Over eight albums, Omar has become an elder statesman of UK soul. Since his 1990 debut, There’s Nothing Like This, his music has paid homage to the genre’s classic sounds while striving to remain relevant. To that end, Omar’s music can be characterized by a series of collisions: soul colliding with funk, jazz, Latin rhythms and hip-hop; and Omar colliding with an array of collaborators like Erykah Badu, Stevie Wonder, Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler.
His latest, Love in Beats, is his most seamless collision yet. That harmony is thanks to the unified vision that comes with having two producers on the project: Omar and his brother Scratch Professor. The two previously collaborated on 2015’s The Man – Retwisted, a remix of his 2013 album, The Man. On it, Scratch Professor applied a hip-hop philosophy of using samples and sound bites to create a listening experience akin to watching experimental cinema.
This time around, the duo reach for interesting new textures, looking toward the Caribbean and West Africa. The influence of Cape Verde’s morna music, with its lush interplay between cavaquinho and guitar, is heard on De Ja Vu, featuring Mayra Andrade, one of the genre’s stars. Meanwhile, on Destiny, Jean-Michel Rotin brings the French Antilles’ zouk style to a duet centring on self-awareness and pride.
The album’s focus on love finds expression in notable collaborations with Motown-era legend Leon Ware on Gave My Heart and with jazz pianist Robert Glasper, who provides a sublime solo on Vicky’s Tune. The collaborations are many, but they never threaten to overwhelm. Instead they act as musical complements, adding breadth to Omar’s distinctively mellowed-out sound. Album closer I Want It To Be is a nod to the Scratch Professor re-twist, providing a bookend to the album’s genre-splicing journey.
Top track: This Way, That Way