Interviews

Published on July 12th, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Omar Gooding Opens Up About Being Homeless as a Kid, His New Album and Friction on the Set Of Baby Boy!

Omar Gooding’s talents seem to be limitless, the actor, writer, producer recently dropped his first solo rap album to add to his ever-growing list of titles.

If you have had access to a television set over the course of the last 30-plus years, at some point you have seen, Omar Gooding on it. From Nickelodeon shows like, “Wild & Crazy Kids,” to sitcoms like “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” “Smart Guy,” and, “Touched By An Angel,” all the way to the big screen, “Ghost Dad,” and “Baby Boy.” Gooding has been shoulder to shoulder with some of Hollywood’s best and at a very young age proved he belonged. Coming from a family of entertainers and musicians, both his father and brother, Cuba Gooding Sr. and Jr. played a part in grooming the multi-talented, Omar. Currently channeling both his acting and rapping ability simultaneously, Gooding stars in Bounce TV’s “Family Time and dropped his first solo rap album, “The Excuse” earlier this year. With over 15-films to his credit, at age 42, there seems to be no slowing down the west coast native.

I recently caught up with, Omar Gooding who discusses becoming a father at 40, the details of how his album came together and much more!

You recently dropped an album titled, “The Excuse.” The intro is a soundbite of your son laughing. You literally captured his first laugh and you can hear the joy in your voice. What was it like capturing that moment for the album and what has it been like being a father in general?

Omar Gooding: Fatherhood changed me a lot. I started off in the business at age 10. I’m 42 now. When you have success early and you have access to that type of money early, you kind of tend to… it’s two things, one, I kind of had to skip my childhood in a sense because I was the breadwinner and the man of the house because my father at the time had already had most of his success in the 70’s. And then after that kind of died out, it went to a situation where he was chasing the money. Back then the way those deals were structured with RCA and whatnot, they weren’t real favorable to the artists. Especially when the artists didn’t fully understand how the business works. So, he spent most of his life going from city to city and doing different tours; pretty much chasing money.

Then my brother [Cuba Gooding Jr.] who is 9-years older than me, he had to start his path. So, he left the house when he was about 18 to chase his career. Which left me at age 9, with my oldest sister and my mother, being one with two jobs. We went from being homeless for a period of time because we moved from New York. My brother and sister, there is a 10-year gap between us. They were born in the Bronx and my father is from Harlem. When they were around 8 or 9-years old, we moved to California and then, I was born. I’m a California baby. So again, as my brother went off to get his career started, I was left kind of the man of the house at age 9.

I dibbled and dabbled into acting. I got two auditions in one day and booked one and the rest as they say is history. I landed this movie with, Bill Cosby called, “Ghost Dad.” And then I got my big break at age 12, called, “Wild & Crazy Kids.” And that was the moment when my mother was able to retire. She could quit her two jobs and become my full-time manager, so she would get a percentage from that and the rest of my money went into a trust-fund account and the other half we were able to pay bills with. I got a little bit of it (laughing). People watch, “Wild & Crazy Kids” and they are like, “Man, that must have been the most fun in the world.” I’m like, ‘It was for the first year and then it was like work to me.” I’m 13-years old telling these 8 and 9-year old’s “Calm down! Grow up! I gotta read these lines and get ready to change for the next scene.” Sorry, I’m a bit of a rambler as you could see.

No, I enjoy the backstories.

Omar Gooding: A lot of people have their first kid in their 20’s and I had my first child when I was 40. One, I put my childhood on hold and then when I got in my 20’s, I moved out and it was like, “Okay, time for me to go have me some fun.” I was going to Vegas. I did a lot of touring and stuff when I would do shows that I did. I did, “Wild & Crazy Kids” for 3-years, and then immediately went right into, “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper,” for 5-years and then some of the producers from that, brought me on to a show called, “Smart Guy,” and that went on for another 3-years. And then I look up and I’m 21-22 years old. And then I got my break in the movie, “Baby Boy,” when I was 24. And then that changed the landscape as how I was perceived as an actor because I was able to be taken seriously coming from sitcoms. When you come from doing, “Wild & Crazy Kids” and stuff like that, during that era, they weren’t as accepting to actors coming from TV backgrounds coming over into movies. So, that was my break. I’m forever grateful to, John Singleton; rest in peace, who saw something in me the same way that he saw something in my brother the decade before when he casts him in, “Boyz N The Hood!” he saw the same thing in me with, “Baby Boy.” And then it took off.

