VanJess is a duo of Nigerian-American sisters, Ivana and Jessica.
You might remember them; they featured on Lady Donli’s critically acclaimed album, Enjoy Your Life. On February 5, 2021, they released their second EP, Homegrown.
During a recent interview with DJBooth they described the music on the EP as, “About healthy love, leaning on each other, and just feeling good. The title is the essence of VanJess: we started writing songs together at home, recording at home, etc., and we found ourselves back to that last year and realized we’ve always been very self-made and grounded in our little bubble as sisters and as a creative team.”
On the inspiration behind the album, they also add, “This is where we come from, this is our essence, this is our soul, but we’re not going to exploit it. When we were coming up with our album artwork, we were inspired by the idea of what it would be like to be quarantined in the 1970s in Nigeria.
“What would we look like, and what would we be wearing? We thought, “Let’s alter our fabric.” We wanted to do it that way, so our people would know rather than it being this corny thing. We are proud of who we are. We are Nigerian-American, and we want that to be at the forefront of our aesthetic moving forward.”
Homegrown is a stable improvement on the more experimental Silk Road. This time, the talented Nigerian sisters have a greater sense of identity and clarity of direction. They also do R&B in their own way; the sexuality, sensuality, love tales and openness are held together by control.
‘Homegrown’ also sees them explore faster-paced post-disco/electro pop records like ‘Come Over,’ ‘DYSFUNCTIONAL’ and ‘Caught Up.’ However, the EP is at its best when the sisters are in their R&B bag. With measured progression, they are able to cut through with effortless delivery, and it makes their lyrics seep in faster.
Above all on ‘Homegrown,’ Ivana and Jessica are modern, confident women who aren’t afraid to give in to their sexuality, communicate their needs and even take the lead in a world that constantly wants to shame them for it.
On ‘Curious’ featuring Jimi Tents and Garren, the sisters are united in telling a story of an encounter with a timid man - played at different times by Tents or Garren.
They open interestingly, “You just my type, definitely in my mind. Passed me by again and you looking right. We thinking the same thing, so why you acting shy? It'd be better if you, just come up and say, "Hi, hi, hi"...”
‘Come Over’ is also a testament to the aforementioned incidence of modernism. Its hook goes, “I wanna come over baby, when can we kick it tonight, get freaky tonight…”
That sexual liberalism seems to help VanJess produce lines like, "Tip-toe in the garden of my Nubian oasis. Healin’ in my hands touchin’ you in places…” on ‘High & Dry.’
The modernism isn’t limited to sexual situations though. VanJess also gets vocal and communicative on ‘Slow Down.’ Its pre-chorus goes, “I like it when you're simple, treat me like a lady. Do things with a purpose, do things with intention…”
On ‘Homegrown,’ ‘Slow Down’ is the first time that VanJess truly gets in that R&B bag. They are smooth on that sample of ‘Darkest Light’ by Lafayette Afro Rock Band and it sets the tone for ‘Roses,’ an R&B track with elements of downtempo Dancehall and Afrobeats stick drums.
VanJess also rejects terrible love on ‘DYSFUNCTIONAL.’ However, the line, “Nah, get up off this sugar with your salt, babe…” is slightly confusing.
While these sisters are modern, they are not afraid to be women or admit to love. On the third track, the sisters liken themselves to ‘Roses,’ demand tenderness and take the lead against a lover who wants to rush things.
Ivana sings, “Long as you don't break the trust, ‘cause I used to be, dumb enough to rush the lust…”
On ‘Caught Up,’ they sing about admitting love, even with no guarantees from the other party.
VanJess’ songwriting is still growing and so is their delivery as a two-pronged creative. But at different points on ‘Homegrown,’ VanJess’ potential gets a little scary. The only real issue with this EP is its sequencing/tracklisting.
It’s obvious that VanJess went for sonic cohesion and sonic progression when they arranged this EP, but this writer believes that this tracklist would have told a better story of healthy love;
High & Dry
Come Over Again
This way, the story would have gone from the encounter, to the good sex, need to be treated right, need to slow down, the need to be treated better, troubles in love and then the make up.
• 0-1.9: Flop
• 2.0-3.9: Near fall
• 4.0-5.9: Average
• 6.0-7.9: Victory
• 8.0-10: Champion
Pulse Rating: /10
Album Sequencing: 1.0/2
Songwriting and Themes: 1.7/2
Enjoyability and Satisfaction: 1.8/2
7.7 - Victory