“Soulja Boy off in this hoe / Watch me crank it, watch me roll / Watch me crank that Soulja Boy / Then Superman that hoe.”
If you were at the Tuning Fork in Auckland on Saturday night and heard those immortal lines, you weren’t, surprisingly, watching one of the ’00s most idiosyncratic hip hop stars do their thing; instead, you were witnessing one of the genre’s future superstars, Genesis Owusu, take a brief moment to gleefully get down to Soulja Boy. We’ve all been there.
After seemingly performing everywhere in 2022, including supporting Tame Impala across Australia, Owusu hasn’t eased up on the touring front in the new year, with the Ghanaian-Australian artist about to increase his global star with a key supporting slot for Paramore in the US in May.
In Tāmaki Makaurau two days ago, though, there were absolutely no signs of fatigue from Owusu, with the humble Tuning Fork overwhelmed by the unstoppable force of his live show.
And “show” really is the word: “If you’ve seen me perform live, you know I love the drama. Bringing out the grandeur in every element,” Owusu recently proudly declared about his upcoming shows with the Sydney and Brisbane Symphony Orchestras, and he was a thrillingly theatrical performer from beginning to end on Saturday.
Accompanied at all times by three intense and elated dancers – who also ably acted as Owusu’s hype men – the fivesome were a formidable presence, their frantic energy almost threatening to spill out into the balmy Auckland night at any given moment.
And it’s a terrible annoyance that this writer only just got to watch Owusu perform live this weekend: after several years of continuously covering news about the artist, particularly around the release and aftermath of his all-conquering 2021 debut album Smiling With No Teeth, I had, in truth, entered the Tuning Fork ever-so-slightly trepidatiously, fearing that whatever level of performance awaited could never live up to the cumulative hype surrounding Owusu in recent years.
But as the frenetic notes of “Get Inspired” bounced around the small venue, Owusu orchestrally commanding the crowd to follow his every movement, it was immediately clear that the 24-year-old is a generational talent.
It’s also in the live setting that Owusu’s boundary-less sound really comes to the fore, too, because hip hop is really too restrictive for the remarkably fluid performer. Some of his songs are sharp with punk realness, while he’s capable of being as fabulously funky as the best of them.
His whole Auckland set was enthusiastically genre-defying (incidentally, Owusu’s best albums of 2022 – as told to Brooklyn Vegan – featured artists as varied as Steve Lacy, Rosalía, Beyoncé, and Australia’s own Royel Otis).
Perhaps spent from the unceasing energy of the last hour, Owusu brought the show to a dramatic thud, foregoing an encore because it really wasn’t needed; as cheers continued to erupt, he nonchalantly stepped down from the stage and strolled through the crowd, as if he’d just done the easiest thing in the world. “That was amazing,” a fan gushed as he walked by; “thanks, I really appreciate it,” he casually responded, a relaxed figure of humility.
And really, despite the very real sense that Owusu probably should have been performing in a much larger Auckland venue, it was this cosiness that made Saturday night feel so remarkable. Being able to watch an artist who’ll be performing at Madison Square Garden in a matter of months this intimately felt like the ideal way to – finally – see Owusu live. Now when is that second album coming?