Before it was remixed into a sweeping global hit, OMI’s “Cheerleader” was something far more quaint. “It wasn’t even supposed to be a song,” the 28-year-old Jamaican vocalist born Omar Samuel Pasley says over the phone from London, where he’s touring radio stations in support of his long-gestating smash. “It was just supposed to be an interlude. I didn’t want to put a beat underneath it.” But plans changed after OMI, who was then just cobbling together tracks that would become his early singles, played the demo for Clifton “Specialist” Dillon, the storied dancehall producer behind landmark jams like Shabba Ranks’ “Mr. Loverman” and Buju Banton’s infamous “Boom Bye Bye.” Specialist saw promise in OMI’s track, though he would turn out to be more prescient than even he probably imagined.
First released in 2012, the original “Cheerleader”—a laid-back, lilting reggae song that found OMI pledging allegiance to his lady over soft finger snaps—enjoyed a life of leisure, going number one in Jamaica and finding an audience in Hawaii. The track could have lived out its time in these twin tropical paradises had it not caught the ear of Patrick Moxey, founder of the dance label Ultra Music and president of Sony’s Electronic Music division.