Omar Apollo has landed.
Following the release of his debut album, Apolonio, the free-spirited singer-songwriter donned a fuzzy purple suit and took the stage at Prince’s Paisley Park studios. Gyrating to his own music, chest bare and guitar in hand, he became the first artist to play a concert in this sacred space. “His estate reached out to my management,” Apollo tells SPIN. “I’m just like, ‘Dude, of course, I’ll be down.'”
The 23-year-old, who is pushing the boundaries of pop with R&B and funk references from Prince’s playbook, made history on the turf of his late idol. Inspirations he was dreaming about three years ago are now part of his world.
When Apollo didn’t have the money in 2017 to upload music to Spotify, a friend who believed in his talent let him borrow $30. He uploaded what became his breakthrough single, “Ugotme.” After the song was added to the “Fresh Finds” playlist and racked up tens of thousands of streams, he went from making music in his bedroom to performing it for crowds at SXSW and Lollapalooza.
“I started touring,” he says. “I thought, ‘Me being at home isn’t going to be the lifestyle anymore.” He kept the momentum going with his EPs: 2018’s Stereo and last year’s Friends.
Anticipation was running high for Apollo’s first LP, and he delivered. The trap-inflected “I’m Amazing” sets the personal tone of this album while flexing his range as an artist. Apollo switches between rapping and falsetto singing to tell an ex — one who still has him a bit sprung — that he’s doing better now. Representing his Mexican roots, he delivers that message in English and Spanish. He’s the alternative Gen-Z star embracing intersectional identities in his music while moving the pop narrative forward.
“I’ve been pretty fluid with my music since like the beginning,” Apollo says. He’s sung about women and men before, but with songs like the hazy “Hey Boy” (featuring fellow alternative Latinx artist Kali Uchis) and the traptastic “Bi Friend,” the references to the latter gender are more direct. “I was a little more subtle about it before. This project made me feel that I had to be real and be myself. I just write from experience.”
Apollo also shares his Mexican-American experience with the standout track “Dos Uno Nueve,” or “219,” named for the area code of his Indiana hometown. He goes all in on the Mexican corrido: Traditionally it’s a format for storytelling, but Apollo soulfully sings the hell out of his started-from-the-bottom tale. “My mom and dad were like, ‘Mijo, you have to sing more in Spanish,'” he says. With style and swagger, he injects new life into an age-old sound.
His authenticity as a musician has drawn in artists that he’s admired. The Strokes’ Albert Hammond Jr. plays guitar on the sunny “Useless,” where Apollo gives his best the Buggles impression. “That’s my dawg, man,” he says. “He hit up my manager, like, ‘I would really like to speak to Omar.’ We talked for awhile super effortlessly. I sent him ‘Useless,’ and he came to my house. He pulled up.” Another artist that pulled up was funk master Bootsy Collins for the remix of the sexy, slow burn “Stayback,” a song easily mistaken for a Parliament-Funkadelic jam. “That was insane,” Apollo recalls. “He says name at the end, and it’s just crazy.”
With Apolonio a strong launch to Apollo’s career, there’s no doubt that he’ll be pulling more people into his orbit. His overall mission as a musician is simple.
“All I can hope for is for my music to inspire somebody to do something positive,” he says.