With the release of his debut EP, 2017’s Cardrive, Owusu — born Kofi Owusu-Anash — quickly established a reputation for being a restless, genre-blurring chameleon, whose work is rooted in powerful and deeply personal storytelling.
Owusu-Anash’s critically applauded full-length debut, 2021’s Smiling With No Teeth as the acclaimed Ghanian-Aussie JOVM mainstay explained was 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.”
Building upon the momentum of Smiling With No Teeth, Owusu released the Missing Molars EP in July 2021. The five-track EP served as an accompaniment to his full-length debut. Recorded during the Smiling With No Teeth sessions, the Missing Molars EP hit the cutting floor and didn’t make the album, but they manage to further continue the soul-baring narrative of its predecessor. “Missing Molars is an extension of Smiling With No Teeth,” Owusu-Anash explained. “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.”
Adding to a breakthrough year, Owusu-Anash made his Stateside late night TV debut and went on several sold-out tours to support both SWNT and Missing Molars EP. SWNTlanded on a number of Best of Lists across the globe — with triple j naming it their album of the year. The album also earned four ARIA Awards. including Album of the Year, Hip Hop Release, Artwork and Independent Release.
Last year was an even busier year for the JOVM mainstay: He spent much of the year on the road, making stops across the global festival circuit, with sets at Lollapalooza, Osheaga and others. He also made his headlining Stateside debut, which included a high-energy, captivating stop at Bowery Ballroom, which I covered for my friends at Musicology.xyz.
The JOVM mainstay also opened for a series of internationally acclaimed and renowned artists including Khraungbin, Thundercat, and Tame Impala back in Australia. During a remarkably busy period, the acclaimed and rapidly rising Aussie artist also released two standalone singles:
- “GTFO,” a woozy and anthemic song featuring a looped, warbling choir and wobbling bass serving as an eerie yet soaring bed for Owusu-Anash’s rapid-fire flow, military beats, explosive cymbal crashes and a shout-along-worthy chorus. While further cementing his reputation for being a restlessly experimental artist, the song also finds the listener thrown even deeper into the Ghanian-Aussie artist’s innermost world with an unvarnished, unsettling honesty.
- “Get Inspired,” a Dann Hume and Andrew Klippel co-produced seamless synthesis of elements of New Wave, EDM, punk and hip-hop centered around an angular and propulsive bass line, a relentless mootrik groove, distorted guitars and the JOVM’s punchily delivered lyrical jabs and uppercuts. Continuing Owusu-Anash’s reputation for boldly defying and mashing genres, there’s even a falsetto delivered breakdown roughly halfway through the song. (A portion of “Get Inspired” was used in an Apple Fitness+ ad campaign. So you’ve probably heard it without realizing it.)
Along with that, Grammy-nominated musician and producer ZHU remixed “Get Inspired” turning the menacing hybrid punk song into a grimy, club track centered around glistening synth arpeggios, skittering, trap triplets paired with tweeter and woofer rattling beats while retaining Owusu-Anash’s rapid staccato lyrical jabs and uppercuts. ZHU also contributed a couple of auto-tuned, swaggering bars that helps to step up the original’s world-dominating swagger.
The acclaimed Aussie artist’s highly-anticipated sophomore album STRUGGLER is slated for a Friday release through OURNESS/AWAL. Where Smiling With No Teeth thematically uncovered one Black man’s battles against — and with — depression and racism, STRUGGLER is reportedly an exploration of the chaos and absurdity of life, our ability to endure and how to get through it all. The album’s material is deeply inspired by a close friend hitting the brink and coming through the other side, along with questions of life and beauty that he found himself contemplating during readings of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Recorded between the States and Australia, STRUGGLER‘s producers traverse musical genres — and includes Jason Evigan, who has worked with RUFUS DU SOL and SZA; Mikey Freedom Hart, who worked on Jon Batiste’s 2021 Grammy of the Year Album, We Are; Sol Was, who worked on Beyoncé’s Renaissance; and his long-time collaborators and producers Andrew Klippel and Dave Hammer.
Additionally, Owusu has collaborated with acclaimed Kiwi-based Lisa Reihana on the album’s complete visual identity. Reihana’s work has been showcased in elite institutions throughout the States and the EU, including the Venice Biennale for her critically-acclaimed video installation, In Pursuit of Venus [Infected]. Her work spans across a diverse of media — including film, costume and body adornment and video installation, and as a result she has earned a reputation as a world-renowned artist and producer, who engages in thought-provoking dialogues around the concert of culture.
In the lead-up to the album’s release, I wrote about two of the album’s singles:
“Leaving the Light,” an urgent ripper that begins with a spine-crawling run of bass notes before quickly morphing into breakneck sFreedom of Choice-era DEVO-like anthem paired with the JOVM’s swaggering, larger-than-life presence and his unerring knack for rousing, shout along worthy choruses. “Leaving the Light” is a cathartic song about survival and perseverance that feels necessary in a mad, mad, mad world.
The Sol Was-produced “Tied Up!,” a swaggering and funky bop built around a propulsive stomp, swirling and warped funk guitar and wobbling bass synths paired with the JOVM mainstay’s forceful delivery. The song speaks of the struggle of getting by in an uneasy, insane world and desperately holding onto yourself as best as you can in the process.
STRUGGLER‘s third and latest single “Stay Blessed” is a breakneck, mosh pit friendly anthem built around buzzing, angular guitar attack, rapid-fire beats paired with the JOVM mainstay’s punchy delivery. Much like the previously released singles, “Stay Blessed” speaks of survival and desperate resilience in a mad, mad, mad world that’s out to destroy you.
Directed by Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore, the accompanying video for “Stay Blessed” features Owusu wearing a white tank top, black pants and shaved head with red painted stripe moshing to the song with a collection of his Roaches, fans from across Australia that happily showed up to the Melbourne-based video shoot with shaved heads — or ready to shave their heads — and dawn the album’s red stripe on their heads.
“7 days before this was shot, i put up an instagram story asking if anyone was available at this specific time, at this specific place, but most importantly, if they were a baldy / were down to shave and colour their head for me. Thank you to the 70 people who flew up, drove down, and skipped work to come mosh with me. Roaches 4L. ‘Stay Blessed’ out now!!”- Roach number 1