Genesis Owusu is one artist that I will be watching closely in the near future. The 23-year-old Australian singer and rapper made his debut in 2021 with his album Smiling with No Teeth. Personally, I think this is the start to a long and successful hip hop career. The project is a frenetic, bombastic, and psychedelic experience. All 53 minutes of it shine brightly as a bold step forward for hip hop.
Influences and Inspirations
While his album is incredibly unique, that’s not to say he doesn’t showcase some of his inspirations. In an interview with Atwood Magazine, Owusu details his influences; he has a deep appreciation for Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix and MF DOOM, and all of these influences can be felt within SWNT.
Much to the appreciation of musicians like me, Owusu chose to use a band for this project. Like the jazz and rock legends that came before him, the tracks were born from jam sessions with a group of talented musicians. By incorporating instrumentalists, Owusu draws on the long tradition of group-music making (stay tuned for a future article!). In his interview with Atwood, Owusu describes what the process for making this album was like.
“We got together in this bedroom-sized studio in sweltering heat. We were crammed in this hot, very uncomfortable, disarming situation. It was like, so uncomfortable that all you could do was make music”Genesis Owusu, from Atwood Magazine
Incorporating actual musicians and relying on improvisation to come up with a track leads to huge diversity in sound. Each of the musicians came from a different musical background, so whoever took the lead in the jam guided the sound of the song. This intermingling of influences creates a sound unlike any other. Airy and sparkly synths sit alongside smooth RnB bass lines and heavily distorted guitar lines, all supporting fantastic lyricism and compelling poetry.
What’s it about?
Owusu’s work exists to tell the story of the two black dogs in his life: depression and racism. In that same interview, Owusu stated that:
“The first half deals with the internal black dog, which is depression. These are the songs where specifically, sonically it’s a bit more ambitious, the sonics are more upbeat and at points sensual to complement his personality of wanting to lure you in and be your only one. The second black dog, which takes the second half of the album, is kind of more direct. It deals with the brunt of racism and oppression and it’s angry, it’s more in your face than the more lurking personality of the internal black dog.”Genesis Owusu, from Atwood Magazine
Despite these dark themes, Owusu doesn’t forget to have fun; his delivery is full of confidence and swagger, and he has some witty lines sprinkled throughout the songs. Below are some of my favorite quotes:
“What I want from you // I’ma haunt from you // I’ma seep into your bones // Bae, what I want to do // I’ma flaunt right through // Turn your place into my home”CENTREFOLD
“I said, your ass is stinky // and you built like a mole”“Don’t Need You”
“And rise and shine, to dawn I wake // To cast my net in a fishless lake”“A Song About Fishing”
“Everybody wants the summer without holding the rain
Everybody wants the feeling without touching the pain
Everybody wants the sweetness without tasting the bland
Everybody wants the help but they ain’t lending a hand”“Smiling with No Teeth”
Overall, Owusu’s debut album is (hopefully!) a sign of the things to come from this young artist: a career marked by creativity, uniqueness, lyricism, and innovation. If Owusu’s next effort can be on par with the musicianship showcased on SWNT, and if his upcoming American tour goes well, I’d bet we’re going to have a new musical sensation.