At the same time all of this is going, my father was a singer, my mother used to be a singer; music was in my blood. The parallel universe for me (laughing), I was always into music. When we were homeless and, on the road, we sang the whole time. It was joyous to me. Only my brother and sister really knew what was going on. I’m like 4 or 5-years old, we’re living in cars, hotels and different shelters and I’m like, “This is fun, we’re just moving all of the time.” It was sad changing friends. But with my career, it’s kind of just what I did. My whole youth was, new job, new workers, new friends; that’s just how it was. I was able to easily detach from one person to the next. It’s kind of an interesting revelation as I’m saying that out loud right now. I’ve had a lot of friends come and go, but my circle is small now because I’ve just learned to be that way.

And that caused a little friction on the, “Baby Boy” set while we’re talking about it. For two things, one, I would have the friends that I know and could trust and then I was meeting people on the set. What they encourage you to do when you are involved in these programs… like you hear a lot of actors and actresses becoming involved romantically after they work together. They actually encourage it for chemistry. So, it’s funny, I had actually met, Angell Conwell, who played my girlfriend in the movie [Kim], I had met her before just a couple of times through mutual friends. And then when I arrived on set and I saw her, she thought she was going to play, Snoop Dogg’s girlfriend. We had a conversation before we started and she said, “Yeah, I’m Kim,” and I said, “You’re my girlfriend.” So, we clicked and after the movie ended, we started dating. We were romantically involved for about 3 or 4 years. We’re actually close till this day and still good friends. She actually plays my wife now on, “Family Time,” a series that’s going into its seventh and eighth season this fall. Her and I were the ones that kind of hung out together obviously. But everybody else I kind of kept at a distance because one, that’s how I was built and two, my character was such a stand-alone kind of guy, that’s kind of how I felt I had to react with everybody else. And it rubbed some people the wrong way. Me and Tyrese weren’t very close. We had different philosophies on how to approach our characters. He wanted to really bond and come to his house by myself and all this type of stuff and I’m like, “Man please, why don’t you come to my house, all my boys are over there and we can hang out and this that and the third.” We kind of butted heads on that, but you couldn’t tell when you see the movie. Even with, John. We weren’t very close. I just needed to respect him and be able to take orders from him as far as listening intently on making sure this movie was a masterpiece. My goal was, I had motivation coming from different angles. Some people called me and was like, “You got casted in that role? I read the script. Good luck with that!” I was like, “Okay… alright.” I kind of used that as fuel.

All in all, through that, I would go home, I got a studio at the house, me and my boy had a group and we would rap. And my musical career in my parallel universe that I eluded to… my father, he was traveling a lot and him and my mother actually got divorced when I was 10 and then remarried when I was 18. Right around that time, he moves back in the house, I’m there for maybe a couple of more years before I move out and he helped me start one of my first rap groups. It was a blend of singing and rapping. And then since I’m still under my mother and father’s roof at the time, it was no profanity. We took it to a couple of record companies, I remember specifically, I sat in front of, John Salley. He had a record company at the time. He goes, “I heard everything, but I heard no swear words, you guys should go gospel,” and I was like, “Alright, thank you!” End of meeting as far as I was concerned. It’s not that I put music on the shelf, it’s just that I was so busy with my acting career that I couldn’t fully focus on the rap the way I wanted to.

So, at some point, things slow down enough for you to get back into the music or it was just something you could not keep putting off?

Omar Gooding: So, 10-15 years later, I signed a deal with, West Coast Mafia Records and teamed up with, C-Bo out of Sacramento. He and I put out a compilation album called, “Trading War Stories,” which you can pick up now. But it’s cataloged as, C-Bo and Omar “Big O” Gooding presents, “Trading War Stories.” People try to find it and it’s like, “I can’t find it. I see a C-Bo album, but I don’t see a, Big O album.” But once you put in the entire thing you can find it on iTunes and all of the other streaking services. But it wasn’t my album. For me, it was just kind of a calling card and an intro like, “Yeah, I got an album out.” He put in like 8-songs, I put on 8-songs, but it was like a group. I think I had one solo song on there. That was the extent of my rap career at the time. But it was on Myspace and a couple of other things. No big push and no major label behind it. But I did start my label through a venture with, West Coast Mafia called, Modo Entertainment.

