With the release of his debut EP, 2017’s Cardrive, the acclaimed and rising Ghanian-born, Canberra, Australia-based, artist Genesis Owusu — born Kofi Owusu-Anash — quickly established a reputation for being a restless, genre-blurring chameleon with an ability to conjure powerful and deeply personal storytelling.
The EP eventually garnered an ARIA Award nomination for Best R&B/Soul Release and praise from Sir Elton John (!), NME, i-D, mixmag and others. Owusu supported the EP by opening for Dead Prez, Col3trane, Sampa The Great, Cosmo’s Midnight, Noname, Animé, Ruel and others in Australia.
Last year, Owusu-Anash released a couple of highly-celebrated singles — the fiery street shit meets mosh pit ripper “Whip Cracker” and the ARIA Award-nominated smash hit “Don’t Need You,” which quickly became the #1 most played song on triple J radio and eventually international airplay on BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6 and here in the States on KCRW, KUTX, The Current and Alt98.
Owusu-Anash’s critically applauded full-length debut Smiling With No Teeth was released earlier this year. The album as the acclaimed Ghanian-Aussie artist explains is essentially about “performing what the world wants to see, even if you don’t have the capacity to do so honestly. Slathering honey on your demons to make them palatable to people, who only want to know if you’re okay, if the answer is yes. That’s the idea, turned into beautiful, youthful, ugly, timeless and strange music.
Each of the album’s 15 tracks can trace their origins back to studio jam sessions with a backing band that features Kirin J. Callinan, Touch Sensitive’s Michael DiFrancesco, World Champion‘s Julian Sudek and the album’s producer Andrew Klippel.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I wound up writing about three of Smiling With No Teeth‘s singles:
- “The Other Black Dog,” a mind-bending production that meshed alternative hip-hop, industrial clang, clatter, rattle and stomp, off-kilter stuttering beats and wobbling synth arpeggios that was roomy enough for Owusu-Anash’s breathless, rapid-fire and dense flow. Managing to balance club friendliness with sweaty, mosh pit energy, the song is a full-throttled nosedive into madness that reminds me of the drug and booze fueled chaos of ODB, and the menace of DMX.
- “Gold Chains,” a brooding yet seamless synthesis of old school soul, G Funk and Massive Attack-like trip hop centered around shimmering and atmospheric synths, stuttering boom bap beats, squiggling blasts of guitar and the rising Ghanian-born, Canberra-based artist’s Mos Def/Yasiin Bey-like delivery, alternating between spitting dense and dexterous bars and crooning with an achingly tender falsetto. “‘Gold Chains’ got me thinking about the flaws of being in a profession where, more and more, you have to be the product, rather than just the provider of the product, and public misconceptions about how luxurious that is,” Owusu-Anash explains in press notes. “Lyrically, it set the tone for the rest of the album.”
- “Same Thing,” a jolting and uneasy future funk banger centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, skittering beats, bursts of Nile Rodgers-like guitar, a propulsive bass line and infectious hook serving as a silky bed for Owusu’s alternating dexterous and densely worded bars and soulful crooning. But at its core is an unflinchingly honest — and necessary — view of mental health struggles.
In July, the Ghanian-Aussie JOVM mainstay released the Missing Molars EP, a five-track accompaniment to his full-length debut. Recorded during the Smiling With No Teeth sessions, the Missing Molars EP material didn’t make the album — but further continue the soul-baring narrative of the album. “Missing Molars is an extension of Smiling With No Teeth,” Owusu-Anash explains. “A small collection of tracks from the SWNT sessions that take the already established world-building groundwork of the album, and expand that universe into new and unexplored places. These are all tracks that I felt were special in their own right and needed to be shared. This is music without boundaries.”
In the lead up to Missing Molars‘ release, I wrote about “The Fall,” a slick and pulsing synthesis of industrial house, hip-hop and future soul centered around Owusu-Anash’s silky falsetto that manages to convey a restless and uneasy energy while being a banger.
Originally commissioned to be part of a global ad campaign, Jagwar Ma’s Jono Ma gave album track “Waitin’ On Ya,” the remix treatment. The original was sultry bit of neo-soul centered around shimmering and arpeggiated Rhodes, a sinuous bass line and Owusu’s silky smooth delivery. The Jono Ma remix retains the acclaimed JOVM mainstay’s silky smooth delivery but pairs it with skittering drum ‘n’ bass-like beats and glistening synths and buoyant horns, turning the song into a trippy yet club friendly bop.
The “Waitin’ On Ya (Remix)” caps off a wildly successful year for the Ghanian-Aussie JOVM mainstay: Owusu-Anash has firmly secured himself atop international “emerging artists to watch in 2021.” Smiling With No Teeth has received critical acclaim internationally from NPR Music, i-D, Paste Magazine, Hypebeast and countless others. The album has also received over 50 million streamed globally while landing on a number of Spotify and Apple Music playlists.
The video for the “Waiting On Ya (Remix)” was directed by Riley Blakeway, who directed the award-winning video for “The Other Black Dog.” The video continues the narrative developed from “The Other Black Dog” but through a fever dream-like prism that features that visual’s main character running a complex and crazy scam that seems him travel to all kinds of paradisal locations — but while appearing and being a menacing and uneasy look at someone, who might be slowly going mad.