14 Oct 2023

Struggler by Genesis Owusu

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 14 October 2023

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Genesis Owusu

Photo: Supplied

If I’m completely honest, I didn’t expect one of my favourite albums of the year to come from our neighbours in Australia. But then I heard the second album from Genesis Owusu, a Ghanaian-Aussie whose kaleidoscopic meld of genres is shot through with urgency, unexpected melodies, and the whole spectrum of human emotion.

This is music with a cheerful disregard for genre, melding punk with hip-hop on ‘Stay Blessed’, and peeling through myriad others over the course of the album. It brought to mind exponents of this melting pot approach like TV on the Radio, and Young Fathers, but Owusu is in a league of his own. If nothing else his music is thrilling because it feels entirely uncompromised. 

The go-to vocal approach is rap, with periodic reminders that his singing voice is pretty incredible. Some songs slow down and indulge in funk and RnB, with ‘Tied Up’ even including nods to Prince and Madonna.

Genesis Owusu’s debut Smiling With No Teeth won a startling number of awards, including the Australian Music Award, Album of the year at the Arias, Best Record at the Rolling Stone Awards, and plenty more. 

Despite that success, this album is called Struggler, and picks up on the themes of resilience he started on the prior record. Part of its charge comes from this persistent defiance in the face of authority, but there are plenty of bright spots, including the triumphant outro of ‘What Comes Will Come’, which even throws some jungle breakbeats into the mix.

Smiling With No Teeth revolved around the idea of two black dogs: one the common euphemism for depression, the other alluding to the racism Owusu experienced as a Black man growing up in Australia. He had literally been referred to as a Black dog. 

Which gives context to the idea that he’s still struggling on this album, and once again he’s structured it around a specific concept. He characterises himself as a roach, or pest, throughout, and contrasts that with a god-like figure, referred to in one track as an ‘old man in the sky’ doing his best to make life hard for some of us down here on earth.

As Owusu says in ‘Leaving the Light’, “In the end it’s a roach versus a landslide”.

In a press release, Owusu said Struggler is set in “an absurd world with no 'where' or 'why' at hand. Just an instinctual inner rhythm, yelling at you to survive”.

There are references to Waiting For Godot, Sodom and Gomorrah, and Gregor Samsa, the character who wakes up as a roach in Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

These layers unveil themselves after multiple listens, but the buzz you’ll get from every emphatic statement, expert melody, or the vocal vamping on tracks like ‘Stuck to the Fan’, alongside the gleeful pileup of genres and styles, will keep this sounding fresh for a long time.