Om’Mas Keith is a vessel of humanity. For the Grammy-winning producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Hollis, benevolence is intrinsic.
“I usually don’t say no to any creative person that wants to work with me,” says Keith. “If somebody’s into me, I’m into them.”
Just check his associate roster. Besides helping Frank Ocean propel his debut album to award-garnering domains, Keith is also helping the likes of Anderson .Paak and Kali Uchis reach their highest creative potential.
But it’s not just about the music.
Across The Board, Red Bull TV’s latest documentary, tells the story of a devoted father and loyal son with a mission. “There’s a lot going on,” he says. “I’m extremely busy, and then you have to balance this all with family: a sick mom, an aging grandmother, a growing daughter” – all of whom viewers will meet in the intimate 24-minute film.
“I’m in the middle of literally four generations of amazing women, so when I come to New York, this is what that life is about.”
We sat down with Keith a day before the film’s premiere to discuss its beginnings and what to expect in 2017. Om’Mas Keith: Across The Board is streaming now on Red Bull TV.
TUD: What was the inspiration behind Across The Board?
Om’Mas Keith: My dear friend and colleague, Chris Tabron – who’s the chief engineer at Red Bull – and I had an idea to do [a documentary] for the music community. He and I had been working a lot in Red Bull studios, and it came to a point where he and I started working with some really notable people. I think he was really impressed by the level of clientele that I would be bringing, and then he said, “Well why don’t we just do [the documentary] on you?” And I was like, “Word? You think they’ll go for that?” And he was like, “Let me work my magic,” and here we are! [Laughs] Being a creator of something like this is really special. This is one of the most rewarding experiences, and it’s definitely prepped me for being a film and television producer.
Is film and television production something that you want to delve more into?
Without a doubt. I’ve been hinting at this for my entire career, but now it came to fruition. It’s real. It’s here. I’m just trying to be as holistic as possible and make as big of an impact as I can in the world through multimedia.
It was really nice to see the faces of all the young, upcoming artists featured in Across The Board. There’s a scene at the beginning of the film where GoldLink talks about musical textures, and he references classic artists like The Gap Band and Stevie Wonder. You’ve been a part of music long enough to watch its evolution and pass down its lessons. What’s it like witnessing that sort of influence on this new generation of creators?
It’s nice to meet young, creative people who are interested in researching the past and folding it into their repertoire so that they can be better creators. I think that all the young creators I work with know they gotta do a little bit of soul-searching, and that’s what I like about working with the ones that I do work with. They’re all very inquisitive and always in search of something new, something fresh – and it just so happens that what’s actually new and fresh for them is music of yesteryear, because we’re now in the phase where we’re so knee-deep in [today’s music] that many of the young people only know this last 10 years of people’s contribution to the art form. When you meet a kid who wants to know a little bit more than that, that’s great. When you meet somebody who doesn’t know more than that, it’s my duty to then begin to teach.
Speaking of teaching, you were recently elected as a governor of the Grammys L.A. chapter board. Can you tell us more about that?
I’ve run unsuccessfully for many years now. In the last election, I once again was not elected. I ran this time and I won. It’s a two-year term, and I sit on a wonderful board of the most elite creative professionals in the whole music entertainment business. [It’s] a board of governors who kind of just help to further the initiative of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which is a not-for-profit organization focused heavily on enriching the lives of musicians. At the end of the season, there’s a big award show, but it’s not all about the awards at the Grammys. You very quickly come to realize that sitting on the board is about great minds getting together to try to help people achieve their dreams in the music business – young kids, high school kids, kids in college, people who need assistance, people who are drug addicts, people who can’t pay their bills, kids who all they wanna do is be a star.
It must be amazing to help and give back in that way, especially being involved with something you’re so passionate about.
Yeah! Benevolence is part of the game. Philanthropy is part of the game. The music community is kind of a fraternal order, if you will. It’s a sense of togetherness that no musician should ever feel that they [don’t have].
Who else is on the board with you?
On my board [there is] Sir Peter Asher – he’s a knight at the round table – Tyrese, Rodney Jerkins, Mike Clink, John Burk – he’s the president of the board [and] runs Concord Records – executive director Kelly Purcell, Booker T from Booker T and the MGs. This is a heavily elite board, man. With all due respect to all the other chapters in the nation, you’ll hear more often than not that the L.A. chapter is arguably the most prestigious chapter, so it’s even more of an honor to be there.
So you’re doing that for two years, you’ve got this new documentary streaming on Red Bull TV – are you also working on any new music material?
I am currently the DJ, keyboard [player] and percussionist on a new Spike television show called Tracks, which has Christina Aguilera as the executive producer and my esteemed colleague Rob Lewis as musical director. That’s gonna be airing on Spike in August. I’ve got Frank Ocean’s album on the way. Once again, that will be another life-changing event, another milestone. I’m working with Michael Uzowuru, who’s one of my great esteemed collaborators, somebody I have a great deal of respect for, one of the best creative people I’ve ever met. I’m working with Kali Uchis. I’m working with Christine and the Queens. I’m working with St. Vincent, working with GoldLink, working with Anderson .Paak, working with Kelsey Lu, working on me! I started a record label, Popular Recordings, with Atlantic Records. I’m about to sign some wonderful new young artists that I think are gonna change music. There’s a lot going on.
