Live from, uh, Anne’s salon: Genesis Owusu
KCRW: If I understand correctly, did you write your first rap in the bathroom? Why in the bathroom? Do you remember how this rap happened?
Genesis Owusu: The short answer is, you know when you step into the shower, sometimes your best thoughts come out? My favorite song wasn’t in the shower. [Laughs] But the long answer to that is that my older brother was a producer. And I was very young, just trying to find my own way. So for a long time, I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to make music.’
But he had hijacked our family’s office and turned it into his personal studio. So it was unavoidable. And he gave me his beats on this tiny, ratty mp3 player. And he’s like, ‘Trust me, you have to write on this.’ And I was going to the public bathroom and the beat came on the mp3 player, and it just hit. I probably remember the first two lines. It’s awful. I do not remember. He is still alive on the internet. It’s called “Ansah Brothers”. I was 13 or 14 years old.
Why did you refuse to get into music?
From an early age, coming from Ghana to Australia, for many different reasons, I had adopted an underdog mentality. And I was always trying to figure out what it was from a very young age. So earlier it adjusted to go against the grain and do everything because everyone expected me to do the opposite. So since my older brother was already making music, everyone was like, ‘Oh, are you going to make music?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to be a racing driver or something.’ They finally got me.
Your album has a straight line juxtaposing upbeat or energetic sounds with lyrics that can get very heavy or come from a place of pain. Why is it important for you to create this contrast?
The main reason was that it was intentional, conceptually. Throughout the album, the two main themes are depression and racism. And luckily right now they’re both much less stigmatized and you can talk about them more openly. But when I was growing up, nobody wanted to hear that. So for people to hear it, you would have to coat it in sugar, make it more palatable. The album is called “Smiling With No Teeth”, which means a fake smile, pretending things are going well when they aren’t. So conceptually the song sounds sexy. They sound funky. They sound groovy, but then you dig in and lyrically there’s something a little heavier going on beneath the surface.