Genesis Owusu discusses his unexpected inspirations on STRUGGLER
Of all the things I thought I would talk with Genesis Owusu about, Kentaro Miura’s Berserk was not one of them. Wearing all black with a hoodie pulled over his shaved head, Owusu says, “I think Berserk, especially the manga, is one of the best literary or creative experiences.”
If you’re not Gen Z, or a nerdy millennial, Berserk is a dark fantasy manga (a manga is a Japanese comic book for you non-nerds), and “dark” doesn’t say enough. Let’s just say Berserk renders its oppressors absurd and cosmic in scale and explores the limits of a human’s resilience against unfathomably horrific and omnipresent existential threats. Although unexpected, it was immediately understandable why Owusu would be drawn to it; the central theme of Berserk is the essence of his sophomore record STRUGGLER.
From the onset, it was apparent that 25-year-old Kofi-Owusu-Ansah has an omnivorous appetite. His 2021 award-winning debut, Smiling With No Teeth, glides across rap, funk, R&B, and pop and grazes everything from Prince to Radiohead to Hendrix to Trent Reznor. STRUGGLER refines these musical influences but also has a few conspicuous literary muses.
Confronted with an endless torrent of apocalyptic headlines, Owusu was drawn toward writers like Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka; writers who understood a thing or two about the absurdity of mortal existence against forces incomprehensible and hostile. “I’m a roach that a god is coming after,” Owusu barks on “Stay Blessed.” However, listen to his new record and you’ll know his reading of 20th-century literature is far from simple nihilistic wallowing.
Sure, Owusu’s invocation of Kafka, Beckett, and Miura is disconcerting, but if you’re not disconcerted, you’re not paying attention. There’s a reason Owusu called upon the revenants of these literary figures–they also lived in a time of profound social, political, and technological upheaval. Like them, Owusu understands that the struggle against forces beyond our control is just part of the human condition, and probably always will be. STRUGGLER is a great reminder that we will live, and can even thrive, in the face of seeming insurmountable challenges.
It’s plain to see Genesis Owusu embodies this worldview by being relentless himself. His sophomore record’s tempo and vibe suggest the energy of someone always on the move, and indeed, each track was recorded during brief and infrequent lulls in his tour schedule (he mentioned he’s only taken two weeks off since the release of his first record), but just watch this studio 1A performance and you’ll find a man whose spirit cannot be crushed.
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“Leaving the Light”
Producer: Deidre Gott; Audio Engineer: Craig Gordon; Jake Perlman; Rene Chavez; Audio Mix: Rene Chavez; Cameras: Patricia Lim, Rene Dominguez, Nastassja Collak; Edit: Nastassja Collak; Host: Laurie Gallardo