Genesis Owusu is an artist in control. Taking a few years to get here, his debut album Smiling With No Teeth showcases an artist well and truly ready to breakdown barriers and take the world on, fifteen tracks at a time.
A lengthy debut, Smiling With No Teeth is the sign of an artist not willing to be pigeonholed. Spanning a variety of styles and genres from hip hop and RnB to rock, soul, pop and jazz, Genesis Owusu puts forward everything you’d expect from an artist with a firm knowledge of what they’re trying to achieve.
Describing the album as ‘beautiful, youthful, ugly, timeless and strange music’, it’s very evident that Smiling With No Teeth is Genesis Owusu being a cool guy, doing cool guy shit. Providing commentary on and covering themes of race, identity and belonging, Owusu has drawn on self-experience to help shape an album that will without doubt be one of the best Australian releases of 2021. A reference to the way outsiders have to pretend things are okay when they’re not, Smiling With No Teeth is Owusu challenging society’s expectations of what life as an outcast is like, and all the associated anxieties that come with living as an outsider in a not always accepting environment.
While not surprising, based off the drizzle of quality cuts he’s released since his 2017 Cardrive EP, Smiling With No Teeth is a thumping and dynamic listen from front to back, delivered with an emphatic dose of wit and realism. With a third of the album released prior to its full debut, every one of those singles pointed towards an album that was going to be fun, groove driven and filled with remix-ready bangers. Notable singles like breakout song “Don’t Need You” will be stuck in your head all day as the funk delivered choruses forecast Owusu as a forceful and fun act.
Not relying entirely on the skills of a producer, much of the album will translate incredibly well into a live setting with full band. The driving and killer “The Other Black Dog” borrows on the black dog motif that runs throughout the album’s entirety, while Owusu’s delivery is equal parts stellar and crisp.
“Waitin’ On Ya” and “Gold Chains” have a real Frank Ocean “Super Rich Kids” vibe to it, as it enters into a slinky jazz bar tone. It’s sleak and drips of utter sex appeal. And, while there’s just as many moments that could have come straight from Channel Orange, tracks like “Drown” and the two-minute relentlessness of “Black Dogs” would not be out of place on an album by Polish Club either.
There’s an underlying aggressive nature to Smiling With No Teeth that encapsulates the raw energy of Owusu. This comes to the forefront on “Whip Cracker”, with its angular and pulsating guitar licks bursting from the seams of the song’s closing two minutes. While delivering elements like “Whip Cracker” shows Owusu at his peak, Smiling With No Teeth has so many further realms and depths, like the 80’s synth inspired “Easy” or the tender and completely wonderful/reflective “A Song About Fishing”. These will really cement the album as a permanent fixture on playlists for a while to come.
Yes, Genesis Owusu is definitely a more forceful and engrossing artist when delivering your more upbeat tracks, but the depth of his skill and delivery is never more present than on the gospel driven, uplifting, hindsight evoking “No Looking Back”. It’s the chef’s kiss emoji wrapped up within four minutes. With a definite Janet Jackson “Together Again” feel, “No Looking Back” is a powerful statement from an artist looking forward to a more productive and fruitful future.
It’s always great to see artists like Genesis Owusu release an album as strong and pure as Smiling With No Teeth. It is without doubt a game changing moment for Owusu. You’d be a fool to not stop, observe and take note of an artist who’s in complete and utter control.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Genesis Owusu’s new album Smiling With No Teeth is out Friday March 5th. Pre-order a copy HERE.
Header Image: Daniela Federici.