Around the same time, I met a guy, Bernard Edwards Jr. His father was a famous singer back in the day. He is a producer and he goes by the name of, “Focus.” I met him about 20-years ago and he’s been working with, [Dr.] Dre for about 15-years. Now, he is one of the main producers under, Dr. Dre and Aftermath. He is signed to Aftermath and Dre keeps him plenty busy with all of the projects he’s working on. He’s won Grammy’s and all types of stuff. Him and I remained friends. And almost a year ago to the day, we sat, and we had talked about working together. He’s moved back and forth from Atlanta to Cali and he’s back in Cali now and he said, “You know what, let’s do it, man. I think you should do an album where you’re introspective and talking about yourself and answering questions about your career.” As a rapper, I grew up listening to… musically, I heard my father and I held him in very high regard. He is a very talented vocalist. He could hit a note. Even right before he passed, he could hit a note and sound just like he did when he was in his 20’s. The notes he would hit and his ear for music was incredible. I would watch him perform and I would hear him curse out the man, “No, hit this note, bring this up here,” he would construct everything. He would do that at band rehearsal or in front of an audience at a live show. He was very take command, take charge in every situation let alone in his music. When I started, I would hear him, and I heard a lot of his music at home. It’s a different era. He would say stuff like, “Ah man, these kids can’t sing now,” and he was referring to like, Boyz II Men at the time. “They’re singing through their nose and this is real singing.” As far as rap is concerned, he didn’t have an opinion.

It comes full circle, because now we are the ones saying, “Ah, they can’t rap, that’s not real music.”

Omar Gooding: Exactly! It’s exactly how my generation now looks at rappers now with the “trap” and “mumble rap.” It’s like, that ain’t rap, this is real rap. But when we were growing up, that’s what our elders would say to us. So, I try to respect the youngsters as much as possible because they’re just coming into their own and times change. With me, when I started, I was in 4th grade, the first song I ever memorized, me and my best friend at the time, a guy named, Raymond, was “The Show,” by Dougie Fresh and Slick Rick. I was, Dougie Fresh and he was, Slick Rick. And we went and performed it for a talent show. That was it for me. But I’m on the west coast, so I was listening more to, Pharcyde, I always loved, Busta Rhymes and I always loved Fu-Schnickens. I developed a style from both being in an entertainment background and coming from a household where I was taught to speak properly. I may not have had the best grammar per say, but I was always taught to enunciate and project. When I listened to the cadences of rap, I realized that I could speak very fast. I could rap quick. I loved, “Twista. I developed my style, it has a west coast feel, but I respected the lyricism of the east coast. I would combine that into what is, “Big O,” which is my nickname, but it’s also my rap persona. But it’s also, what I’m giving back to hip hop from what I’ve learned and what I have listened to. Now, I do have an opinion on best rappers and this and that. I like, Joyner, Eminem and Logic. Some of these guys who can play with words and some of them make it sound easy and some of them makes it sound more difficult than it actually is. I said, you know what, I learned a lot over the years, I know what I like and I’m a perfectionist.

Focus and I sat down and we put together this album called, “The Excuse.” Because I said, well here is my excuse on what’s taken me so long to drop an album and I’m answering a lot of questions from my personal life. I have a title track called, “The Excuse” where it’s me rapping, but he put different effects on my voice. A lot of people are like, “Who is that girl on there? Who is that other guy?” I’m like, bruh, that’s all me. But I’m rapping as a reporter asking myself questions in the first verse and then in the second verse, I’m answering the questions and touching on stuff. Really that song alone could have been about 10-minuntes long if I touched on everything that I wanted to talk about. But we wanted to just… even the album itself, it’s only 8-tracks and one is an interlude, but it’s me just giving you a taste of everything I do lyrically; as far as execution and getting stuff off. “Focus” is deep in his production. He handled the production side and I did all the writing. There are a couple of features as far as hooks because I did want a different sound for each song. So, there are a couple of songs that are all me, but I was laughing the other day because I think I did two hooks on the whole album and the rest are different people.

