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“I like to keep people on their toes”: a chat with Genesis Owusu

Genesis Owusu is making music in a league of his own right now. Since dropping his debut EP in 2017, the Canberra rapper (known to his friends as Kofi Ansah) has crafted a sound that flips seamlessly between energetic hip-hop and sultry R&B. With a string of singles now under his belt, Ansah has built himself as one of Australian hip-hop’s most exciting and unique artists.

So while he was in Sydney touring his two latest singles Vultures and WUTD, we caught up to chat about his genre-bending music, the stigma around Canberra music, and his secret life as a meme admin.

I’m always going to be a hip-hop artist, but I may not always make hip-hop music“: we caught up with Genesis Owusu for a chat.

HAPPY: Congrats on getting the two new singles out!

KOFI: Thank you, thank you. It feels good.

HAPPY: They’re an interesting two songs to put up next to one another. In terms of lyrics and tone, there’s quite a contrast there. Was that a conscious effort, to have that contrast?

KOFI: Yeah, definitely. I feel like, as an artist, I never like to stay in the same place sonically for too long. We put these tracks together because they don’t make sense together. But it makes sense for the brand that they don’t make sense. So that was kind of like the artistic direction.

HAPPY: You’re setting a standard early on that people shouldn’t expect a certain thing from you…

KOFI: Exactly. I like to keep people on their toes.

HAPPY: I’m not sure what you’ve got coming up in terms of new releases, but I’m assuming this contrast is something we can expect more of going forward?

KOFI: Yeah, definitely.

HAPPY: I’ve always found your music quite exploratory and experimental. When awoman amen came out, I remember thinking that I hadn’t really heard anything like that before… especially not in Aussie hip-hop. Did you ever feel constricted by the newness of Aussie hip-hop? Or does that newness allow you to be more experimental?

KOFI: I never felt limited by it, because I never really felt constrained by those boundaries. I appreciate this new Australian wave a lot, and I feel really lucky to be a part of it. But at the same time, I don’t really care if they embrace me or not. I wouldn’t let that reflect on my music. I feel like I’m a hip-hop artist, but I may not always make hip-hop music. I’m always going to be a hip-hop artist, but I may not always make hip-hop music. I don’t want to be bound by any restrictions like that.

HAPPY: So you’re not really thinking of your location as part of your musical identity?

KOFI: I mean I guess it is, just not in a sonic way. It’s more lyrical. I live in Canberra, and it’ll come up in the lyrics, but I don’t feel that beacuse I live in Canberra that I need to make a certain kind of music. And I don’t feel that because I live in Australia that I need to make a certain kind of music.

HAPPY: Are there any particular Aussie hip-hop artists you who think are doing really great things at the moment?

KOFI: Yeah, I think Sampa The Great. She’s like the best hip-hop artist in Australia… like ever. She’s amazing.

HAPPY: As you mentioned, you’re from Canberra… and from everything I’ve read, you back that place really hard.

KOFI: Yeah, of course.

HAPPY: Is there much of a scene bubbling away down there?

KOFI: Yeah there is, there is. There has been for a while. But I think that there’s sort of this stigma, that because it’s Canberra, you can’t make it from there. People think there’s nothing going on there. When something like that is enforced so often, the people there start to believe it. I think that’s been an underlying stigma that artists have held within themselves for a while. It’s only starting to get broken now.

HAPPY: Did you have to break that stigma yourself? Is that something you grappled with at all?

KOFI: No, that’s why I never want to leave. I never want to move because I’m proof you can do it.

HAPPY: Do you see at as your responsibility to be opening that door for other Canberra artists?

KOFI: Yeah, I feel like my brother and I have been trying to open that door. My brother especially. He’s been doing a really great job. He raps under the name Citizen Kay. He’s opened up his own studio in Canberra, and he’s been mixing and recording and producing artists for really cheap prices. So yeah, I feel like him especially. But I’ve just been trying to inspire the notion that you can do it for Canberra. I feel like my position has given me that responsibility.

HAPPY: It was only research for this interview that I realised Citizen Kay was your brother. Do you still run each other’s music by one another before you put it out? Is there still that collaborative element?

KOFI: Yeah, definitely. We always show each other our demos and give little critiques here and there. We’re brothers, so it’s no thing.

HAPPY: Is there any chance of an Ansah Brothers reunion anytime soon?

KOFI: Yeah of course. I guess we can’t really ever break up.

HAPPY: Are you planning on putting anything out together soon?

KOFI: Uhh, perhaps. There’s something maybe in the works. Maybe.

HAPPY: Now, I’d like to talk about your secret life as a meme page admin. Is this something you’re still doing?

KOFI: (Laughs) Uhh, yeah. I don’t plug it too much because it’s a secret. But once you find it, you find it. When you’re in the know, you know. One day it’ll blow up.

HAPPY: From what I’ve heard, you’re pushing out memes that are way ahead of time. You’re the Illuminati of the meme world.

KOFI: Oh, my memes are top notch man. My memes are better than my music.

HAPPY: Going forward, is there any new music in the works?

KOFI: There’s a lot of stuff in the works. I’m just making new music wherever I can, developing new concepts, new clothes designs. I’m just doing everything. I guess one day it’ll all come together into one thing. But there’s definitely more Genesis Owusu on the horizon.

WUTD + Vultures is available now. Listen above.

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May 9, 2019