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There Is a Roach in Us All

Following his groundbreaking debut with Smiling With No Teeth, Ghanaian-born, Australian Capital Territory-based artist Genesis Owusu is back with his second record STRUGGLER. Within his second offering, Owusu shows off his masterful storytelling and metaphorical world-building skills, in which he creates the story of the Roach moving through obstacles thrown towards it by God. Whilst this album is a slight divergence away from the direct correlation between Owusu’s life seen in Smiling With No Teeth, STRUGGLER serves as a contemporary view of nihilism, existentialism and absurdism.

Starting the record off with an incredible view into the wit and pace of Owusu, we are sucked into the first track ‘Leaving the Light’, this track was released with a music video that to me personally, feels like a homage and addition to the themes of depression struggling with one’s feelings portrayed in Smiling With No Teeth. Yet Struggler starts off with such a powerful force shooting through all doubt and animosity. Along with Owusu, we the listeners are pushed into a new era with the old sounds and ideas building to add to this developed sense of character, storytelling and sound. Even visually, we are treated with the Struggler with his face covered in a very similar way to the album cover of SWNT.

To me, it feels like a revisit to the character with some more lore added to it, not unlike David Bowie's revisiting and development of the character ‘Major Tom’ in ‘Ashes to Ashes' 11 years after the release of ‘Space Oddity’.

Following on from the blast into the new era for Owusu, The Roach and The Old Man serve as an introduction to both main characters of the album. The Roach character is supremely relatable to us as humans as we move through our day-to-day lives, trying not to succumb to the mundanity and monotonous aspects of life while trying to hold onto a unique sense of flair and lust for life. I find it interesting to note that within The Roach, Owusu mentions Gregor Samsa, the main character from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, who is physically transformed into a roach and tries to grapple with the world in his new form, yet, is continuously quashed with feelings of hopelessness and shame being different and individual in a modern society. ‘The Old Man’ visits the oppressor figure, providing us context into the ‘God’ character as “(Your Master) is a system. Your master is a suit, a dollar. Your master is a planet. Your master is chaos itself. Your master is absurdity itself."

'See Ya There' serves as a reflective moment for the album. The song becomes existential and introspective, asking "What is the point of it all?" which serves as an excellent prelude to the upbeat and fun 'Freak Boy' where we are able to acknowledge with the Roach character that whilst we may not have all (or any) of the answers, it is integral to keep moving forward and approaching life with curiosity and whimsy or it will all become bleak and hopeless, to fall into despair can be so easy, but to regain a self of joy and self is incredibly difficult.

'Tied Up!' Is a journey that Owusu takes the listener on in the visual and audible sense. Opening with a riff that would make Prince proud, the song just oozes a cool confidence and self-awareness that is only exemplified by the hyper-stylistic and fun video with a message of championing your own self and becoming your own hero. The visual of fictitious "Rocky-esque" heroism mixed with Owusu chanting "I'm the struggler" just exemplifies the human experience in such a fun and new way.

'That's Life (A Swamp)' is a funky view into the expansive mind of Owusu. Rather than lamenting on trying to find definitive answers about the big questions of life and existential meanings, is it more freeing to let go and realize that "It's not about me"? Watch out though! We are brought into more thought and contemplation in the second part of the song, "My arms are tired, from carrying the weight of your shit." Owusu coos in a lower register, noting that piling on problems from everyone else and the world isn't a task to be taken lightly. Sliding from this track directly into 'Balthazar' is a really fun and almost humourous exploration of the fact that we have such little control and maybe that is a freeing experience.

'Stay Blessed' continues on this newfound freedom in the unknown, with the unknown, comes limitless potential and possibility. We are humans all exist in the same world of the unknown and the looming sense of dread in what will become of us. Yet, as humans, we all have a bond and unity with each other that is a unifying bond, people banding together are a lot stronger than people apart. We see this idea explored in the literal sense as Owusu surrounds himself with a clad of roaches, all wearing a white tank top and black pants with red stripes on their heads. This song feels like a stronger look into the unity of us all, yet, this song's video also feels like a play on connectivity, much like the smash hit "The Real Slim Shady" in which Eminem exclaims, "I guess there's a Shady in all of us." Owusu highlights similarities of us all as people using wardrobe and shaved heads, but also juxtaposes this with an incredibly diverse range of people roaching around showing that there is a unique glow in us all.

'What Comes Will Come' and 'Stuck To The Fan' further solidify ideas and themes within the album and wrap up the 11-track suite of tracks. This release is a metaphorical view on life and ends just how our existence does. We continue to roll through the motions and move through life as STRUGGLER(s).


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