On 'awomen, amen', Genesis Owusu gives us a portrait of a young man honestly trying to untangle his own socially conditioned masculinity
I would be far from the first to point out that on ‘Nice For What’, DRAKE wears ‘wokeness’ as a genre choice, much like he’s worn dancehall, grime and South African house music in the past. How are you meant to credibly believe a female empowerment anthem from the same rapper who also bemoans that he “Can’t go fifty-fifty with no ho / Every month I’m supposed to pay her bills and get her what she want” on his very next single? Drake’s gender politics represent a contradiction which has plagued him throughout his career and one which he refuses, even under somewhat heightened scrutiny, to try and reconcile on his latest album, the bloated and disappointing Scorpion. Instead, what we get is a portrait of an artist who is content to languish in the toxicity and emotional immaturity of his own masculinity.
On the other hand, you have a track like ‘awomen, amen’, the latest single from Canberra via Ghana rapper GENESIS OWUSU, a portrait of a young man honestly trying to untangle his own socially conditioned masculinity.
“‘awomen, amen’ is not a lover song. It is an ode to the female in all of her grace, elegance, nastiness, power, rebellion, boldness and ferocity”, Genesis explains. “I didn’t write this song as one of the ‘Nice Guys’. I didn’t write it to show everyone that I’m the perfect man, who has never disrespected a woman in his life, or to be the poster boy ‘male feminist’. I have been gross and misogynistic before - I’ve been a teenage boy. Sometimes I still have to catch myself from being susceptible to my inherent male conditioning. I didn’t write this song as one of the ‘Nice Guys’, I wrote it as a man who is trying to understand and do better”.
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One of the most exciting aspects of observing this new wave of Australian hip hop is realising how each so-called member/player of this loosely clumped movement possesses their own distinct artistic persona. Genesis’ afrofuturist bent sets him apart from the Atlantan trap stylings of MANU CROOK$ or the grime influences of SLIM SET, and he links up again with SIMON MARVIN and PERRIN MOSS of HIATUS KAIYOTE to illuminate this vision. Airy, vintage piano chords, a jazzy backbeat and strings provide for Genesis to ruminate on how the females in his life help him - and the entire world - grow before offering up an instructional admission, a kind of starting-point realisation for any man who’s looking to better themselves that’s nonetheless startlingly to hear in its honesty: “I don’t know what it means to be you / I view the world through eyes trained to demean you.”
In that light, it becomes hard to miss the connection between Genesis’ afrofuturism and the sample which he drops for about a minute halfway through the track, handing the song over to a sample of ABI MAMINIMINI’S rerecording of Sojourner Truth’s 1851 speech, “Ain’t I A Woman”. In an expression of identity that connects various historical systems of oppression in a way which is every bit as poignant and powerful and relevant today as it was in 1851, Maminimini says, “If the first woman god ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down, oh lord, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again. And now they is asking to do it - the men better let them.” And Genesis lets them; more than simply understanding the importance of foregrounding feminine perspectives and the inclusion of intersectional identities in these conversations, he places it at the very centre of ‘awomen, amen’. Where Drake largely wears his LAURYN HILL sample as an aesthetic choice, Genesis employs the words of Sojourner Truth in a way that feels authentic, deliberate and artistically purposeful.
Elsewhere on Scorpion, Drake raps that he’s “settled into [his] role as the good guy” - one of the most conveniently comfortable and tired pretexts men have to exonerate themselves from actually engaging with their own masculinity. On ‘awomen, amen’, Genesis shows that he understands that none of us are “good guys”. At the very least, we are deeply flawed and impossibly ingrained, conditioned social beings who should let the women turn the world right side up again. If that’s going to happen, then we need more of Genesis, and less of Drake’s “good guys”.