It’s sort of remarkable how broad R&B has again become. Not all that long ago it was as stifled and formulaic as light jazz or contemporary pop country—just a bunch of nameless R. Kelly and Destiny’s Child clones clogging up urban radio.
But the so-called “alt-R&B” movement, which has been gathering steam since at least 2011, changed all of that. Freed from the shackles of A&R men, and spurred on by the breakthroughs of James Blake, The Weeknd, How to Dress Well and others , the once stale niche has been steadily expanding and mutating (Check our DecibelCast Vol. 19 for the bass-ier side of that spectrum).
Among those at the forefront of this expansion, is 23-year-old Iman Omari, a gifted and super prolific (releasing EPs via his Bandcamp page almost monthly these days) composer, producer/remixer and vocalist. The Los Angeleno, who has ties to Kendrick Lamar and Knxledge, actually got his start writing beats with MTV Music Generator on the original Sony Playstaion.
Omari’s take on the genre is essentially hip-hop based, but he also draws on decades of West Coast music– from cool jazz of Brubek to the shamanic acid imagery of The Doors to the squelchy sythesized funk of Parliment, all the way up to the post-millennial boom-bap of the Low End Theory collective. (The way in which he crafts his beats in particular, recalls the off-kilter wonk of Flying Lotus and the Brainfeeder camp.)
Omari’s sound is heavily atmospheric, with multi-layered ambiance created from chopping and looping vocals, synths and samples. In a manner parallel to the mainstream obsession with extensive vocal processing, Omari frequently treats both his own vocals and other instruments, with a heavy amount of effects.
But rather than autotuning, the kind of effects processing he prefers is this distinct warbling kind of thing, that creates woozy, psychedelic melodies that feel bent or wavy, kind of like the way sunlight passes through water.
From the latest “tape,” Vibe Tape +++3:
“Bars w/ Cav”
And some older stuff:
“Addicted [flip]” from Vibe Tape +++(2)
“Take Away feat. Good Joon” from Energy EP
“No Stress” from (VIBE)rations LP
“First Time” from Energy EP
Omari recently dropped a guest spot for the radio show Soulection, playing a mix of original stuff (starting at about the 1:30:00 mark) and then stick around for an interview.