meet the brothers changing australian rap from their suburban bedrooms
Kofi and Kojo talk their solo work and coming together as a group when the world needs them most.
Kofi, left, and Kojo, right
Australia's going through a rap age of enlightenment: the kids who grew up on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy have come of age and begun recording their own music, spurred on by Soundcloud success stories like Lil Yachty. Local scenes are tight and encouraging — you're more likely to see a packed floor at a rap show than a rock show — and online, songs just keep racking up more and more plays. A new generation of rappers are having their moment.
Kofi and Kojo Ansah epitomise the local kids behind this change: two brothers born in Ghana, raised on Kanye in Australia's capital, turning loose Soundcloud tracks into mixtapes, and mixtapes into national tours. They both rap solo: Kofi (the younger sibling) as Genesis Owusu, and Kojo as Citizen Kay. If they feel like working on something together, they'll release it as The Ansah Brothers — convenient when you're a supergroup whose studios are bedrooms next door to one another.
i-D called up the brothers to chat to them about their local and overseas influences, why it's important for people of colour to make their mark on Australia's scene, and switching up the script on what an Australian rapper looks like.
Let's talk about your solo projects. How do you differ?
Kojo: I try to keep my stuff more musical, I lean more towards uptempo funk stuff. Kofi gets a bit more weird and creative with dark jazz.
How about as producers?
Kofi: Honestly, I still don't really know how to produce.
Koji: I learnt how to produce because I play the guitar and I needed other instruments on my songs. I didn't know any drummers or bassists or keyboard players, and I was too poor to afford people who could actually play anyway, so I started producing. Now I'm rapping, I'm producing, and I'm trying to come up as a mixing engineer as well. When I'm not doing my own music I'm always working on music for other people.
I've noticed no matter who's music I'm listening to — Citizen Kay or Genesis — I alway hear samples of old jazz standards.
Kofi: Jazz, soul and funk, that's the core of everything.
Kojo: Jazz, soul, funk — that's for sure the core.
Kofi: It's what I'm connected to. As soon as I heard it I just felt like, "this is home."
Kojo: It's same for me. I was into a lot of rock, you know, playing guitar — that was what I gravitated towards. But then, as I started discovering hip-hop, that led me to funk, soul, and jazz. It just felt right. I connect with those genres.
That comes through in the Ansah Brothers, too.
Kojo: I see Ansah Brothers as like, The Avengers. We come together when we need to come together, when the world needs us, but we've also got our own thing going on. I don't think you would ever hear me rapping on Ansah Brothers beats as Citizen Kay. I get into a different headspace with Ansah Brothers: there's some healthy brotherly competition to it. We want to out-do each other. When I hear a verse of Kofi's and think, "Damn," that makes me want to step up my game as well.
Kofi: Yeah, when me and Kojo did the Polaroid Mixtape together, as the Ansah Brothers, that was when I was really trying to prove to people that I could actually rap.
Is there anywhere where you guys really disagree, musically?
Kofi: Hopsin, I really just don't like Hopsin.
Kojo: I wouldn't throw myself in front of a train for him.
Kofi: You don't like Tyga do you?
Kojo: I fuckin hate Tyga. I drove to Sydney to see Tyga a few years ago and that was one of the most disappointing things I've ever done in my life, apart from going to see Bow Wow. Tyga and Bow Wow were the worst experiences I've ever had at a show. We're both pretty much on the same page with hip hop. Actually, I think Kofi is maybe a bit more in tune with what's going on in hip hop than I am.
Who do you really love?
Kojo: We're literally sitting under a big-ass Kanye poster right now.
Kofi: I've got Kanye watching over me every night.
So it's fair to say he's one of the artists who motivates you.
Kojo: Yeah. Kanye, Kendrick, and Pharrell.
Kofi: Yep, no doubt. No doubt about that. Isiah Rashad, I've been getting into more and more. He's on Top Dawg and his stuff is damn fire, just straight fire.
Do you think you'll have to move to a bigger city at any point, to pull this whole thing off?
Kofi: Nah, Canberra's straight dope.
Kojo: For a long time, because everyone tells you, "move to Melbourne, move to Sydney," I always had it in my mind I would leave when things started going somewhere. But once I started touring and seeing places, there was something so comforting about coming back to Canberra. Canberra is the place. The scene is growing more and more and people are proud to be from here, that's what I love the most.
Kofi: Yeah, people are proud of our city, the capital, and they're holding it down — Jimmy Pike, Jake Goldwaters, Donut$. I don't think we're leaving Canberra any time soon.
The idea of an 'Australian rapper' has changed a lot since the 2010s. That's largely because of artists like Baro, Remi, Big Skeez — are you part of that wave?
Kofi: Yeah definitely. We don't really have to identify as an 'Australian Hip Hop' act. Not because we're not from Australia, just because we don't really fit that mold. We're not hectic white dudes talking about bum bags. Hip Hop is still in its infancy here: we can do whatever we want because it's is such a new scene.
What was growing up in Canberra like? It's not a particularly diverse city.
Kofi: There was a weird awkwardness growing up as a black guy. You go through this stage where you're trying to be the token black guy — not even trying, you're just automatically in that position, because there's no other black people around. Then one day you're just like "What the fuck am I doing, I'm not here to appease these people. I'm my own person." I feel like every black guy in this city will have that revelation, if they haven't already.
Kojo: That being said, I'm so glad that we grew up here. I'm happy our parents moved us here out of all places. I am who I am because of it.
The conversations coming out of America — BLM, police brutality — have obviously reverberated in Australia too.
Kofi: Definitely. The people around me have learnt a lot from everything that's been happening. I used to approach white people being racist with some sort of kindness, because obviously them not being black, their perspective was going be different. But as of late, I've just been telling it how it is. If you can't get with that you're just not in my fuckin' books at all.
Kojo: I'm the same. I went through a period of thinking like, "Oh, they just don't get it." Now, everyone I'm kicking with knows who I am and what I'm about.
Kofi: I just delete people from my life who didn't get that. On my socials I have this two warning rule. If I don't know you very well and you say something super ignorant or dumb, I'll delete you straight away. If I'm good friends with you then you get the second chance. Now I don't have to see racist shit on my socials. I surround myself with people who can talk about black lives in a positive way. Not even just black lives: any lives, especially Muslim lives. That was actually what really started the two warning rule. I was seeing so much Islamophobia in Australia. It made me think, "If you can say something negative about muslim people, then you can just as easily say something negative about my people and about my struggle."
What's happening next for you two?
Kofi: I've literally just finished my first solo EP. Kojo's mixing it now — he produced a bunch of the tracks too. It's coming this year.
Kojo: I had it in my mind that we were gonna get Kofi's EP done, that we were gonna do another Ansah Brothers record, then I'd do a solo LP. But the way that life's gone, I accidentally started writing my next album already. I've always battled with the question, "do I want to be the person in the spotlight or do I want to be the person behind the scenes?" I actually wanna do both, and just take it in turns.
You are literally an in-house production team.
Kofi: Yeah. It's so tight. I'll wake up, and I can knock on one door and we suddenly have flames: we have a fire track.
Photography Arnad Hajdic