Kofi Owusu-Ansah, better known as Genesis Owusu, didn’t leave any room for “sophomore slump” allegations with his release of Struggler this August. Without hesitation, Owusu-Ansah began his world tour in his motherland of Australia on August 18th, the day Struggler was officially released. Combining elements of hip-hop, RnB, and post-punk, Struggler finds Owusu-Ansah further growing into his sound and cementing himself as a creative force to be reckoned with. The LP bonds its listeners over the power we possess that pulls us out of bed every morning and encourages us to just keep moving in this absurd world.
This was my second time seeing Owusu-Ansah, both times at the Basement East here in Nashville. The first time around, I was gifted one of my favorite performances of all time, so I knew I couldn’t miss his new tour. What came as a pleasant surprise was Enumclaw on the concert program as the opener. The young indie-rock band hails from Tacoma, Washington, drawing influence from the grunge scene that dominated Seattle in the 90s. Although a seemingly juxtaposed opener, the pairing worked perfectly.
Split in half by Owusu-Ansah’s obscure, blanketed totem pole, Enumclaw filed onto stage, waving in the dispersed fans to conglomerate to the front of the venue. Lead singer Aramis Johnson to the left, bassist Eli Edwards and guitarist Nathan Cornell to the right, and Ladaniel Gipson dead center with his drumkit nearly tipping off the front of the stage. Marching with instruments in hand, each member tuned and tweaked until the opening chord struck the venue.
Active since 2021, Enumclaw released their debut album Save the Baby in October of 2022 and has been in the process of touring since. It was clear that the band was still finding its footing, but their rawness had a certain charm that elevated their performance. As the set played on, Enumclaw relaxed, and the onstage banter and looseness (whether it be playing Smashing Pumpkins riffs or murmuring “Trap-a-holics” producer tags into the mic) became a contagion that set the mood for Genesis Owusu. Enumclaw had captured the cathartic nature of “Save the Baby” in a bottle and opened it up for the crowd, hitting and enhancing the essence of the ‘90s grunge and shoegaze influence that characterizes their music. Their quick, 30-minute set concluded with a full crowd and grand applause; fans primed for the headlining act.
After the crew disassembled and removed Enumclaw’s equipment, I was surprised by the lack of remaining theatrics—the stage was completely barren save the still-covered totem and a book sitting on an unsuspecting stool. Owusu-Ansah’s performance for his Smiling with No Teeth tour was accompanied by a chain-link fence, an eerie flag warning “Beware the Black Dogs,” and a crew of masked backup dancers who helped paint Genesis Owusu’s transformative story. I had expected him to build off this. Instead, he let his music take the forefront.
The background music cut, and the lit venue dissolved to black. Genesis Owusu sauntered to center stage and stared into the abyss of the crowd as the opening words to “Leaving the Light” ascended. Bright, white lights flashed and stuck to the back of the stage as Owusu-Ansah turned away from the crowd to focus on the nebulous totem. The chords of the bassline jerked him into motion, and Owusu-Ansah ripped away the totem’s cover and bounced to the beat of the song while the room became loaded with the chaotically flashing light emitting from the totem pole. Despite lacking backing instruments, vocals, or dancers, Owusu-Ansah filled the light-saturated stage.
The setlist fluctuated between high-energy songs like “Balthazar” and “Stay Blessed, ” and the much more melodic and RnB and funk-influenced “See Ya There” and “That’s Life (A Swamp).” Regardless of tempo, Owusu-Ansah always compelled the audience’s attention, even during the transitions, which occurred every few songs. At times, the venue would snap to black, and Owusu-Ansah, cloaked in a black leather trench coat, would open an ominous scripture that illuminated his face. Maybe it was my position (I was nearly touching the stage), but the acoustics made it impossible to understand what the hoarse, echoing voice read from the speakers. Still, it was a unique change of pace that kept the audience on their toes.
Owusu-Ansah had no trouble activating the crowd with the Prince-influenced “Tied Up!”, as well as treating us to a remix of Smiling with No Teeth hit “Waitin’ on Ya,” which sped the original song into an animated IDM beat with a Toro y Moi-esque denouement that tied the track back to Struggler, prompting Owusu to once again sing about “the roach.”
Man being likened to a roach is a consistent theme across Struggler. Roaches are overlooked and despised, just as many feel alienated in their everyday lives, yet cockroaches are incredibly resilient, as we are too. Owusu made sure to get this point across mid-show when he seemingly broke character to reflect on the inspiration of Struggler and his appreciation for his fans.
The differentiator between Genesis Owusu and his contemporaries is his on-stage charisma. I’ve seen dozens of phenomenal performers, but few were able to move the crowd as Owusu-Ansah was able to. Whether it be a simple clap to the beat or singing along to “Don’t Need You,” he had the ability to control everyone. He closed the performance with an intimate version of “A Song About Fishing,” where the entire crowd sat down and shined their flashlights on him as he sang the ballad in the middle of the pit.
The Nashville crowd clearly wanted–needed more of Genesis Owusu, so it wasn’t any surprise when he came on for an encore. As if he injected the audience with a pump of caffeine, the energy was higher than it had been all show after everyone was encouraged to chant “Fear the roach, love the roach.” While the crowd rallied, he kicked it back into full gear with “The Roach.” And as the finale closed, everyone was left infested with the Genesis Owusu bug.