Om’Mas Keith

Grammy-winning producer Om’Mas Keith: Guiding an ocean of talent

Words: Justin Monroe
Photo: DREW GURIAN

Om’Mas Keith sees himself as a provider of services. But he’s on top because of selfish devotion to unselfishness.

Om’Mas Keith believes we can all be better. For the 39-year-old Grammy-winning producer, composer, arranger, engineer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Hollis, Queens, it’s a truth that applies to himself as much as it does to Frank Ocean, Erykah Badu, John Legend and other superstars who pay him to help them realize their creative vision.

“If you don’t completely surrender yourself to that scenario, you’re doing a disservice to everyone around you, to yourself, to the music business,” says Keith, who is the subject of Across the Board, a look at Keith’s astounding ability to bring out the creativity, passion and emotion of some of today’s top musical talent. The documentary short is now exclusively on Red Bull TV.

Om’Mas Keith

Om’Mas Keith at the RBMA Radio during the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo, 2014.

© Yusaku Aoki / Red Bull Content Pool

THE RED BULLETIN: What’s the key to your success as a producer? 

OM’MAS KEITH: As soon as someone’s established trust, they ain’t going nowhere. That’s your longtime partner. Bring all your knowledge to the table when you show up. Don’t hide it. Not when you’re with somebody you love and respect, admire, trust and want to work with long term.

You’ve worked with Frank Ocean on his Grammy-winning debut, Channel Orange, as well as other artists at the top of their game. How do you help them get better?

You help somebody be better by adding to their consciousness, adding to what they know about their particular craft. You might just share a simple fact that makes somebody have a revelation and write a great song.

Erykah Badu is spending all day studying and researching too, but there’s no way we’re studying the exact same thing. And then we’re gonna intersect, we’re gonna share ideas, and we’re gonna find that there’s things that she can teach me and there’s things that I can teach her. Every time. And when that stops, then the relationship pretty much stops, ’cause if nobody’s learning nothing, nobody’s growing. There’s no point. If you don’t keep learning, you’re done.

After winning a Grammy for Frank Ocean’s first album, Keith produced the electro-soul artist’s still-unreleased second effort.

That’s how you help people be better: by being your best. I’m open to learning. I’ll never embarrass myself by shutting a learning scenario down. That’s a great strength that many people don’t possess. We don’t live lies in the studio. That’s one place where you gotta live true. I haven’t found myself being embarrassed much in the studio. There is no embarrassment. There’s only learning.

And the key must be that they open up to you. 

Artists will tell you everything. They have to. It’s part of their journey. And then you gonna tell them everything.

But what about the tension inherent in any creative relationship?

The key is to not let it fester and to speak on it immediately. When somebody’s in a frenzy, you’ve got to be the calm energy around them. Calm, assertive energy is powerful. It’s potent. Shut your f*cking mouth and stand up straight, breathe and wait [for them to finish talking]. There will be no barrier. I’m not gonna be a barrier.

I want to be a conduit in these instances where there are differences. You really gotta allow somebody to make their complete artistic statement before you retort or offer any sort of [criticism]. You gotta be fair to yourself, to them, to everyone. So the patience is what it boils down to. I have so much patience. Whatever you wanna do, I always have patience.

“If you don’t keep learning, you’re done. that’s how you help people be better: by being your best.”
Om’Mas Keith, 39

And how do you communicate your own ideas? Your own vision?

As I’ve gotten older, the power lies in communication, being able to put things together and empower people to be the best that they can be. I say it all the time. All I want to do when I produce somebody is help them be the best that they can be. It’s not about me. There’s nothing about me in the whole transaction.

WATCH ACROSS THE BOARD ON RED BULL TV!

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05 2016 The Red Bulletin

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