STRUGGLER: GENESIS OWUSU DOESN’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK
Ghanaian-Australian icon Genesis Owusu collected three awards at the 2023 ARIA Awards with a statement that put the local music community on pause, and did its rounds online.
“Ceasefire now, ceasefire now, ceasefire now. Free Palestine” were his closing words before an abrupt applause.
Perhaps there were some who were surprised that Owusu, real name Kofi Owusu-Ansah, would happily surrender his own moment and shift attention elsewhere. But, if you’ve paid attention to his career since his debut back in 2015, it’s probably the most Genesis Owusu thing he could have possibly done.
“I’m just gonna say what I feel. I’m gonna say what I believe and if you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t—I’m just gonna keep doing it till I till I’m in the f***** ground,” said a militant Owusu as we caught up with him not long after the award ceremony.
Struggler—which released back in August—is the follow up to his 2021 debut album, Smiling with No Teeth, which featured significant moments in his catalog thus far such as ‘Don’t Need You’, and ‘Gold Teeth’, also taking home three ARIA Awards: ‘Album Of The Year’, ‘Best Hip-Hop Release’, and ‘Best Cover Art’. From his relentless touring to always having a new feature or release to promote, the Canberra local has been widely considered the best artist in the country ever since.
With his highly-anticipated second album, history would repeat itself come award season. Like SWNT, Struggler also took home three ARIA Awards: ‘Album Of The Year’, ‘Best Hip Hop/Rap Release’, and ‘Best Independent Release’— with nominations in three other categories on the night.
While individual accolades aren’t something that concerns Owusu and award shows are certainly not always the best measure of success, it’s clear to see throughout the years that excellence is something that Owusu prides himself upon. According to Owusu himself though, his measure of success is the “intrinsic feeling of excitement” that takes over him upon trying new things. If we were to explain his multi-layered, genre-bending, intricately woven art on Struggler to a toddler, you might only need to say that it’s an album about a roach, the insect. How could that win an ARIA, though?
“When the nominations came in I was so surprised … it took a while to sink in, but that was the first question I had. It seems like the Australian music industry is in a pretty fun, weird, and strange place when someone can write an album about a roach and be nominated for 7 ARIAs.”Genesis Owusu (2023).
Outside of perfecting his award-collection routine—something well-rehearsed at this stage–Owusu’s been extremely busy recently.
Tours, recording, and a flurry of new music over the past few years have taken up most of his time. While his schedule is non-stop, one may assume that it benefits his music from the outside looking in. Owusu prides himself on the art, and the art alone. It’s always extremely well thought out, and in most cases, like most other ‘good-quality art’, it can usually be traced back to two things: experience and perspective.
He’s not like a lot of other artists who may just be looking for a quick pay cheque—although despite still being independent, who would really blame him. After the success of SWNT, perhaps a second album was expected sooner, but as history has proven time and time again, when you rush to capitalize on the hype, it doesn’t always work out (see Roddy Ricch, or even Ja Rule all those years ago).
“Because the first album went so well, there were a lot of pressures externally and internally [to drop another album sooner], but I kinda had to try and cast that aside. When I made the first album, I didn’t give a f*** whether anyone liked it”, Owusu explained with a nostalgic grin. “I loved it.”
Like many of the greats, Owusu always stands on his artistic front in every circumstance, and that stance is what led to this album. While two years is hardly a long wait for a project especially in a day and age where music heavyweights like Kendrick Lamar, SZA, and Travis Scott take half-decades in between projects, Owusu was content, and increasingly keen to take his time.
When album discussions did come around though, a quiet hand on the shoulder from management suggested that dropping a few singles to “set himself up financially” and go into album mode may be the best option. Afterall, as we all know, the life of an artist in Australia can be treacherous, even at the top sometimes. “I think that’s a very fair way to look at the process when you’re in a business—but I came into this for the art, and it’s very very hard for me to forsake that even for goals that make complete sense”, explained Owusu.
But he’s not stubborn. He tried! “When I sit down and try to create a song, I can’t forsake that inner urge to just do what’s authentic and real to me … which is being weird as f*** and wanting to make crazy s***”, he explained. To summarize Struggler’s creation, Owusu “started in a meeting with my manager about making hits, and came out with an album about a f****** roach”.
Don’t let Owusu fool you though—the album itself is far deeper than just a roach. Struggler is not inspired by other music at all, in fact, according to Owusu, during its creation was probably the least amount of music that he listened to (compared to SWNT). Instead, he cited plays and reading literature by Franz Kafka and Samuel Beckett as his source of inspiration—which is extremely fitting, as Struggler’s synopsis details a roach who, to say the least, is going through it.
Mixed with personal anecdotes, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and an ongoing narrative, Struggler turned heads when it dropped. To some, it was too much, and perhaps too sharp of a left turn upon listening to SWNT. Yet, to the ones who understand Genesis Owusu, it couldn’t be more on-brand.
The world, and Australia, is in dire need of artists like Owusu—who not only are unapologetically themselves despite any noise, but are willing to take a stand and bring thought-provoking and high quality music across the radio-waves.
Music should invoke emotion and thought and bring people together, and in today’s fast-moving environment that sentiment may become lost in translation at times. But for Genesis Owusu, that’s the only language he speaks.
“If something is a detriment to me but it can help a lot of other people, I’m so glad to take that on the chin. If an industry, person or group wants to throw me out or not support me for things that are genuinely important to me or a part of me, then I don’t want to be a part of that anyway.”