If ChloeXHalle had a younger set of sisters, it would be Nigerian R&B duo VanJess. The pair certainly started out in a similar fashion, though VanJess is in a musical lane of their own.
Enter their latest project, Homegrown. As the name suggests, thematically the album centers around the duo’s journey from home recordings to being signed to label RCA.
For such a short record, Homegrown is so full of depth you’ll feel satisfied by the end of it all. The duo still has room to grow, but the arena is theirs for the taking.
A fun note about the album artwork: VanJess used inspiration from 1970s Nigeria.
“This is where we come from,” they said in a recent interview regarding the album’s title. “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.“
“Come Over” certainly does a fantastic job of conveying the latter theme. The song makes its entrance as an immaculate blending of 70s disco (especially the groovy bassline) and 90s vocal stylings. Specifically, I heard so much of T-Boz of TLC that I had to check and make sure they weren’t featured on the track.
We then slip into “Slow Down” with the “Darkest Night” by Lafayette Afro Rock Band sample, also famously used by Wreckx-N-Effect on “Rump Shaker.” The ladies are at their best here, their vocals in near-perfect sync throughout the entire song.
I particularly enjoyed the lyrics, “I like it when you’re simple. Treat me like a lady. Do things with a purpose. Do things with intention.” You better let these dudes know!
From there, we slide into “Roses,” which serves a more dancehall mood. It’s not their most sonically cohesive track, and much of their message gets a little muddled and difficult to understand at first listen.
However, I do appreciate the shift from “You better come correct” to “I can be vulnerable if you’re ready.”
The chorus, in particular, further illustrates this with, “You got to be sensitive with roses. Fragile but open if you want this. Never been lost in someone this fast. Gimme love, all of me is yours to take.”
“Curious” is an obvious standout and finds the duo in their “Trap&B” bag, musing about an encounter with two presumably shy men. This track is appropriately feature-heavy, with the duo joined by Grammy-nominated R&B singer GARREN and Hip Hop artist Jimi Tents. I’m a huge Destiny’s Child fan, so I immediately caught the “No, No, No” similarities.
Still, I wasn’t a huge fan of the lyrics on this one, which included: “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 youJust come up and say hi, hi, hi.”
“Dysfunctional” steeps us into a more groovy electronic vibe with the duo returning to the “respect my love and my time” theme. This was also a return to a more cohesive sound that was easy to digest.
The rejection of toxic love rings true with lyrics, “I don’t wanna play, yeah, no games. I’m just tryna stay, yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t say “Hey” in the light, but you’ll pull up Wednesday night. It’s like this every time.”
“High & Dry” featuring KAYTRANADA gives us more of the same sonically with the Trap&B aesthetic. I’m not a fan of their vocal stylings on these kinds of tracks, but overall “High & Dry” pleases way more than it offends.
Lyrics such as, “Something in the water, that’s why you can’t wait to taste it. Tip-toe in the garden of my Nubian oasis,” offer clear picture of the duo’s desire for sexual liberation, which is a nice change of pace.
Oddly, though not my favorite track, it has the best lyrics on the entire album.
“Caught Up” sees a return to another groovy alternative wave, reminiscent of many early 80s hits.
With the lyrics, “Heavy breathing, as I’m sinking. Know what it means. In too deep and suffocating. You’ve captured me. I’m in misery without your company,” I notice a trend for VanJess to jump back and forth between similar ideas and themes.
It’s not too much of a distraction, but it does become a little redundant after a while. Still, it doesn’t completely deflate my enjoyment of this particular track.
“Boo Thang” sends us back to the early 2000s with its pop leanings. Devin Morrison’s vocal stylings are right at home with the production. I could instantly picture myself as a teen at the skating rink, waiting for my crush to cruise on by.
The lyrics, especially, remind me of my adolescence with, “I think about you in the morning. I think about when I’m yawning. They think I’m phony, all of your homies. Tell you I’m playing but they don’t even know me, uh.”
Lastly, we arrive at “Part II” with “Come Over Again.” We get a much more slowed-down, baby-making rendition this time around. Once again, it’s trap heavy, but this is the first instance where I feel everything fits perfectly. It’s a great finisher to wrap everything up neatly.
Listen to the full project below:
VanJess shows incredible depth and promise as an R&B act. Few seasoned artists offer as much potential as they do, which is highlighted on Homegrown.
Though it has its fair share of lyrical missteps and strange sonic quirks, overall Homegrown serves its purpose. It proves VanJess has plenty of potential.