KCRW: If I understand correctly, did you write your first rap in the bathroom? Why in the bathroom? Do you remember how that rap went?
Genesis Owusu: The short answer is, you know when you get into the shower, sometimes your best thoughts come out? My favorite singing wasn’t in the shower. [Laughs] But the long answer to that is my older brother was a producer. And I was very young, just trying to find my own path. So for a long time, I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to do music.’
But he had hijacked our family’s study and turned it into his own personal studio. So it was unavoidable. And he was giving me his beats on this really little ratty mp3 player. And he’s like, ‘Trust me, you have to write on this.’ And I was going to a public bathroom and the beat came on the mp3 player, and it just struck. I probably remember the first two lines. It’s terrible. I don’t actually remember. It’s still alive on the internet. It’s called “Ansah Brothers.” I was like 13 or 14.
Why were you resistant to getting into music?
From a young age, coming from Ghana to Australia, for a lot of different reasons, I had adopted the outsider mentality. And I was still trying to figure out what that was from a young age. So earlier on, that adapted into being a contrarian and just doing everything because everyone else expected me to do the opposite. So as my older brother was already making music, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, you’re gonna do music?’ I’m like, ‘Nah, I’m gonna go be a racecar driver or something.’ They got me eventually.
Your album has a through line juxtaposing upbeat or high-energy sounds with lyrics that can get really heavy or come from a place of pain. Why is it important to you to create that contrast?
The main reason was that it was intentional, conceptually. Throughout the album, the main two themes are depression and racism. And thankfully, at this time, they’re both much less stigmatized, and you can talk about them more openly. But when I was growing up, no one wanted to hear that. So to make people hear it, you’d have to sugarcoat it, make it more palatable. The album is called “Smiling With No Teeth,” which is meaning a fake smile, pretending things are okay when they’re not. So, conceptually, the song sounds sexy. They sound funky. They sound groovy, but then you dig down and lyrically, there’s something a bit weightier going on underneath the surface.