NEW YORK — To anyone who thinks Omarion is a flash-in-the-pan, fly-by-night R&B singer, the man himself has something to say.
"I'm here to stay, man," he said. "Everything about my music and how I dance — I'm going to be that person who's going to stick around. I'm taking my own lane."
Omarion releases his next album, 21 (signifying his auspicious age), in late August.
"I'm growing to a different level with my maturity, with being involved [in my business]," he explained, sitting in a conference room at Sony Music. "I keep telling you, I'm getting more and more involved in my business. At this point in my life, I'm so sure of everything: what I want to do, where I want to go, all my music, movies, everything. Hopefully people can understand my message. It's feel-good music. I took it back to [Michael Jackson] and James Brown — that exciting feeling when you hear the records.
"Most of the time when people are putting together their albums, they reference Off the Wall, Thriller, you know, to be a guideline," he continued. "I pretty much wanted to just find myself and my music. And everything on this album I wrote on, and it's real recent."
Sometimes artists find it creatively stifling to come with two albums in two consecutive years, but Omarion says following up 2005's O was no problem — especially when he was able to knock out seven songs with producers the Underdogs in less than two weeks. However, he insists that being prolific doesn't mean things were rushed.
"Anything I'm taking time out for people to see, I want it to be well thought out," he said. "I don't want it to be dope songs that other people wrote that don't have anything to do with my life. I want it to be personal. On this record, I might have a song about this girl named Lisa. I want people to be like, 'Who is this girl Lisa?' Because it's real sh--."
Other collaborators on the album include Pharrell Williams, songwriter Brian Michael Cox and Andre Merritt and Eric Hudson (co-writer and producer of "Entourage," respectively).
Besides maturing with his views on making music and handling business, Omarion is also redefining his role as a role model.
"Because I'm in such a different place in my life right now, I see how music and TV affects the young people," he said. "It's so important that when they hear my music, it's not all about fame and making money — it's about the message. These little girls out here nowadays," he continued, directly addressing his fans, "Women, respect yourselves. Understand what you have is very precious. Just like young men: Respect yourself. Get yourself together. Don't no woman want a man that can't provide for himself or her either."
In 21's first single, "Entourage," he talks about developing a fondness for a significant other. He asks her not to be in his entourage, but to be his entourage.
"The whole entourage thing is a relationship," he said. " 'I'll let you be lieutenant if you let me be captain.' Be that woman so I can be that man. It takes two. I kinda wanted everybody to get more me [on this album]. I heard a thing that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis said about Janet Jackson: They said, 'If you ever want to know Janet, just listen to her music.' That's why I want people to listen to my music. I want them to know me."
Another personal song from 21 is "Made for TV."
"Real experience," he said. "Real experience. I would be meeting these women in the industry, and I would be feeling like, '[Dating her] would be cool.' I've actually dated some girls in the industry, but it was unrealistic. It would be like, we chillin' and I'm with her and I would feel in my mind, 'It's a good look.' But it would never be like I really like this girl, or the way a normal guy would like a normal girl. 'I don't want something that's made for TV/ I'd rather fall in love with something that's made for me/ I know it sounds crazy, I love my baby/ I don't want something that's made/ Made for TV.' "
And to answer the question that thousands of girls want to know every time O does an interview: No, he does not have a girlfriend and is not looking.
"If something stumbles my way, really nice, interesting, respectful and respects herself, I don't see why it couldn't happen," he added. "If she fits that bill, that's what it is. And she doesn't have to be in the industry — she could be a nice regular girl."
Omarion definitely wants to tour in support of his album this year, but he might not be going on the road with Bow Wow on the fifth installment of the Scream Tour — he's still undecided (see "Scream Tour Organizer Eyeing Chris Brown, Ne-Yo For Fifth Installment").
"I'm not sure, man," he said. "The Scream Tour is its name: the big screaming fans. I'm not dissing the younger cats, or the younger cats that love me, but I want take it to another level. Maybe create my own tour. Basically what I'm saying is that the Scream Tour is a venue for young, fresh, dope artists coming out. Myself, Bow Wow, B2K, we built the Scream Tour, and built it solely on us being teens and loving life and having fun [see "Bow Wow, Omarion Team Up For Single And Scream IV Tour"]. So now that I'm not a teen anymore, I want to find the right venue for me to become older and more mature."
Scream fans shouldn't let their eyes tear up just yet: O's "brother" Marques Houston found himself in a similar situation last year and eventually jumped on the tour.
For a full-length feature on Omarion, check out "Omarion's Growing Pains."