Favorite Track: "Smiling with No Teeth" Least Favorite Track: "A Song About Fishing"
Often times a genre will be entirely mis-represented by its corresponding records in the mainstream, its true merit as a musical style being squandered by lowest-common-denominator musical tropes and a complete unwillingness to bend the rules from the artists at the top. Tired R&B records, overblown “rock” albums from Imagine Dragons and Maroon 5, and uninspired and painfully similar trap efforts day in and day out force people who tire of musical conformity to turn to the underground to find artists that innovate or add some sort of musical rebellion to the mix. Sometimes the remedy to the musical monotony comes in the form of an effective fusion of styles, and no artist has done that better in 2021 thus far than Genesis Owusu on his debut album Smiling With No Teeth.
Smiling With No Teeth, in its short cycle in the public eye since its release in early March, has often been classified simply as an R&B project, but classifying it as such entirely dismisses the grandiose view Owusu clearly has for this project as a whole. Sure, R&B plays a heavy role on tracks like the immensely catchy “Waitin’ on Ya” or the gorgeous closer “Bye Bye”, but Owusu dabbles in elements of electronic, rock, pop, rap, and even experimental hip-hop on the Death Grips-esque opener “On the Move!”. His versatility is the sole perpetrator of a record that is incredibly well produced, thought out, and performed as a cohesive experience.
Take the incredibly exhilarating and punk-inspired “Black Dogs!” for an example. The track is heavily driven by aggressive drums and driving bass, and an incredibly engaging vocal performance from Owusu covering themes of racism in Australia. Ideas of racism are a subtle theme throughout the record, with Owusu employing the narrative of the “Black Dog”; something that both represents his depression and the racism he has experienced. Most of the songs on the record cover one of these topics in some form, creating a holistic lyrical experience on top of the already immaculate production.
There are many instances on Smiling with No Teeth where it feels as though Owusu is going for a larger idea that he can’t quite pull off. Moments like the vocoded intro to “Waitin’ on Ya” feel as though they were supposed to play into a larger album theme that never fully materializes. Their importance to the greater theme of the album feels relatively inadequate, even though they don’t particularly take away from the experience of the record itself. In general, the element that genuinely detracts from the experience are the duds that are remarkably few and far between on the record. The majority of them end up on the back half with “Whip Cracker” and “Easy”, the latter being more of a rant than a song and “Easy” falling more into the tropes that Genesis seems to be so far above on this record.
It is impossible to talk about Smiling with No Teeth without mention of the absolutely exquisite title track, “Smiling with No Teeth”. The song is easily one of the most profound R&B tracks released in a long while, with Owusu writing simplistic yet beautiful lyrics about the dualities of man, how “Everybody wants the sweetness without tasting the bland/Everybody wants the help without lending a hand”. The hook is beautiful and the chorus vocals towards the end are nothing short of cathartic.
Smiling with No Teeth is an absolutely fantastic debut. The record barely ever dulls, with immaculate production, interesting lyricism, and a great sense of humor showing an image of a man who is flawed, but invested in those flaws and how he can better himself and the world around him as a result of said flaws. Thus far in 2021, no artist has even come close to showing off the same level of versatility and genre flexibility as Owusu, and the idea that he does so with such gusto and spunk is a remarkable feat in and of itself. Genesis Owusu has created a timeless debut.