Review Summary: Prince! Kendrick Lamar! Gorillaz! Childish Gambino! Yves Tumor! [MC] Ride!
Genesis Owusu’s name has been mentioned in such esteemed company by various punters in varying veracities since the release of Smiling With No Teeth
, and I am leading with this information because I’ve seen enough metrics (and have enough common sense) to understand that most of you won’t read past this paragraph. Here’s a four word review to chew on before you fuck off back to incognito mode or InstaTok or whatever: Get This Up Ya.
Genesis Owusu’s debut(!) full-length album is a rarer pleasure than a One Wipe Shit. It might initially register as scattershot, disconnected and a little rocky, but my inability to remove this album from my cheapcheapcheap phone’s limited storage space speaks volumes [that’s both a data storage and a music pun, you fucking nerds]. Once it sinks its teeth in, this thing is packed with enough sweet syrup and grooves to get your hips gyrating and pelvis popping, while simultaneously dark and twisted enough to make you blow chunks. Weird vibe? Yeah, I suppose, but the whole package is adroitly assembled with an abundance of THEMATIC COHERENCE
In the name of brevity, here are the broad narrative strokes of the album's concept(s): Genesis Owusu encounters a Black Dog, representing a variety of internal struggles he has faced. Through various tales (told from various perspectives), we learn of this Black Dog's nature, how it dragged him down, and how he began to fight back and take agency. In the album's second half, a second Black Dog rears its ugly head — racism. Growing up Ghanaian in Australia, Genesis Owusu is no stranger to the concept, and the album's second half sees him confront this Black Dog with more aggression than he did the first. Then, ya know, there's a conclusion and an epilogue. We'll get to that.
Genesis Owusu’s ambitious vision is made entirely his own through his conviction on, in, and around the microphone. While the band (yes, the band
) are chuckin' grooves, ticklin' ivories, stankin' up the low freqs, and noodlin' away on one of those fanciful electric gats, Owusu is rapping, yelling, speaking, and singing his way through all kinds of lively performances that highlight and enhance the album's themes, characters, and instrumentals.
Let's start with that omnipresent singing. Owusu tries on a lot
of different styles and just about makes it through the album on sheer charisma alone. Early sister tracks “Centrefold” and “Waitin' On Ya'' provide blueprints for some significant styles that Owusu chooses to elaborate on. The former's reversed/vocoded(?) chorus and ominously drawled second verse anticipate the experimentation to come, while the latter's HOT falsetto chorus is the first of many such occurrences across the album, all of which are stickier than a bukkake party in a giant tray of cinnamon scrolls.
Hold up tho; ain't he a rapper? Uh, yeah, he is. Check these fucking bars from “Gold Chains”, a stunning single about his experiences dealing with the commodification of rap and what's expected of him as a hip-hop artist:
I pray to some, I'm still me
But boy these demons gleaming, scheming, preaching, leave them
We'll deceive him, he's believing, say we're on his team then
But I've been bleeding, wounds have deepened when I chained my freedom
Reason weakened, beaten, ripping curls like I'm fucking Keenan
They think I'm beaming, I'm the beacon of the young and decent
When I'm in this shell committing treason
I sanitised organic ties for my arise in modern times
I can't deny internal lies in hopes that I'd be televised
I sacrifice a gentle life for goals that leave me terrified
But pray this doesn't lead to my demise
Of course, his bars extend beyond this one song, and as the album takes on a more directly hostile tone towards racism, we see Owusu start taking down targets with no mercy. “I Don't See Colour” provides the best example of this:
When you see the arab man it's the bombs and flares
When you see the asian man its the yellow scare
When you see the black man its riots and terror
But when I talk about slavery you weren't there
The quality of lyrics stays relatively consistent throughout the album, but there are some slight dips in general quality between tracks. Even these tend to provide at least one moment for the highlights reel, though, such as the outrageous vocal delivery in the second verse of “Easy”, or the new context in which you're forced to recontextualise the titular words of “Black Dogs!” alongside the song’s subject matter. If even the lowlights contain highlights, well, fuck me, the real
highlights are outstanding. “Don't Need You” or “Gold Chains” are playlist-ready singles that'll undoubtedly be on my year-end list, “Whip Cracker”'s transition from No Love Deep Web
era Death Grips minimalism to driving funk rock is somehow beyond cogent, and “The Other Black Dog”'s sultry outro provides a THEMATICALLY COHERENT
transition from the momentum-laden opening two tracks of the album into the sticky, sweet clutches of the first Black Dog.
Remember when I mentioned THEMATIC COHERENCE
all those words ago? This is the glue that's holding all of these pieces together, and is perhaps best embodied by “A Song About Fishing”, the first of a three-track epilogue to the album. According to Owusu, “This song started out as a jokey freestyle in the studio, but it turned into this weird parable about perseverance in dire circumstances.
” In the context of the album's general vibes, it's a little out of place, but once you start to put all of the pieces together it becomes an integral part of the album's holistic charm. “Rise and shine, to dawn I wake / To cast my net in a fishless lake
” are the lyrics at the core of this song, and they reflect a deep internal change that he’s had to undergo to confront these Black Dogs. Much as Sisyphus’ ultimate rebellion would be to find purpose, perhaps even joy, in the act of eternally rollin’ that rock, Genesis Owusu’s best ploy is to simply keep trying, even if his net keeps coming up empty.
Of course, that’s not the end. While “No Looking Back” follows on in a similar philosophic chin-up kinda vein, “Bye Bye” sees the album out by reminding us that the conflicts Owusu faces will never simply disappear, no matter his mindset. Placing this song last was apparently not the plan, but our man with the plan realised that doing so tied this thing up with enough THEMATIC COHERENCE
to launch Smiling With No Teeth
into the stratosphere. So it has, and although this is just his first album, I’m starting to think that in a few years nobody will need to drop a bevy of famous names in order to incite fervour for his music.