'Cheerleader' Singer Omi on His Long Journey to Number One - Rolling Stone
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‘Cheerleader’ Singer Omi on His Long Journey to Number One

Jamaican singer talks about a smash hit eight years in the making


Omi, a 28-year-old Jamaican singer, holds down the Number One spot with "Cheerleader."

Scott Schatek

About eight years ago, Omar Pasley woke up with a melody in his head that he couldn’t seem to shake. At the time, he was a completely unknown singer-songwriter living in his native Jamaica, and in his craziest dreams, he could never have imagined he’d just laid the groundwork for what many are calling 2015’s song of the summer. Pasley, who records under the name Omi, has watched in stunned disbelief as “Cheerleader” — a freakishly catchy pop-reggae song based on his melody — has grown from a radio favorite in Jamaica in 2012, to a hit all over Europe in 2014, to, finally, the Number One song in America this year. “Man,” says the 28-year-old, “it’s overwhelming.”

In the Nineties, Pasley was a teenage rap aficionado with a love for Biggie, Tupac and Eminem, but things changed in his early twenties. “I got exposed to melodic aspects of music when I started listening to John Legend, Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke,” he says. “It gave me a deeper interest in music.” His life changed forever when he met up with Jamaican producer Clifton Dillon, who fell in love with the early version of “Cheerleader” and brought in drumming great Sly Dunbar to play on it. Once the song spread across Jamaica, Ultra Records signed Omi and brought in German producer Felix Jaehn to create a remix that began charting around the world last summer, ultimately knocking Wiz Khalifa‘s “See You Again” off the U.S. top spot in mid-July. “It’s a pretty long journey for one song,” says Omi. “But I’ve always had high hopes and dreams.”

Omi’s debut LP is currently in the mixing stages, and he hopes to have it on shelves in the fall. Some artists might worry about following up a hit as big as “Cheerleader,” but Omi has no such fears. “I’m an artist,” he says. “For me, the song is like being off to a good start in a race. All I have to do now is maintain my momentum and keep my composure.”

In This Article: Omi


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