Sometimes when I do an episode of “Renaissance Man,” I think I should rename it “Renaissance Mama’s Boys,” because the conversation between me and many of my guests organically shifts to the women in our family.
This week, I spoke with early aughts teenage heartthrob, boy bander, Grammy nominee, actor and reality star Omarion. He is currently on the Millennium tour with a whole cast of singers, including tour co-creator Bow Wow, Ashanti and his old B2K bandmates. He brushes elbows with some fancy influential folks, especially in the R&B world. But the only people he was name dropping were his grandmother and mother.
“I really have to salute the matriarch of my family, my nana,” the “Ice Box” singer told me, “for always having us around cultural events and cultural things. At a young age, I was able to have the freedom to really explore my innate gifts, which came through creative arts, sports and entertainment.”
But more importantly, he said his nana is a huge reason he was brought into this world.
“My mom was young when she had me,” Omarion said. “She was 16 years old. And at the time, a lot of people didn’t think that that was appropriate. But my nana being who she is, she said, ‘We don’t kill our babies’ … And she actually was a doula. I came on Nov. 12, [the day after] my baby shower. So I got all my gifts and I said, ‘I’m on my way now.’ My nana was the first person to touch me. She is a cancer survivor and currently still fighting. She raised me.”
The Los Angeles native’s mother is a hairstylist who worked at a hip salon called, ahem, Millennium, which drew a who’s who from the entertainment business. She also helped foster his creative spirit, bringing him around some movers and shakers in the industry and letting him braid his hair and play with his image.
“I’m so grateful to have a young mother … For some people, it might be tough, but it never really seemed like that to me,” he said, adding that she always allowed him to express himself.
Coincidentally, Omarion and I became friendly because of hair. We share a barber, our good friend Shawn “Shizz” Porter. But I’ve always admired the way Omarion, who was thrust into the limelight as a teen, has handled himself both professionally and personally.
And I am not ashamed to say I like a little B2K “Bump, Bump, Bump” now and again.
B2K broke up in 2004, and as history has shown, any time a band splits, there’s a fair share of drama. Like Bobby Brown and Justin Timberlake, Omarion went on to have a successful solo career, so of course there was a lot of gossip, speculation and finger pointing. And as the most high-profile member, sometimes he was in the crosshairs of the blame game.
“In some people’s perspective, [defining a leader] may mean the person that’s most in control. But it’s … just like any other role: If you’re not a good leader, it’s not going to go right. The whole point is to always have the responsibility and everybody playing their role. But for whatever reason, the business was getting funny and we separated. I’ve definitely matured, but there was just a lack of communication, lack of knowledge.”
He said all his bandmates have benefitted from life experience, and that was on display when they reunited for the Millennium tour in 2019. With the current one, he’s enjoying being around his R&B peers with whom he came up. And he credits Bow Wow, who B2K toured with back in their salad days, with showing them the power of live shows when building a fan base and momentum. But Omarion isn’t clinging to his glory days. He’s continuing to create more of them, saying that as a creative, you can’t get stagnant. In addition to touring, he’s working on a book that will come out in 2022, “Full Circle: Lessons & Takeaways on How To Live an Unbothered Life.”
And while he’s worked with many rappers, including Diddy, he’d love to collaborate with Jay-Z. He favorite boy bands span the decades, from the Whispers of the 1960s to ’90s faves Dru Hill. And I needed some gossip, so I asked which B2K member needs a chaperone. He didn’t hesitate to say Raz-B, with a chuckle.
Since he’s been working so hard I wanted to know where his next vacation would be.
In 2019 he planned his first getaway not attached to his touring and went to Jamaica. He’d like to return there, or go to the Maldives — “you see the vibe,” he said. And I do. So when you’re hitting that swim-up bar, Omarion, you might find me next to you humming “Bump, Bump, Bump.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.