Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth Album Review

House Anxiety Records – 2021

Genesis Owusu, born Kofi Owusu-Ansah brings about his debut album that is packed full of twists and turns, sights and sounds, and messages of hope that seek to highlight racial injustices and mental health struggles. This album is said to be a document of 12 months of Owusu as an artist and that statement rings true in every aspect. Not only does this album secure Owusu as one of the most exciting new rappers/ pop stars/ funk singers/ any other label you can fit him under, but it sets firmly in stone his statement as an artist that has no limits.

Over the course of this album Owusu shifts through various styles and sounds almost seamlessly. Whether he’s dabbling in R&B on the sensual “Centrefold” or a more psychedelic jazz sound on “Waitin’ For Ya”, there’s a clear level of excellence that passes through every corner of this album. The recording of this album was made with an in house band that consisted of Kirin J. Callinan (who delivers a fantastic vocal performance on “Dive”), Touch Sensetive, Julien Sudek and producer Andrew Klippel, and although each of these artists come from various backgrounds of genres respectively, they unite seamlessly on each track to create an album that subverts these genres. You can hear the influence of styles that Owusu is drawing from, with tracks like the grinding “The Other Black Dog” having the similar synth drives and beats that Yves Tumor packed into their Heaven To A Tortured Mind last year. But thanks to Owusu’s dexterous performances on every track he makes them his own.

His vocal performances are perhaps the greatest aspect of this album that help unite the ever shifting sounds that back them. On “Gold Chains” his smooth melodies dance blissfully over the chorus synthesiser, but then once he enters the almost spoken word rap passages of the chorus you’re left clinging on to every word and syllable as they roll seamlessly from him. Even on the heaviest of moments like the punk infused “Black Dogs!” Owusu feels authentic in every role he takes. He spouts the grinding verses with perfect conviction and then flawlessly switches to his smooth falsetto on the chorus without missing a beat.

This phrase of “Black Dogs” is one that is repeated throughout the album and is Owusu’s way of characterising racism and depression. But it’s not as if Owusu is trying to portray these issues as any less real than they are, but giving them this gothic persona allows the horror of each to shine out. On “I Don’t See Colour” Owusu questions how “somehow my actions represent a whole race” as he describes being watched at the mall simply because of his appearance. And on “Whip Cracker” he holds accountable those who have been still allowed a platform despite their racist views. “Why you askin’ why I’m so jaded?, Who forgot your thoughts on the races?” he questions. Moving then to declare “This ain’t the 50s, you ain’t talkin’ shit” as he reminds these people just how outdated their views are.

The other ‘Black Dog’ of depression is viewed in a few lights on this album. The title track of the album “Smiling With No Teeth” distills the notion of how Owusu puts on a face for everyone that sees him “Slathering honey on our demons for the palate of the apathetic”. He’s covering up his true feelings for those that see him but deep down the depression is tearing away at him until he’s left “Smiling with no teeth”. But once we reach the end of the album on the likes of “No Looking Back”, Owusu is facing his depression with only progression in sight. “I tell myself that, there’s no looking back, I lost the light in those years, locked myself in those tears” he confirms over the yacht-rock style melodies and keys. And this lighter, more free flying sound backs up this feeling of becoming more positive in his outlook.

Perhaps the unsung hero of this album is producer Andrew Klippel, who creates such vibrant and expansive sound palettes that on some listens you just want to focus on what’s happening in the background. Whether it’s the glitch-pop beats of opener “On The Move!”, the cut-up dancing sampled chorus vocals on “Centrefold” or the 70’s Chic-esque funk infused switch up on “Whip Cracker”, there’s so many diverse and interesting moments of sound design that you hope that at some point an instrumental version of this album gets released. That’s not to take anything away from Owusu’s vocals, after all these songs were written by him, but the two aspects individually are equally as versatile; put together they make something truly remarkable.

Being 15 tracks long and standing at just over the 50 minute mark, this album certainly comes packed with a lot. However it’s not as though any of that time is wasted or left as filler. There’s moments within songs here and there that could be shortened or trimmed, but as a complete project this album has so much to digest that the run-time is completely justified. And hey, were certainly not complaining of more Genisis Owusu, in fact, we can’t wait to hear how he expands on this sound next. For the time being though lets keep getting lost in this debut borrows from many different times, but is sure to stand the test of time.

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