In the summer of 2017, Omar Apollo was recording songs in his Indiana bedroom and driving around in an old car that kept breaking down on the highway.
One of those songs was “Brakelights,” a soulful ode to his shitty car and its malfunctioning lights. At the time, I interviewed Apollo about the track, and even in our brief exchange, the nonchalant charm that would later propel him to stardom was apparent. I distinctly remember him telling our readers, “I hope you guys can play my music on the way home from work to watch your favorite Netflix original.”
Five years later, Omar Apollo and I caught up again, this time to discuss his debut album Ivory. In the half-decade gap between conversations, Apollo has glowed up considerably. Today, he’s one of the most exciting young musicians on the planet, with a knack for making addictive, pop-leaning records that seamlessly blend the sounds of R&B, funk, soul, and hip-hop. And after signing a deal with Warner Records, he swapped out his old car for a new ride that doesn’t break down on the freeway anymore.
The Ivory era began with “Invincible,” a Daniel Caesar-assisted lead single in which Apollo floats addictive falsetto vocals over bluesy guitars, before reminding us of his sneaky ability to deliver melodic rap flows. After that, he dropped “Killing Me” and “Tamagotchi,” the latter of which is a Neptunes-produced banger that has already drawn breathless praise from artists like Tyler, the Creator and Aminé.
The 16-track debut album finally dropped on April 8, representing a milestone that Apollo has been thinking about for years. He’s a big believer in manifestation, and his current status as a burgeoning pop star has been a long time coming. (I use the term “pop” loosely, because his genre-bending style doesn’t fit neatly within any specific categorization.) In the early days of his career, he had a habit of posting photos of Jimmy Fallon to his Instagram page, which foreshadowed his own future successes. Apollo’s lighthearted obsession with the late-night TV host was an inside joke with his fans, but when he ended up performing on Fallon’s show twice within the past year, it represented a full-circle moment. Many of Apollo’s dreams have already come true, but based on the fact that he was in the studio until 3 a.m. the night before our interview, he’s still working hard to achieve new ones.
Apollo’s ascent isn’t the result of a viral gimmick, a TikTok challenge, or even a breakout smash single. The Tyler and Pharrell co-signs didn’t come because he’s riding a hot trend. Since those days in Idaho, writing songs about his beat-up car and hanging out with his friends, he’s been focused on making timeless music, and now it’s paying off.
When I finally caught up with Omar Apollo over the phone, it was the afternoon of March 21, just a few short minutes after he posted the announcement for “Tamagotchi” on Instagram. After laughing and giving me shit for the “Scam Likely” message that my audio recording app delivered on his phone, Apollo spoke about the making of Ivory, the hilarious relationship he has with his fans, which rappers influenced the album, and much more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.