The thing I love about hip hop is piecing things together. I don’t like simple; we’re talking about this or we’re talking about that. Sometimes you want that, but I like the puzzle. I like metaphors, “Oh, that’s what he’s talking about. Rewind that-rewind that, oh, that’s what he meant.” So, that’s what we did with, “Swim” featuring, Blakk Soul. People will let you drown damn near just to see if you can swim to see if you are like them. They want to see if you can earn it, the way they had to earn it. We refer to it… my generation as crabs in a barrel. Always pulling each other down. It’s not necessarily that we are pulling each other down, it’s, I’m not just going to hand it to you, you have to earn it. You have to prove to me that you deserve it. That’s not always the case. A lot of the times people get things handed to them and that’s why you have good songs, bad songs, good movies, bad movies, good stuff and bad stuff.

I was going to say, I’m sure that applies in the acting world as well.

Omar Gooding: When I talk about acting, I try to teach people when they are breaking in the business, how to audition competitively. You gotta understand that people are seeing the same things over and over again. If the role calls for a certain thing, you gotta show up early, see how everyone is looking and if the role is calling for a certain look and everybody is looking the same, you gotta change it up. Go in the bathroom, rough your clothes up, untuck your shirt, do something different, so that when you go in that room, you will make an impression. Again, you can tell I’m a bit of a rambler.

I’m enjoying every second of it, my brother.

Omar Gooding: I want to be the same with rap. I want to be competitive and stand alone. I get comparisons, “Oh, you kind of sound like, E-40.” “You got that, Busta Rhymes style.” These are people that influenced me. There is a lot that I want to say, but I don’t want to sound preachy at all either. Anyways, in a round-about way of getting to your first question, this album, I felt that it can only be done at this time. So, it starts with my son because right when I started writing it, my wife was expecting and my motivation for the album was, what if your son grows up and he’s listening to whatever music is popular and I say, “I used to do music back in the day,” and he says, “Oh yeah, well, where is your albums?” So, I was like, you know what, let me put something out. I didn’t want to have to wait on someone else to write a verse, I was like, let’s put, “Big O” out and introduce him to the world and let them know how I get down. I love when they say, “Your album has a 90’s feel. It’s old school.” I’m like, “What’s old school?” “Like Tupac,” and I’m like, “Damn, Tupac is old school?” Like, oh shit (laughing). I keep saying I’m 40 and it’s like, “You’re what?” I have been doing this 30-years. When you’re an entertainer, there is no retirement. It’s just what you do. You can take a vacation or a break, but come on, you take a break once you get fame? Try going to the store right now.

The way we constructed the album… God is good. His plan… I was writing the verse, then I was recording it and then I would send it to him and it was right before we had our projected release date, he said, “Man, we still don’t have any interludes,” and I was like, “How about this,” and I played him a video where my wife and I… I had my son on my lap. I was making music and she said, “Oh, I got these little noise cancelation headphones for him. You should put them on his head, and we could take a picture, like both of you guys are listening to music.” And as soon as we put the earphones on his head, he starts giggling and laughing. Mind you, he’s 4-months old and we never heard him laugh. And he just starts laughing at the sound or the thought of having these earphones on. So, I start laughing, she already has the phone out because she was going to take a picture, so she starts recording it. And it’s the whole soundbite when I say, “He’s laughing” and I start giggling. Even though he’s not listening to music, he has these headphones on, and I said, “You like the music?” and it’s like he said, “Yeah!” we giggled some more, I recorded it and an actual live clip that I played for him because he asked me to send it to him and he took the audio off and said, “How about this?” He put it as the intro and it leads right into the actual first song that we put on the album called, “Better Me,” which was originally written for my son. He was born January 27th, 2017 and then my father passed a week before his birthday on, April 20th of the same year. But he met him and held him, and it was beautiful the way that everything worked out in the sense of passing from generation to generation. When I wrote, “Better Me,” I wrote it with my son in mind specifically. And then when I get to the end, I realize it’s not only for my son, but it’s a dedication to my father because I realized most of the things that I was saying, was things he used to say to me. It was always an envision of his and mine to always make a better version of yourself through your children. For that soundbite that I got from a video to come through at the last moment, it was all, God.

So, you here to intro where he’s giggling and then 4-songs later you will hear him speaking because I’m showing him lights that I put up outside of my house. And he’s saying, “Whoa daddy,” and we’re running through the front lawn and I’m recording because I was trying to record the house and I’m showing him the lights that I put on the house and he’s like, “Whoa daddy,” so that’s also another video when I finally do the video for that song. People will put that together now, but you can use it in the article, but they will just know where the video came from now.



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