Genesis Owusu Makes Weird Happy Hip Hop About Pain
“All my friends are hurting, but we dance it off, laugh it off/scars inside my shoes but we just tap it off, clap it off,” Ghanian-Australian musician Genesis Owusu half sings, half raps, half crows on “The Other Black Dog.” His delivery is rapid fire and the beat simultaneously thumps and shimmies between alt rock rush and hip hop punch. He’s off-kilter, but singing anyway—all the way through a slowed-down menacing burping dub coda in which he cheerfully announces “You tryna cope but you ain’t dealing.” The track turns rage, sadness, and pain into a party. But it’s a party about remembering, not forgetting.
“The Other Black Dog,” comes from Owusu’s debut album Smiling With No Teeth (Ourness/House Anxiety), which manages to feel both laid-back and manic as it rambles and jitters amidst funk rock touchstones from Hendrix to Outkast. Lyrically, the record circles around the image of that black dog, which is both a symbol for depression and a reclaimed racial slur. The driving hard rock “Black dogs!” is a defiant growl, “Black dogs! Don’t touch that!” But the title track “Smiling With No Teeth” is a slower, boiling soul vamp, about how love of Black culture seems to do little to mitigate disdain for Black people. “Everybody wants the feeling without touching the pain,” Owusu sings in a light R&B falsetto, before dropping into George Clintonesque hippie talk singing and a story of the two black dogs, “society’s stray and the stray’s hound,” who alternately tear at and comfort each other.
Black music from Miriam Makeba to Kendrick Lamar have turned oppression into joyful noise as a form of defiance and resistance. Owusu fits his odd, lumpy, funky sound into that tradition, all odd angles, gold teeth, and bruised-but-not-broken wit. He may be smiling with no teeth, but he’s still got a bite.
Author: Noah B.