Once in a while, a new artist appears who manages to successfully draw inspiration from their idols and come up with something that is very much rooted in the past, yet undeniably carries the artist’s own waterprint. With his debut album, 23-year-old Ghanaian-Australian musician Genesis Owusu (Kofi Owusu-Ansah) has managed to do just that.
Inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly both conceptually and musically, Owusu tackles serious topics such as depression and racism, but only to cover them under his horrifying, patched-together face mask, letting his golden teeth-smile shine over these songs with a stale breath of weighty undertones that reflect his own experiences growing up as a black man in a white neighborhood. “Somehow my actions represent a whole race / It’s hard to move different when your face is our face,” he sings on “I Don’t See Colour.”
Kendrick is far from the only musical influence here. Owusu has drawn from all over the black music scene. There are catchy Thundercat-funks (“Don’t Need You” – the album’s unparalleled hit banger), conscious Kanye-hip hop (“I Don’t See Colour”), danceable Gambino-tongue-in-cheek (“Whip Cracker”), shim-mering up-tempo synth pop a là the Weeknd (“Easy”) or a là pulsating sweat (“Drown”), and a harcore punk rap (“Black Dogs!”) that sounds suspiciously similar to slowthai’s 2019 hit “Doorman.”
Towards the end of the album, things start to catch its breath as Owusu pulls off two excellent fusions of lovely ‘70s Stevie Wonder-soul and psychedelic Arthur Lee-folk with Jimi Hendrix vibes on the songs “No Looking Back” and “A Song About Fishing”. The amount of varied and distinguishable songs here gives the album a bit of a Gorillaz-vibe to it, where the incoherent, sprawling character of the music is kept together by the performer’s dedication and devotion to these songs.
If anything, Smiling with No Teeth can’t be accused of being front-heavy. Many of the relatively dull tracks are placed on the start, and it takes a while until he makes me convinced to keep listening.
Also, the pacing could have been better, as the flow of the album is often interrupted by songs that should have been either injected with more energy or simply left out completely. Still this is a thrilling and positively uneven, highly successful first outing from a young talent who comes off as one of the most exciting fresh talents of the alternative R&B scene.