I'm going to get straight to the meat on this one. This album is good... Like, stupid good.
Genesis Owusu, a Ghanaian-Australian artist, exudes such an intense level of charisma and fun that he is immediately one of the most infectious performers today. With singles and EP's dating back to 2017, Owusu approaches his debut album with more experience than is typical. Smiling With No Teeth is a phenomenal piece of proof that the experience is being used. With blinding levels of variety including pop, punk, hip hop, funk, R&B, and things beyond easy description, Smiling With No Teeth is a tour de force in starting outside the box and showing no interest in getting in one.
Opener On The Move immediately brought thoughts of Death Grips into my mind with the loud and aggressive industrial electronics and vocal performance, which would have easily had me hooked if that were the entire album. Right from the following track, The Other Black Dog, the shift hits as Owusu spits slick bars over a ridiculously catchy electronic-based beat, shifting into a hooky pop-influenced but still blistering chorus. Once again, if this was just a wildly chaotic hip hop album I still would have been more than ready for more of this kind of performance. But no, that would be too easy, as Centrefold is a groovy as hell, almost reggae like R&B track with smooth soul and glitchy digitized vocals interspersed in. By now my mind is totally lost on precisely what is going on within Smiling With No Teeth, especially as Waitin' On Ya incorporates these loud computerized words that just fade off as Owusu goes straight into breezy pop, Don't Need You goes hard in funk, Drown is 80's synth inspired, Gold Chains sounds like conscious hip hop, and on and on and on. These songs bring in something different at an insane pace, completely and undeniably diverting genre boundaries front to back.
In other instances this would feel so disjointed and impossible to follow that you'd be lost three songs deep. Owusu maintains himself as the center, however, using his contagious performance style to make these songs sound unique but simultaneously grounded. He lands both as a loudmouthed rapper, smooth soul vocalist, pop performer, goofball, and subtle poet all at different points. Owusu is clearly a best-kept-secret oddball by all standards, but holds onto an astounding grip on what makes a song individualistic and still catchy. Had Owusu made any other left turn on Smiling With No Teeth you would assuredly still be along for the ride.
If this was it the album would be enough, but Owusu doesn't hold back on lyrical content either. I Don't See Colour and Whip Cracker unapologetically address racism, and the "black dog" phrase is repeated throughout as an allegory for the ills Owusu faces. Smiling With No Teeth is never in-your-face with its themes, easily blending into the hodgepodge of sounds throughout the album, but offer additional meaning behind it all.
That this is only a debut is dizzying with the recognition that Owusu is only in his early twenties and has not just years but decades of potential upside. If Owusu is able to compose music so insanely catchy, weighty, and diverse it is only a matter of time before the secret can't be kept any more. If you can't find something on Smiling With No Teeth you enjoy you simply aren't looking long enough.
Favorite track: The Other Black Dog