Canberra's Genesis Owusu on historic ARIA Awards win and why it wouldn't have happened a few years ago

Genesis Owusu is the first hip hop artist to win Album of the Year at the ARIA Awards. Picture: Supplied
Genesis Owusu is the first hip hop artist to win Album of the Year at the ARIA Awards. Picture: Supplied

There's still a part of Genesis Owusu that is in disbelief over his history-making ARIA Awards win on Wednesday night.

If the Canberra hip hop artist's debut album, Smiling With No Teeth had been released a few years ago, Owusu - real name, Kofi Owusu - said he doubts it would have panned out the way it did.

But the album's March 2021 release has seen it pick up a slew of ARIA awards including Best Cover Art, Best Independent Release, Best Hip Hop Release and Album of the Year - the first hip hop artist to win that honour.

Genesis Owusu walked away with four ARIA Awards on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied

Genesis Owusu walked away with four ARIA Awards on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied

It's a fact Owusu only learned after the awards - but even as he was accepting the trophy, he knew there was some significance around it. Not necessarily because of the genre his album fits into, or even because it was one of the top accolades in Australian music. It was because Owusu, and by extension his music, is so unapologetically him - despite what some may think - and yet, he still received the award.

"It signifies such a change in culture that an album like Smiling With No Teeth is being validated by an institution like ARIA. I never would have expected it a few years ago," Owusu said.

"I think, for the most part, it's that they're validating that the weirdo can't be stopped. The freaks of the world cannot be changed, and at some point, they're going to be taking over and people are going to have to get used to that.

"I think that's the biggest thing that these awards mean to me. Regardless of whether I got the award or not, I would have been doing the same thing, making the same bombastic, crazy music, wearing the same stupid, bombastic stuff, doing the same crazy performances regardless.

"All these awards mean to me is that all of that is unstoppable and people are noticing that and people are getting on board with it. And I'm happy about that."

It was certainly a night that should be celebrated and according to some gossip columns, Owusu's after-party was the "most-anticipated" of the year.

Understandably, it's a new feeling for Owusu to be named by a publication to have the "it" after-party. It's an indication of the celebrity treatment the former St Mary MacKillop student now experiences, and it's easy to believe the after-party was filled with a "who's who" of Australian music.

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In reality, the people who Owusu wanted to celebrate with were his Goons - a group of people who come on stage with the hip hop artist to help hype up the crowd.

"It was pretty hilarious getting into gossip articles confidentially saying, 'Genesis Owusu was hosting the most anticipated ARIA afterparty'. That was really hilarious - I felt like Kim Kardashian or something," Owusu said.

"But we did have a party and it was really great. For the ARIAs, because I performed with the Goons, I got to bring extra Goons with me. And they're really just some of my closest friends, people who have become like family. So it was just a night filled with love. That's how we celebrated."

Smiling With No Teeth feels very of the moment, dealing with themes such as racism and mental health that - as he says - have been "lathered in honey" to make it a little bit sweeter to listen to. But while the past two years, in particular, have seen these issues come to the forefront on the international stage with movements such as Black Lives Matter and the effects of COVID, the album - for the most part - predates these events. Rather, the album is inspired by Owusu's childhood growing up in Canberra, after he and his family - including his brother and fellow hip hop artist Citizen Kay - moved from Ghana in 2000.

Owusu has never considered what people - let alone award ceremonies - would say about his music. In reality, it's just his way of reacting and processing the events of his life.

"I feel like I would make the worst music of my life if I walked into studios caring if people were going to like it," he said.

"I feel like the reason this seems to be resonating is because it's the most personal and it's the most me and luckily people gravitated towards that. But we just get in and we just try and make the best stuff ever, regardless of whether that's validated by whoever. As long as we think it is the best - that's what we're striving for."

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This story 'The weirdo can't be stopped': Genesis Owusu 'validated' by historic ARIA win first appeared on The Canberra Times.