“I wrote it as a story,” Genesis Owusu tells Apple Music about STRUGGLER. “The album is pretty much what would this story sound like.” You can tell. The Ghanaian Australian artist born Kofi Owusu-Ansah’s second album is a surreal concept album about a protagonist—the Roach—fighting for his life in a kind of post-apocalyptic world overrun with constant physical and metaphysical threats. The antagonist, God, stops at nothing to try and bring the Roach down, to destroy him both inside and out. “The Roach character is a metaphor for we as humans,” he says, “and the God character is a metaphor for all these huge uncontrollable forces around us, natural and man-made, these systems we've built around us that were supposed to make our lives better. But at some point, we started feeling like we've been caged by them and they’ve slipped out of our control.” Owusu-Ansah’s story lays out three philosophical concepts that the Roach journeys through: nihilism, existentialism, and, ultimately, absurdism, the latter of which was inspired in part by the Samuel Beckett play Waiting for Godot and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The title and its character were inspired by Berserk, a legendary manga series by Kentaro Miura which features a character who “just gets dealt the worst hand in life”, he explains. “He has to fight through these forces so unimaginably larger than himself, to the point where it can't even be called a fight. The other characters call him a struggler.” Owusu-Ansah’s debut, Smiling With No Teeth, was a concept album as well, albeit a more personal one that explored his journey with two “black dogs”—personifications of racism and depression. “I’d poured so much of my life experience into it,” he says. “When it was time to make album two, I had to reconfigure which well to draw from and how to be inspired again.” It was that search itself—an existential hunt for purpose in a world that feels (and is) absurd—that led to the story of STRUGGLER. Like his debut, it’s still personal, but in a universal way; it’s a journey that Owusu-Ansah feels humanity as a whole experiences in its search for meaning, sense, and the will to live. It’s a particularly prevalent experience in 2023, while the world is reeling from a pandemic, successive environmental disasters, and a growing financial crisis. The music, recorded with a range of producers in Australia and the US, reflects those feelings: frantic and punky at times, slinky and languid at others—and the tracks with the darkest themes often have the smoothest, loftiest melodies. Read on to explore the story and concepts within this thought-provoking record. “Leaving the Light” “I just wanted to jump straight into it. I wanted it to be the tone-setter for the album. When I think of the story setting, it's almost post-apocalyptic, barren. When we started making this song, we wanted it to feel like the world was ending. There’s a huge wall of fire and debris and wind, and somehow you are trying to outrun that. That’s the pace of the opening chapter for the album.” “The Roach” “‘The Roach’ and ‘The Old Man’ are where I introduce and give context to the two main characters. ‘The Roach’ is the story of this flawed antihero character that's just trying to move through life at this pace, but starting to question what the point is. We get a sense of their mentality and why they're doing what they're doing. Some lines in the second verse: ‘Feeling like Gregor Samsa, a bug in the cog of a gray-walled cancer/I’m trying to break free with a penciled stanza/So are we human, or are we dancer?/I'ma waste a life trying to chase an answer.’ It’s like they're moving through life at a survivor's pace because they have to or they'll get crushed. But in their mind, they're starting to question the point. It's indicative of how we can feel at our lowest. There's this absurd whirlwind of chaos around you, but you just got to keep stepping and get to the next day.” “The Old Man” “I think the verses of ‘The Old Man’ also give more context to the Roach character, but then the choruses talk about this looming figure up in the sky that's dealing the bad hands, trying to mess up your life. The passages at the end are where we get the context to what the God character actually is. ‘Your master is a system. Your master is a suit, a dollar. Your master is a planet. Your master is chaos itself. Your master is absurdity itself.’” “See Ya There” “You have your ups and your downs, your peaks and your valleys. This is the abyss. This is the character at their low point. They've been struggling, running through and fighting to figure it all out, and it's like, ‘What is the point of all of this turmoil and struggle that I've been going through?’ Throughout the album, the three main philosophies it touches on are nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism. This is definitely the point of nihilism. It's the scary and depressing realization, but the abyss inevitably comes before the transformation.” “Freak Boy” “This is stepping out of the existential crisis for a bit. This is the point where the character acknowledges they don't have the answers, they keep moving. Even if they don't have the answers, they don't want to fall into this pit of despair. The chorus goes, ‘Don't wanna turn out just like you, hating everything that you do/I hope I figure out a thing or two.’ On we forge. It’s almost a rejection of the abyss and all of that. It would be easy to want to close your eyes to everything that's going on around you and just live an ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality, but maybe that's not the healthiest way to go. You gotta figure out how to do this right.” “Tied Up!” “I feel like it's easy to identify qualities when you put it into a character or a piece of fiction, but in reality, it’s all drawn from how I'm seeing human beings. It's all of these qualities I see in everyday people that we don't acknowledge in ourselves every day. We don't give ourselves enough credit for it. ‘Tied Up!’ is a continuation of that. I feel like there's a point in giving up the need to feel in control of external circumstances and focusing more inward. Maybe, if I can't control the things around me, I can control my perspective of how those things look and how those things are. Maybe that will help me in my journey. Maybe there is some light somewhere, but maybe that comes from me first, not outside.” “That's Life (A Swamp)” “This one's kind of a journey. It's the two-part banger. I feel like it’s almost a step back into reality. With ‘Freak Boy’ and ‘Tied Up!’ you don't really get any conclusive answers; you never really will. I feel like it's the character trying different things to make their experience easier. ‘Tied Up!’ ended with the character being like, ‘Maybe if I can change my perspective on things, things will be easier.’ But that's a process that I feel puts a lot of onus and responsibility on you, and when the world is falling apart, I don't think you can really do that. That’s where the chorus comes from: ‘I said, baby, it’s not about me,’ and then in the second part, ‘My arms are tired from carrying the weight of your shit.’ It's a step back into the reality of the situation.” “Balthazar” “If ‘See Ya There’ was nihilism, then ‘Balthazar’ is existentialism. So ‘See Ya There’ was like, ‘There’s no meaning—oh fuck.’ Here, it’s like, ‘There’s no meaning. Fuck yeah, this is amazing.’ Maybe there’s no inherent meaning, but maybe all that means is we're not shackled by this predetermined thing we're supposed to do. Maybe that means we can make our own meaning. One of the first lines is about taking the power back into your own hands, and the second verse turns it into a battle against time. Maybe we can have control over ourselves and our destinies, but we gotta do it before time runs out. The second verse is almost paraphrasing a monologue from Waiting for Godot: ‘In one day we go blind… In one day we go deaf… We can fly, fall in love, waste aside, be the one.’ We can achieve or complete all of this in one day, and yet we choose to wait. Why? It opens up this idea where you can take control and do it now. Stop waiting. The time is now.” “Stay Blessed” “‘Stay Blessed’ is keeping on with this newfound empowerment through the realization that all of these things might have a negative side, but there's also a side of immense possibility, a ‘we're all in this together’ vibe. The Roach is everyone, and there are a million roaches out there because that's all of us. And that goes back to that line, ‘If you kill me now, you're gonna deal with roach number two.’ It's like, we can't be stopped. The song starts delving into that third and last philosophy of absurdism. Maybe there's no inherent meaning, and maybe we don't need to make our own meaning at all. We've come this far in the journey, and we've grown so much that maybe that's the gift itself. Maybe the fact that the sun rises and falls every day, and we get to see that from this magical distance where it's this giant ball of fire. It's far away enough where we get to feel its warmth, but it doesn't burn us to death. And we get to hug our friends every day, see cute little birds flying through the sky. It’s such a one-in-a-billion chance that this has all happened and we get to experience it. That’s absurdism to me. We exist in this world, and we can't buy or earn our way out of absurdity.” “What Comes Will Come” “It's a solidification of the journey so far. We go through these hardships and trials and tribulations, and maybe it's because of Hollywood media or just a naive sense of whatever, we expect the outcomes to be based on how good we are or how well we did. But we just live in this absurd reality. What comes will come, and that's not a bad thing. It's not a good thing, either. It's just a thing. Rollercoasters need their ups and their downs to make the full experience fun and exciting.” “Stuck to the Fan” “It’s not a happy ending. It's not a sad ending. It's not really even an ending. It's the point of acceptance. The Hollywood story arc is like, you climb the big mountain, and then there's a field of flowers for you to frolic in after your hard journey. In reality, you climb the mountain, and then there's another huge mountain waiting to be climbed. But the good thing about that is after you climb a new mountain, you become a better climber to get ready for the next big challenge and the next big hurdle. And I think that's just kind of indicative of life, which I wanted this story to be. I just wanted it to be an honest portrayal. Shit has hit the fan for so long that it's stuck there, and that's just the way it goes.”

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