You mentioned working with Anderson .Paak, Kali Uchis and all these other amazing up-and-comers. How did you meet all of them?
Damn. You know? I don’t know. I don’t remember how I met Anderson, but all I know is that when I needed a band and when I needed a drummer for Sa-Ra, Anderson .Paak was there for me. When I needed somebody to just be down and help out Sa-Ra when we were trying to figure out what the f*** we were doing, Anderson .Paak was there for me. He was there for us.
You have a situation where I have been given the great pleasure to be able to watch one of the greatest young creative people in music, in entertainment, just grow and blossom into this super mega force right up under my watch and tutelage. Sa-Ra’s like a finishing school for motherf***ers. It’s known. It’s often said that the student will always overtake the teacher. I welcome that – that’s great. I love it. I know I came and did some things and superseded some of my teachers, and now the young brothers and sisters that are up under me are moving past me.
Do you feel like working on channel ORANGE was the catalyst of the success and opportunities you’re currently seeing?
My opportunity to be part of channel ORANGE manifested and came to fruition because of my long, hard work with my group Sa-Ra, in part. It really came to fruition and came to be because I’ve always known that I was gonna be great, and I was always told I was going to be great by my elders, and particularly by my mother and my grandmother.
When my group decided we weren’t gonna be doing too much performing anymore, I just put my hands up to the universe and asked the universe for some help. One of the biggest things that happened to me was I met Michael Uzowuru, who’s just a genius creative person. Michael is a catalyst in a very positive way in that I didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew it was time to switch focus and allow people who really wanted to work with me to come into my fold. He introduced me to Tyler, to Left Brain, to Syd, and to all the kids in Odd Future. He helped to steer my internship program as well, and then he introduced me to Frank – this is all within two weeks of meeting the kid.
Wow, that’s a short amount of time.
Yeah, within two weeks of meeting Michael I was basically working with Frank Ocean. One day he came over and I played him my album, City Pulse, which I offered for free in the beginning of 2012. After I played him my sh**, Frank played me nostalgia, ULTRA, and I was like, “Damn, wish I had worked on it.” He’s like, “It’s all good, you don’t have to worry about that. Come to the studio on Saturday.” And that was it. Murder she wrote.
And you won a Grammy.
And I won a Grammy. Almost 20 years [after] the beginning of my foray into the music business. I was 37 I think when I got the trophy, [and] I was like 17 when I first did anything substantial in the music business that got me a check. 20 years. Working on [Frank’s] record changed my life, getting that Grammy further changed my life, being on the board continued to change my life, meeting Michael changed my life, having a daughter really f***ing changed my life, because the focus goes completely to sustaining the life, blood, and the livelihood of my offspring, of my child – and that will drive you to do some very powerful things in life. I think [having a daughter has] really helped me out in my mentorship duties. I know how to interface with people who are younger, and I continue to keep my mind open by listening to the people around me.
How’s Frank doing?
He’s great! One of the most powerful, creative people I’ve ever met. The levels he operates at creatively are just so high and powerful. He’s an inspiration. He’s a genius. He’s so rare. So honored to know him.
That’s beautiful. To wrap things up, tell our readers what they can expect when they watch Across The Board.
I think it’s gonna take you through the entire gamut of emotions. You get to see where I came from, you get to see what I’m all about, why I’m the way I am. At the end of the day, I realize, in hindsight, this documentary was really to pay homage to my ancestors. This is about legacy. It’s about my family – my music, my immediate, and my extended family.
It is my hope that after seeing this, more of the young, creative people in the music industry will want to come work with me, more well-established people will want to come work with me. I hope this documentary broadens my scope and allows more people to know that I’m here for them and I’m here to serve the greater good of creativity. I’m here for that. I just wanted to tell my story, man, and I’m so grateful for having met Chris. I’m just grateful that I met every single person along this magical journey – all my mentors, all my elders, all my contemporaries, all my kids, all my colleagues. They’re all part of the story.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Another thing that I’m working on, which is something I’m very proud of, is a new Netflix series called The Get Down, which is helmed by legendary producer/director Baz Luhrmann. He’s a legend, and I was tapped to do music for this. This is like one of the biggest things that I’ve got going on for me right now in my life. I know this series is gonna be epic. My buddy Adonis Sutherlin at RCA was like, “Man, I’m doing something that you need to be a part of.” He introduced me to Baz, and, man, I have a great friend now and a really, really positive outlook on 2017. When it comes time to do the next initiative next year, I’m gonna have so much strength and power and ammo behind me. I know 2017’s gonna be epic.
PHOTO CREDIT: Drew Gurian