Omarion

Sony Urban/Epic

Like Bobby Brown and Justin Timberlake before him, Omari “Omarion” Grandberry has discovered the secret to shaking a boy-band past: making raunchy R&B. His post-B2K solo album, O, is chockablock with the overwrought sentiment and exaggerated emoting that make for good urban pop, not to mention ample proof that this 20-year-old just can’t keep it in his pants. Like the proverbial teenager jerking off in the bathroom, Omarion never fights his baser urges. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t ashamed of them, excusing himself for lewd lyrics by insisting that he’s not trying to be “disrespectful.” Over the Spartan dance beat of “Touch,” for example, he sings: “Not tryna be/Disrespectful/But I just wanna get you to/Just back into it.” The plea is repeated on the title track, which turns on the fact that saying Omarion’s nickname inadvertently mimics a yelp of ecstasy: “Well, I’m gonna put my bid in and get at you/No disrespect, but I want it bad as they do.” And on “Take It Off” featuring Mila J, the mea culpa appears again: “Ghetto girl with the braids and the Nike shoes/I don’t mean no disrespect to you/But a nigga really tryna fuck with you.” The hesitant sexual aggression is hilarious, but O’s skilled producers usually dilute the comedy. The crowded sound of the Corna Boys aside, the beatmakers here deliver straightforward music that plays off of Omarion’s youth rather than his perceived maturity. Indeed, the Neptunes’ track for “Touch”—all borderline-cheesy keyboard and drum machine—sounds almost amateurish—and Rodney Jerkins’ go-go-influenced “Drop That Heater” recalls kids beating on tables in the lunchroom. And the disc isn’t without a couple of creative cold showers. “Growing Pains,” produced by Omarion’s You Got Served co-star and former Immature frontman Marques Houston, has the singer dishing about the demise of B2K. But the song doesn’t provide much insight; apparently, Omarion is more comfortable talking about getting tamely fucked than getting completely fucked over. If he wants to shake his cuddly image, O helps him toward that goal by showcasing his grown-man vocals and pairing him with some craft-conscious producers. But if he thinks all the PG-13 sex talk speaks to his development as an artist, he’s wrong: To go all the way, ya gotta go all out.

—Sarah Godfrey