the top of 2019, the rollout was portrayed as a VIP exclusive event as an army of artists took to social media to show off their golden ticket invite to the 10-day Dreamville studio lock-in. Considering the people that were invited, fans knew immediately that this project would be something special.
Upon arrival, it was surprising. "When I got there, we [Dreamville artists] were unaware of the presence of all the other artists and other producers invited, it was a shock. It was dope, but those first 2 days we were very intense especially for the mild-mannered personalities like myself."
After the shock value wore off, the pressure was on and Omen definitely felt the heat. "There was no room to be passive, even for the producers. I remember I was there with five other rappers in the studio and Cole was like thumbs up if you want to write to this beat right now. It didn't matter if the beat was good or ok, they only used it if they wanted to write to it right then and there and that was a lot of pressure."
Dreamville was looking to shatter the idea of being close-minded and detached from everything else in the industry. The studio sessions were a motivating moment of inspiration for the Dreamville camp. "It was like a gauntlet, you had to bring your A-game, but it was fun. We were encouraged to step out of our comfort zone. I never experienced anything like it. The best part about it was seeing everyone's different styles of recording and their method."
The editing process was rigorous. There were about 140 different songs with numerous verses from over 50 different artists. Ibrahim "Ib" Hamad handled some of the A&R along with J.Cole in making the final decisions. One would think Dreamville artists were a shoe in to appear on the album but Omen says, not necessarily. "I don't think they would sacrifice the song just to get a look for one of us. I expect that because they're holding you up to a standard and that is to make you something great."
On July 5, 2019, Dreamville released the highly anticipated compilation album Revenge of the Dreamers III which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "I didn't really have expectations, so I was satisfied with the music. But with the album going Gold, going number #1 those were all a crazy bonus because I didn't see it coming. I felt it being there during the recording but I feel it more now, that I was a part of a historic moment for hip-hop."
Omen is now focused on releasing his upcoming album but he is really looking forward to flexing his production skills with other artists too. " I want to venture out and produce for other people. I really just produced for myself until recently when I did "BMO" for Ari (Lennox). That kind of opened my eyes just seeing the response to it."
Maybe it's from the success of these last few projects, but fans are now seeing the product of an artist that's willing to boldly push and explore the limitless creativity that's within himself. This unshakeable Omen is even in the early stages of writing a TV adult cartoon show. "Things are just starting to happen for me but I've been doing music for so long, it's rare for me to get inspiration. So I need to venture out to other creative outlets that are still similar. I look at it like when I'm writing a song I'm writing a story. When I'm writing a TV show I'm also writing a story it's just a different way of writing a story."
Omen has a single coming out soon so stay connected with him in the links below.