There are some telling distinctions between two of 2015’s surprise chart success stories: rapper Fetty Wap and Jamaican dancehall crooner OMI, who, with the help of a German tropical house DJ, scored a #1 hit around the world with his single “Cheerleader.” Both artists wisely capitalized on a breakout year with the prompt release of their debut albums, but where Fetty Wap’s self-titled effort chose to keep both the production and featured guests to his hometown crew, delivering a focused but not especially varied display of his talents, OMI opens himself up to the kind of collaborations and genre hybrids that have earned him the level of visibility he’s enjoyed since the “Cheerleader” remix blew up.
While “Hula Hoop,” the second single from Me 4 U, might have suggested an entire album of songs working from the same script as “Cheerleader” (namely, Jamaican pop slathered in just-this-side-of-anonymous EDM and house music), OMI’s performances reveal more eclectic interests. The gleefully filthy “Standing on All Threes” mainstreams dancehall more forcefully than Popcaan or Specialist (who discovered and signed OMI back in 2009, and produced a few songs here), with dense, multi-tracked vocals, a wistful piano melody, and cheekily orgasmic guitar solo. It’s a more honest and less condescending love song than “Cheerleader,” and arguably even catchier. Likewise, “Babylon” finds OMI slipping seamlessly into arena-rock territory, which sounds like the xx’s “Islands” covered by Usher.
Like Fetty Wap, OMI still feels a certain responsibility to, or at least vested interest in, the music scene that fostered his talents; the booming “Color of My Lips” features a star turn from rapper Busy Signal and an instrumental that riffs on ’90s ska-reggae hits like Chaka Demus & Pliers’ “Tease Me,” while the romantic “Fireworks” pours the singer’s reedy patois over soca guitars and snapping African polyrhythms. That OMI frequently excels in both of these lanes—as a worthy pop emissary for Shabba Ranks and Specialist’s terrestrial dancehall and as a sweet, Disney-appropriate validator of Scandinavian EDM’s weird but indelible ethnic tourism—makes his few failures forgivable, especially since most are gathered conveniently toward the end of Me 4 U.
OMI’s sphere of influence should justify the inclusion of Swedish-pop troubadour Erik Hassle, but the pair’s duet, “Midnight Serenade,” aims for minimal dub and comes off sounding like a MIDI cover of “Redemption Song.” The album’s title track has a similar issue, stripping away all the interesting production choices that characterize the best of the album for a paint-by-numbers ballad that throws focus to OMI’s unimaginative lyrics, while “These Are the Days (Luca Schreiner Remix)” overcompensates with maximalism, and one too many permutations of the “Cheerleader” formula. These missteps hamper an otherwise exciting debut, but the wealth of promising directions OMI could take his music in seems a lot more important than the handful of ones we can only hope that he doesn’t.