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'Struggler' is Genesis Owusu's bold follow-up to his hit debut album

Genesis Owusu
Grandstand Media
Genesis Owusu

Updated August 21, 2023 at 2:03 PM ET

A funny thing happened on Australia's music scene a couple of years ago. Genesis Owusu was a brand new artist dropping his debut album, Smiling With No Teeth. The album, his first full-length LP, started winning awards. And not just one or two. Owusu eventually won practically ALL the music awards Australia had available: The Aria, the Australian Music Prize, the Rolling Stone Australia Award, the Air get the idea.

But Genesis Owusu wasn't about to rest on his laurels.

With his second LP — Struggler — Owusu takes an ambitious step forward. It's a concept album revolving around the tortured life of a cockroach — but Owusu treats this roach's existence as a sort of epic narrative, the kind that would naturally include a dialogue with the almighty.

"It's an album that was definitely framed by the last few years of this chaotic and absurd world that we've all lived in," Owusu told Morning Edition's A Martinez. "Being in Australia, we suffered extremely crazy bushfires and then hailstorms, and then we all went through COVID together. Every day through that, we all still got up and put on our ties and kept on trucking."

For Owusu, the roach metaphor captures the sometimes helpless feeling of persevering against overwhelming forces. On the song "The Roach," his protagonist exclaims, "I'm a roach, don't knock me on my back/ Legs in the air, hope God don't attack."

Owusu says the God figure stands in for "these huge, unrelenting, uncontrollable forces that, by every logical means, should have crushed us a long time ago. But for some reason, somehow, someway, we just keep on roaching to live another day."

Or as his protagonist puts it in the song "Stay Blessed:" "Now we fill the ground/ If you kill me now, you gon' deal with Roach number two!"

Genesis Owusu was born Kofi Owusu-Ansah to parents who moved the family from west Africa to Australia when he was still a toddler. He says the move immediately positioned him as an outsider. "I had never met white people. White people had never met me. People expected me to walk a different way, talk a different way. Because I guess back then, the only Black people that a lot of Australians had knowledge of at the time was 50 Cent and Eddie Murphy. So I was, like, either like the gangster or the comedian, and I didn't really fit into either of those roles. So I had to learn how to be myself from a young age."

To placate his parents, Owusu studied journalism at university. but he always knew that music was his true calling. "My parents flew all the way from from Ghana to give me and my brother an education. And they're very proud of what we do now [his brother, Kojo, is also a musician]. But they were definitely under the general immigrant mentality of: our sons are going to be doctors, lawyers, engineers. So I think I went to [university] to, you know, give them a little gift and show them that I appreciate their efforts."

His debut album decisively conquered his adopted country — and yes, won his parents' approval. Now, with Struggler, Owusu's set his sights on the rest of the world. "I've proved all I needed to prove to Australia, and now I'm just making what's genuine and what's authentic."

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A Martinez, Phil Harrell