Over and Omer

At this point, everyone associated with the Kansas City gospel music scene literally knows Omer Coleman Jr.‘s name backward and forward. Not only does Coleman organize and cohost the Omer Awards but he also runs Remo Records, whose roster includes almost a dozen local artists. What’s not widely known is that the calm, collected label head and R&B crooner has a flamboyant, twenty-year-old alter ego. Two decades ago, Coleman was Starship Commander Wooooo Wooooo, using dazzling duds, a sleek electric car and glitzy synthesized beats to make listeners “Get Funky,” “Laugh and Dance” and “Jam on Today.”

The Commander’s sole full-length release, Mastership, which featured seven tracks smothered in electric piano and programmed drum clacks, came out in 1981 on Pihsretsam, another self-owned label with a mirror-inverted name. Coleman played every instrument on the album — for which he receives a list of credits on the album’s back cover. (It’s also noted that Coleman composed, arranged and produced all selections.) His spiritual side was as evident as his long-standing desire to be recognized for every achievement. A bare-chested Coleman sports a crucifix necklace in a photo, and his “special dedication” to his Lord Jesus Christ receives the only all-caps treatment in the liner notes. But lyrically, Coleman paid tribute to his mastership rather than to his Master, devoting one song to the absurdly futuristic contraption in which he eventually toured the country.

“I had a mobile disco business in the late ’70s, but then I started incorporating live music into my act,” Coleman recalls. “I put on a wild show, to put it lightly. It was strictly street.”

More specifically, it was the kind of street depicted in films such as Logan’s Run and Blade Runner, on which teardrop-shaped vehicles zipped past brightly colored backdrops. Coleman’s mastership, a two-time winner at Ray Farhner’s International Custom Motorcycle Show, provided a one-of-a-kind stage prop. The Commander also employed flashing lights, dense fog, exotic outfits and pyrotechnics to keep audiences at attention. “People said I had more smoke and explosions than George Clinton,” Coleman says, proudly recalling his aesthetic triumph over his obvious influence.

With last year marking the twentieth anniversary of Mastership, Coleman could have made a splash by cruising Swope Park in the capsule-car like he did back in the day, or arriving at his own inaugural Omer Awards in sci-fi style. There was just one problem — he’d dismantled the machine ten years earlier.

“I couldn’t move on musically as long as I had the mastership around me,” Coleman explains. “I was still hanging on to that era. In order for me to grow, I had to let that go.”

For Coleman’s next mission, he started rapping over a laid-back version of his old extraplanetary-rock grooves. He scored a regional hit with “On That End” but, like most local hip-hop artists, he found radio playlists tough to crack. (In 1999, Coleman did appear on airwaves across the country — proclaiming the glory of Gillette’s then-new Mach 3 razors.) In typical Coleman fashion, he filled that void himself, organizing his own show that airs Fridays at 4:15 p.m. and Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. on KGGN 890. In a break from tradition, however, he didn’t call this broadcast The Omer Show; instead, it’s known as Da Nu Hip-Hop Gospel Show. Regardless, it’s the only place on the dial that spins Omer Award nominees such as Killah Pointer, Lyrical D.I.V.A. and the 3.

Gospel rappers feel their secular peers’ pain on the radio front, but holy hip-hoppers at least have a sanctuary when it comes to live shows: They often perform at church functions. Nominee DJ V gets a chance to represent at the Omer Awards, and other attractions include ten-year-old gospel belter Clarice Hill, St. Louis-based concert pianist Cecelia Jenkins, and Pastor W.T. Bolen and the Mechanical Men, who will demonstrate the crowd-pleasing merits of the newly added category “praise dance.”

The initial Omer Awards reached nearly all of Coleman’s goals, celebrating overlooked talent and encouraging artists that hadn’t considered recording to join in the fun. Adding praise dance to the program should boost attendance; the spiritually inspired choreography makes for a show-stopping spectacle.

However, in order to reach the multitudes in future years, Coleman might need even more firepower. Yes, this sounds like a job for Spaceship Commander Wooooo Wooooo. And lest ye of little faith doubt his ability to resurrect the mastership, take note: Coleman says, “I saved the motor and all the parts, just in case I want it re-created.”

Categories: Music