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Three things with Genesis Owusu: ‘With this game everyone becomes Logan Roy’

Genesis Owusu was one of the big winners at last month’s Arias, where he picked up three awards including album of the year. But that trophy haul wasn’t all he made headlines for. The Canberra-raised musician used his final acceptance speech to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war – making him the only artist to explicitly reference the conflict during the televised ceremony.

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The rapper and singer – real name Kofi Owusu-Ansah – has become one of the country’s most exciting acts in recent years with genre-hopping tracks that tackle topics such as racism, discrimination and survival against the odds. He may be inspired by Prince, but Owusu-Ansah actually credits a politically charged Xbox game with making him the artist he is today. Here, he tells us about that noughties artefact, as well as the stories of two other important belongings.

What I’d save from my house in a fire

My copy of the 2002 original Xbox game Jet Set Radio Future. Set in a futuristic Tokyo, the game is about a somewhat dystopian near-future timeline where freedom of expression is extremely frowned upon. The government is a mere plaything for corrupt corporations; the police are the personal bodyguards of the one-percenters.

You play as the liberators of this timespace: a gang of dancing punk rollerbladers, who battle other gangs of dancing punk rollerbladers as well as police and military for turf and notoriety – all while soundtracked by a pirate radio station known as Jet Set Radio.

I played this game for the first time at my cousin’s house when I was four or five years old, and it broke my brain. I obviously didn’t really understand all the themes, but I did know that the art was insane, the gameplay made no sense, and the music was like nothing I’d heard before.

With no humour or irony, this game is why I’m the freak that I am today, and consequently, the artist that I am today. It’s come and it’s left my hands several times throughout my life, but I have a copy once again, and this one will stay with me for as long as possible.

My most useful object

Continuing in the theme of extremely bizarre and obscure games, my most useful item is a German card game called Bohnanza, known colloquially (by my friends and me) as Beans.

The reason we know it as Beans is because you and up to six other players play as bean farmers. The aim of the game is to grow, harvest, trade and sell beans, and try to become the richest by the end of the game. The real crux is the trading. Absolutely lawless. You can trade a bean for a bean or twelve beans for a bean. I can wash your car for a bean or trim your lawn for a bean. Souls have been sold for a bean.

If you look at the acknowledgements on the vinyl of my debut album, there are three names of people who had absolutely nothing to do with the album whatsoever. They earned their spot there through a game of Beans. (I won the game though.)

This game brings the dirty, bloodsucking business scumbag out of everyone. Everyone becomes Logan Roy. The reason it’s my most useful item is because you can build so many friendships through this gameand destroy just as many.

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The item I most regret losing

The bottom set of my gold grills. I lost them two or three weeks ago while I was touring in the US. Devastating. These are the shiny gold teeth that have graced many a photoshoot and music video – and, of course, are the central figure on the cover of my debut album, Smiling With No Teeth.

They were crafted for me by a young uni student back in Canberra. He made jewellery as a hobby and made YouTube videos documenting the process. He told me he’d never made grills before, but if I modelled them for his YouTube channel, he’d let me have them free of charge.

This year has been full of trials. The world won’t let us be the same people anymore. Maybe it’s a cosmic sign that one of the most central features of my image has been lost to the universe, opening the door for something new. Or maybe I’m just clumsy. Either way, looks like it’s back to regular teeth.

  • Genesis Owusu’s new single, Survivor, is out now.