VanJess Explore the Cyclical Nature of their Intersectional Sound with ‘Homegrown’
Evan Dale // Feb 10, 2021
Things go in waves. It’s just a fact of life. Cycles. Circles. However it is that one describes the fluidity and nonlinear nature that culture at large uses to propel itself ultimately forward, the past is always part of the future, if only as a building block, and at a greater scale, as a notable and apparent influence. With R&B in particular, the modern state of music is seeing a retrofuturistic renaissance. A number of artists weaving together today’s most romantic, sensual, and vocally-driven genre are sourcing a great deal from the Golden Era of the late 90’s in order to craft something that is new, albeit familiar. The vocalism of R&B is an ever-present prerequisite. No matter the epoch from which a given hit is pulled, R&B has always been about the impossible power of the human register when belting the most emotionally fueled and organically human discourse. It’s the production around it that evolves, and occasionally – like in today’s retro-nuanced corner of Rhythm & Blues – it’s the production that breathes of reminiscence towards the past. A deep understanding of the synth, the 808, the keyboard, the sexy bassline, and how to weave in the most hard-hitting, often audacious lyricism from the most crystalline of voices, that of timeless R&B is a complicated formula requiring talent and innate ability. But within a new Golden Era comes a new understanding of the old, and that’s exactly what listeners across the globe are so drawn to in 2021.
HXRY, Aaliyah Allah, Joyce Wrice, Devin Morrison, Ravyn Lenae, Xavier Ömar, VanJess. The list is of course longer, but these names in particular drive an admiration for the past towards an inevitable intersection with experimental explosions of the future. And through that lane, they are the crafters of timeless R&B, grown from the circular nature of culture’s revolving wheel, just as they are grown from the evolution that wheel sees as time propels it forward. Birthed from a particularly unique intersection of R&B’s cultural wheel colliding with a geographically rooted cultural renaissance, the latter name – VanJess – is more than a necessary force of musical genius. With an upbringing split between the mosaics of Nigeria and the United State and with a particular affinity for the genius keystrokes of the late 90’s R&B Golden Age, the sister-duo – Ivana and Jessica – thrive in their innate roles in both a recent renaissance for their musical lane of choice, and in their position as icons – fashionably, musically, and socially – during an ongoing cultural renaissance for West Africa, where the art, fashion, and music of the region are finding influence at every corner of the globe.
And yet, from the lengthy detail of their background, their latest offering is born from a simple thought: the duo began making music at home, eventually garnering an audience through their collection of YouTube covers to some of Soul and R&B’s most notorious hits. So, when they found themselves again confined to their home at the beginning of 2020’s quarantine, a nod not only to R&B’s past, but to their own birthed the creation of a new, old concept. Homegrown wasn’t necessarily rooted in quarantine, but it was brought to fruition by what quarantine meant to their definition of home, and their connection to music through it. It was supposed to be the name of their first project, but something about 2018’s Silk Canvas couldn’t have had a more fitting title. It’s built from a collection of singles spanning almost five years (Come Over was originally written in 2016), and yet it feels so perfectly tethered akin. The time and dedication that quarantine granted their ability to put it together breathes of Homegrown’s title.
The sophomore EP as a whole feels homey in comparison to their debut. It’s neater, more collected, and less experimentally nuanced, even while still exploring their love for the sounds of house and disco colliding with their clear and present roots in R&B’s past, present, and future. Even Homegrown’s slowest, sexiest delivery, Roses rings with atmospheric ambiance, and tings with chimey keystrokes pulled from electronic production. Through and through, the project is all about intersections, as continues their growth as women and artists. Nigeria and the United States; R&B and electronic nuance; a retrofuturistic Rhythm & Blues awakening and a regional cultural renaissance; Ivana and Jessica. VanJess are a bridge between so many things, but their bridge between R&B’s epochal outlets feels strongest here.
Such is the circular nature of their sound. And beyond their sound, the sound of their friends, too, evokes unique nuance of R&B’s cyclical nature. Through Homegrown, VanJess tap the talent drafts through a barrage of stylistic lanes. 2019’s DYSFUNCTIONAL, produced by friend, collaborator, and tropical house genius often mixing his sound with that of R&B and hip-hop’s most dynamic names, KAYTRANADA, finds its home in the middle of the EP, granting it its most electro-ridden moment. Their most recent single, 2021’s Curious folds in the balancing vocal ranges of Jimi Tents and Garren, juxtaposing and harmonizing their own dueling dynamism. The soulful grace if Phony Ppl stands strong and ultimately unique against the electro-soul of VanJess on Caught Up. And Devin Morrison – modern prince of retro-nuanced R&B’s most Golden Era reminiscent sound – is nothing but a perfect match on the hyper-romantic Boo Thang. Everyone involved find the kind of balance with VanJess that the two sisters have with one another, and that speaks volumes to the strength of their collaborative capabilities.
Homegrown as a whole speaks to the dialed range of their one-of-a-kind sound. Each track – many of which are spurred by the aesthetics of myriad collaborators – speaks to the knack of their range merging with others who, too, possess a unique and vibrant redefinition of R&B’s past merging with its nuanced future. No matter the extravagant externalities that given offerings brim with – like the house production of DYSFUNCTIONAL, the slowed and mellow mood of Roses, or the hyper-90’s dynamism of Boo Thang – Homegrown always finds its way home, to the intersectionality of VanJess’s retrofuturistic R&B experimentation. Their role in the cycles and the circles of it all continues.