Military garb and jazzed-up grooves: Genesis Owusu was a powerhouse at Waywards

As an impressionable, doe-eyed high school senior, I went through a phase that left me chronically influenced by the jazz and hip-hop scene that emerged in 1980s New York.

Jazz rap opened the gateway, and to this day I revel in the opportunity to find pockets of the genre on home soil. One such purveyor is Genesis Owusu.

genesis owusu dani hansen happy mag
Photos: Dani Hansen

I walked into Waywards’ intimate space expecting a big show from Genesis Owusu, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The 20-year old Canberra producer has been creating some hypnotising hip-hop over the last couple of years. He cut his teeth alongside Citizen Kay in the formidable Ansah Brothers before releasing his debut solo EP Cardrive last year.

The record is a removal from the trap, grime, and pop influences you might hear coming up from Sydney’s West, Melbourne or Perth, even Adelaide. In fact, sonically and lyrically, it doesn’t quite match anything else.

Genesis’ tracks are layered with homages to Afrofuturism, jazz, soul, psychedelia, and his Ghanian roots, uniquely structured with the kind of self-reflecting lyrical content that hip-hop yearns for nowadays.

And the masses are taking notice. Owusu has been touring non-stop and booking some coveted festivals spots since taking a top five finalist place in triple j’s Unearthed High comp in 2015.

From what I could recall of his opening set at St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival last year, it was awash with a group of utterly unhinged dancers about to dismantle the stage they were stomping on. With this memory playing over in my mind, I walked into Waywards’ intimate space in Newtown expecting a big show, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Auckland artist JessB was about halfway through her set when I arrived. It was just her and her DJ on stage, illuminated in golden light, while the room was close to packing out. The vibe was warm and amicable as she joked with the crowd in between tracks, inspiring a little movement as the groove swelled.

As JessB finished up, patrons broke off and settled into the ambience. The night was so relaxed that Genesis took the stage almost half an hour late. There wasn’t a hint of angst as he crooned soulfully into the mic, dramatically releasing the cape he was wearing to reveal all black militia garb.

The night slipped fluidly into full powerhouse mode with the approach of his “goons” (his friends and collaborators), all fully masked and dressed in the same regalia.

The four in front broke into chaotic dance while the DJ kept the pace in the back. The tempo seamlessly channeled into a dreamy jazzed-up groove and peaked when one the goons, who was sat on the edge of the stage, threw petals in the air at strategic moments. It was pure magic.

If this isn’t the best way to experience hip-hop, I don’t know what is.

Listen to Genesis Owusu’s latest single Wit’ Da Team below: