Whether it’s his mesmerizing falsetto, bilingual lyrics, soothing acoustics or funky beats, Omar Apollo’s undefinable sound is quickly gaining traction throughout the music industry. As his rise to fame transitions into superstardom, Apollo is becoming an inspirational figure not only to music lovers but to first-generation Mexican Americans too.
Omar Apollo takes full advantage of the path his immigrant parents paved for him to fulfill his passions for writing heartfelt songs, singing soulful melodies, dancing for screaming fans and harnessing his guitar riffs. It’s not the typical first-generation approach to the American dream, but Apollo is making it a reality.
Born Omar Velasco in Hobart, Indiana, about an hour outside of Chicago, he always knew he was different from the other kids in his hometown — not because of his carefree attitude, but because of the way he looked. No, he doesn’t have a deformity or a noticeable birthmark — he just has a darker complexion.
In school, Omar Apollo faced prejudice from his teachers and peers as one of the only Chicano kids in his predominantly white classrooms. His teachers would berate him with derogatory comments like, “You’re not a drug dealer, are you?”
“My mom always told me, ‘You look different. You’re gonna get judged. Don’t let it bother you. You know who you are,’” Apollo said in a Pitchfork interview.
Apollo was a victim of bullying and racism, but he took his mother’s advice by ignoring everyone’s perceptions of him and embracing his culture.
“I’ve had people come up to me in school and say, ‘You suck.’ I don’t care,” Apollo said in the same interview. “It doesn’t bother me, because this is me.”
Additionally, police officers consistently profiled him and his Mexican bandmates while they drove around Hobart. They’d pull them over, check their car for guns and other contraband and drive off only to repeat the pattern time and time again. It was a cycle Apollo said he simply had to deal with.
Not only did Apollo’s parents teach him the importance of staying true to who he is regardless of other’s opinions, they also showed him how to devote hard work and dedication toward his goals.
According to Pitchfork, Apollo’s father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1979. He visited Apollo’s mother, who still lived in Mexico, for 13 years until she moved to America in 1992. The Velascos settled down in Indiana, opened a taco restaurant and worked tirelessly to raise their four children. Their selfless sacrifices helped mold Apollo not only as an artist but as a person.
So, at the young age of 12, Omar Apollo started working on his craft. He never took proper guitar or vocal lessons. He learned to sing and play the guitar by utilizing Generation Z’s go-to resource: YouTube.
Apollo would pause concert videos to try to replicate the guitar player’s finger placement on the fretboard. Eventually, people started posting tutorials and how-to videos, and Apollo never had to leave his house to form his own musical foundation.
The 22-year-old guitarist, bassist, singer, songwriter and dancer gravitated toward music at a young age. Apollo grew up admiring the Beatles, Prince, Chris Brown, Alicia Keys and famed Mexican artists like Pedro Infante and Vicente Fernández. As a teenager, he had an ear for discovering underrated music acts. Alternative R&B group The Internet and minimalistic artist James Blake inspired Apollo’s taste.
In 2017, Apollo posted “UGotMe,” a hypnotically entrancing song about longing for a lover, onto SoundCloud. It circulated the music-sharing site and gave Apollo some attention. His friend suggested he upload the track to Spotify, but there was a $30 fee for artist registry.
“I just didn’t have $30,” Apollo said in an interview with Remezcla. “I was struggling, but [my friend] was like, ‘Bro I got you.’ — The next day [the song] had like 20,000 or like 30,000 plays, and it just started going up from there.”
Spotify soon playlisted his track, which accelerated his fanbase.
Fans and critics struggle to label Omar Apollo’s sound because, well, it’s difficult to pinpoint. His music isn’t entirely funk, psychedelic, acoustic, R&B, bedroom pop or downtempo. It encompasses a collection of sounds that breed both comfort and sorrow.
“I just think [my music] sounds cool, but people are like, ‘Oh, this is psych,’” Apollo said during a Miami New Times interview. “Making music is about taste. You listen to certain artists because you like their taste in the melodies they pick, their drum tones, their guitar tones. That’s just my taste.”
The young artist also intertwines his Mexican heritage into his music. In songs like “Heart,” “Algo” and “Stereo (Intro)” he smoothly transitions between English and Spanish lyrics. Apollo credits the emotional tone heard throughout his discography and seen during his performances to Mexican songs he grew up hearing.
Traditional Mexican music contains a lot of lamenting and wailing to excrete raw feelings of heartbreak, loss and despair. These themes play an integral part in Apollo’s sound.
Omar Apollo was always proud to be Mexican, but, at the same time, he feared his ethnicity would hinder his success.
“I used to think that like people wouldn’t take me serious because I was Mexican,” Apollo told the Chicago Tribune. “I was scared — I was insecure about it ‘cause like my whole life, my race has been brought up in conversation just ‘cause.”
Omar Apollo now has a massive Chicano following, especially around the Chicago area, and he wants to inspire young first-generation kids to stay open minded about their futures. Nowadays, children whose parents are immigrants strive to go to college, earn a degree and pursue a professional career because their parents didn’t have the same opportunities. But Apollo wants to show young adults that there’s more to life than the standard route to success.
“I would love to help kids with immigrant parents because we all grew up with similar problems,” Apollo said during a Milk.XYZ interview. “I just want to make sure they aren’t forced into a career they’re not passionate about because of financial circumstance.”