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Genesis Owusu Is Keeping It Weird

The Ghanaian-Australian artist leans into the absurdity of the universe with new album, Struggler.

by Leslie Ken Chu

Photo by Bec Parsons

Genesis Owusu isn’t afraid to push boundaries. The Ghanaian-born Australian artist’s internationally acclaimed debut, Smiling with No Teeth (2021), was a visceral smash-up of funk, hip hop, R&B, and punk aimed at dismantling anti-Black racism and surveying the damage it wreaks on mental health.

“Whether you love my music you or hate it, I just want it to be a new experience for you,” Owusu tells RANGE via Zoom. “I don’t necessarily think everything needs purpose, but if something’s sole purpose is just to make you feel uncomfortable, it feels flimsy. I would like to make art that feels provocative but leaves [listeners] with an experience they haven’t had before.”

Owusu’s art is driven by his desire to be a legend in his own ever-changing world limited only by his imagination. “It’s a world for weirdos and eccentrics. Anyone who resonates with what I’m doing is free to enter and be a part of it.”

Building his own world is both idealism and survivalism. Owusu’s leery of the inhospitable music industry’s overwhelming pressures. “When I started making music, I naively thought making music would be enough to do this. A lot of the time, it feels like the person is more so the product than the music,” he says, pointing to the cult of personality built on artists flaunting their daily routines on TikTok.

“If I have any means of making it or surviving while doing this, it has to be on my own terms,” Owusu says. But his defiance comes at a cost—literally. “I just want to make cool shit. And a lot of times, the cool shit I want to make doesn’t make people money.”

Owusu hasn’t visited Ghana since 2014, but he ended that trip more determined than ever to live a modest life. Witnessing the country’s extreme wealth gap gave him culture shock; houses more lavish than those he’d seen in Australia towered over dilapidated huts just across the street. Yet Owusu found Ghana’s people warm and welcoming. “It felt like there was an internal rhythm throughout the streets. Even if it wasn’t literal music, it always felt like there was a beat to the streets. I felt akin to that, like I have had that my entire life.”

The contrast between Ghanaians’ warmth and how they lived left the greatest impression of all on Owusu. “It felt like everyone was doing their best to hustle and grind and keep their head above water, but they did so in creative, vibrant, and communal ways.”

Owusu carries a spirit of perseverance into his sophomore album, Struggler (out August 18 via Ourness/AWAL). He describes the titular struggler as someone who runs through an absurd world with no “where” or “why,” just an instinctual inner rhythm yelling at them to survive. It’s hard to see someone as ambitious and intentional as Owusu as someone with no “where” or “why,” but he always questions the world around him, including his own motives.

“Why am I so intent on making this crazy art when it can be difficult to make money?” Owusu wonders, scrutinizing his “why” as a façade or coping mechanism. “It’s a very human thing to try and give yourself meaning in a universe that constantly shows you how chaotic it is, to put law and order in this huge, expansive, eternal, absurd universe. There’s a scary but also freeing realization when you let go of that and lean into the absurdity of the world. That’s where I’ve been at while I was creating this album.”

Struggler is a metaphor for humanity in an increasingly chaotic world. “People are running around like headless chickens, but we’re expected to know what’s going on, why it’s happening, and why we’re doing the things we’re doing,” Owusu observes.

Struggler reflects this despair in its urgency. “Leaving the Light” and the guitar-driven rap banger “Stay Blessed” make the heart race. But Owusu leaps from this energy to vibrant funk on “Tied Up” and silky slow jams on “See Ya There” and “Stuck to the Fan.”

Over time, Owusu’s learned to put less weight into everything’s meaning or purpose. He marvels at the mere fact of existence—being able to watch the sun rise and fall every day—without having to know why it happens. And if he can pull new perspective out of every-day life, that’s a bonus. The same goes for his art.

“Even though I want people to have new experiences, when I make anything artistic, it is always for me first and foremost—challenging myself and my own expectations of what my art should be,” Owusu says. “I can see myself one day, 30 years in the future, making this super pop album, the soundtrack for the third Barbie movie or something like that.”