Oh my god, this man is going to be a star.
Usually, debut albums are typically straightforward records that are more about giving the artist experience and building an audience than making a phenomenal statement. It’s where an artist figures out what they want to do and how to do it, so debuts are usually a little derivative, not incredibly ambitious, filled with kinks, and usually are not much more than a promise of potential. However, on “Smiling with No Teeth”, Genesis Owusu goes above and beyond expectations by making what will probably be one of the best albums of the year.
While many musicians use their debut to find their sound and style, Genesis Owusu has already proven to be an artistic chameleon, not only with the music he makes but his voice as well. On “Smiling with No Teeth”, Owusu can be found smoothly crooning in his full voice, sweetly singing in his falsetto, rapping with intensity and infectious flow in his lower register - hell, even straight up huskily shouting on a handful of tracks here. Owusu clearly is willing to play with his vocals and use whatever is most beneficial to the mood and feel of the instrumental, which is also not tied down to one specific genre. One moment you’ll hear a Death Grips style industrial hip-hop cut, the next a Gambino inspired neo-soul and R&B song, then a new wave and post punk jam session - sometimes these genre blends and flips happen within the same song. This should feel messy and unfocused, especially for such a fresh artist, but it all works.
Thematically, Owusu tackles multiple themes he struggles with through the idea of two black dogs. The first black dog represents depression, the unhappiness and mental health struggles he faces on an every day. The other black dog is the racism he experiences on a day to day basis, whether that be in the form of outright bigotry or subtle micro-aggressions. By the end of the record Owusu comes to the conclusion that he will never be able to fully outrun the black dogs, but he is able to deal with them one day at a time. The idea of the album’s title is actually a unique way of discussing one of the album’s main themes - being able to find a sense of happiness in spite of whatever pain or hurt you may be facing - smiling with no teeth.
For most artists, a record like this would be considered their best album, but for Genesis Owusu this is merely a starting off point. I think maybe the runtime could have been shorter, but so many of the songs here are great and I don’t know what I would cut. If Genesis Owusu is capable of making an album like “Smiling with No Teeth” on his first try, I think we’re in for a brilliant discography to come.