Genesis Owusu




Weirdo hip hop is having a bit of a moment right now. Over the past few years the rap scene appears to have well and truly chucked the rulebook in the bin. We’ve got Lil Yachty making psychedelic albums, JPEGMAFIA corrupting sound collages and Bob Vylan masterfully suffocating grime with straight up hardcore punk. 

Perhaps more than any of these acts though, the true flag bearer for the (entirely imagined) movement is Genesis Owusu. 2021’s Smiling With No Teeth brought oddness in the form of live synthesisers and a skewed pop attitude that exploded with ideas, showing us that sometimes the most bizarre thing  in the world is a piece of good old fashioned pop music. 

STRUGGLER continues in much the same vein. His second album sees Owusu effortlessly delve into the weird and wonderful sounds of pop, rock and funk, uninhabited by the constraints of what should and shouldn’t be done within the genre. 

Opener ‘Leaving the Light’ sets the pace early doors, letting the listener know that the record is going to be a relentless run through. The track itself is an arpeggiated synth-pop bop, the type of music tailor made for speed running through your favourite 16-bit platformer to the acclaim of everyone and no one all at once. 

This relentless energy runs through the entirety of the album. While with lesser artists this pace could feel extremely one-note, Owusu manages to make the whole experience feel thrilling, creating a sort of aural version of running down a hill on a sweltering summer’s day. Once the momentum builds up, there’s no way of stopping, but when the weather is this good, who cares? 

Although there are a few slow jams (the late-hours groove of ‘See Ya There’ in particular), on the whole STRUGGLER refuses to settle down, and is all the better for it. This drive, combined with the almost exclusive use of live instrumentation, means that the album becomes extremely dedicated to the lost art of the chorus. At times Owusu feels almost desperate to ruin the surprise of an unexpected left turn, giddy to the point of mania to get through the verses so that the chorus can reveal itself in all its bombastic glory. This palpable excitement is infectious, carrying the listener through the album’s weaker moments with the minimum of fuss. 

While he’s by no means the first hip hop artist to use a ‘real’ band, something about the overall sound of analogue instruments gives the album a distinctly human feel, one more in common with angular ’00s indie than modern day hip hop. ‘Old Man’ has more than a bit of peak Bloc Party running through its blood, while ‘Tied Up’ feels like the distant cousin of early day Metronomy and Parliament: offbeat, funky, but strangely accessible. The track’s chunky, warped strut and four to the floor drum claps dare the listener to bust a move, in the process proving that all of the best pop music can be improved by a good old fashioned bassline.

Strangely for a record released in the streaming age, STRUGGLER’s best tracks are shoved towards the back end. In many ways this only accentuates the idea that Owusu is playing by his own rules. ‘That’s Life (a swamp)’ and ‘Stay Blessed’ are the real highlights here. Both tracks perfectly demonstrate the duality of his sound. The former’s groove goes on and on deep into the night without a care in the world, while the latter’s post-punk bass jolts us back    into the present, showing that when the time is right, the man knows when to pull the trigger. 

By embracing pop structure and early-2000s indie, STRUGGLER cements Genesis Owusu right at the top of the weirdo hip hop pack. A uniquely assertive voice in a scene that regularly crumbles under the weight of its own history.