Meet the C23 Artists: Genesis Owusu

The Ghanaian-Australian artist discusses his C23 song 'Hole Heart', his songwriting process and the importance of setting "my own standard"

It’s all about right now, the immediacy of the moment; nothing matters but the honesty and authenticity of the present. Placed squarely in the midst of this moment is Genesis Owusu’s dynamic new song, ‘Hole Heart’. “I chose this song for the mixtape because I feel like it represented my state of mind at that moment,” says the Ghanaian-Australian artist in his downtown Los Angeles studio. “It ushered in the energy that I was putting forward going into 2023.”

The veracity of the immediate is an unwavering artistic pursuit for Owusu. Though clear nods to funk and hip-hop shine through, his music isn’t easily categorised. He cites Jimi Hendrix and Frank Ocean among his key influences, and is set to hit the road with Bloc Party and Paramore this spring. Owusu’s style is most evident in his approach. The songwriter and performer broke out in 2021 with his ambitious and sometimes punky album ‘Smiling With No Teeth’, which established him as an artist who amplifies individualism at every turn. The debut album received awards and accolades at home and abroad.

Genesis Owusu
Genesis Owusu (Picture: Jonathan Weiner)

Owusu describes ‘Hole Heart’ as a sincere, heartfelt gut-punch. “I’m a vessel for everything the world fears, white tears, always white noise on the boys’ ears,” he purrs. Owusu wanted to tap into the collective experience of the past few years, the rush and doom of it all, but it’s important to find a way to push through too. “You still have to run and survive and push through,” he says. “And that’s the energy that I’ve been putting through. Being David when you’re fighting Goliath.”

‘Hole Heart’ was born from a day-long studio jam last year between Owusu, Jack Carroll Kirby and Solomonophonic. “I like to have songs be like photographs and just capture the immediacy of whatever is going on at that time,” Owusu says. “We didn’t go in with a vision except to capture the thoughts and feelings in the room at that very moment.”

‘Hole Heart’ may have been written in an LA studio, but Owusu says that’s not the usual home for his creations. “I’ve made some of the most important music of my life in bedrooms, dens, closets,” he says, with a laugh. “You can have grand ’scapes or beaches but it’s all about what’s inside.” While Owusu’s songwriting process values immediacy, his second approach is much more premeditated and discerning.

Genesis Owusu
Genesis Owusu (Picture: Jonathan Weiner)

“The process of listening to a song back is the crucial aspect. I feel like most of the things I’ll love while making it or I’ll hate it while making it. And then the listening back is that definitive moment that can change everything. Something I hated when I was making it, I could get it back and feel like it’s the greatest thing I ever made. The time to reflect on something is very important.”

With each song he writes, Owusu keeps himself in mind as his first listener. Whether a song is good isn’t about whether the hypothetical fan or critic in his head will like it. It’s about whether he has met his own needs as an artist. “When I write music or when I create any kind of art, it’s for me first and foremost,” he says. “I am my own standard. If I feel like I have expressed myself honestly, whether it’s good or bad, then it meets that standard.”

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