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VanJess “Homegrown” EP Review

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:

Final Thoughts

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.

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Kelly Rowland “K” EP Review

It’s been nearly 8 years since Kelly Rowland graced us with Talk a Good Game. Since then, we’ve been anxiously waiting for a full-fledged album from her.

Alas, it seems my favorite chocolateer favors smaller projects over bigger ones. Ultimately, Kelly’s K EP is a delight, even though it could be so much more.

Before we get deeper into the review, let’s take a moment of silence for the absence of “Coffee.”

Got that out of the way? Perfect.

K opens up with “Flowers,” its sparse production and echoing vocals painting a haunting picture of the desperation one feels to appreciate those who are still with us. Even though I enjoyed the themes and ideas behind the track, I wasn’t blown away by any of it. In fact, I was waiting for a sort of climax that never happened.

This would unfortunately become a running theme on K. Most of its 6 tracks feel anticlimactic, as if they begin and simply lose steam.

I’m not expecting dramatic Whitney Houston-level key changes on bridges. That would probably be overkill. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that Kelly could stand to put her foot on the gas a little more.

Immediately following “Flowers” is the empowering “Black Magic.” While I, of course, loved the message behind it, I was still underwhelmed by the hook (or lack thereof). Perhaps this was done intentionally. Maybe Kelly didn’t want to put an obvious chorus any of her songs on K.

I could respect that more with production that wasn’t obviously suited for the more pop side of R&B.

That brings us to “Hitman,” a track that’s all too ready to be played nonstop by the NBA. It was a standout to me simply because of this familiarity.

I’d expect to hear it on a commercial break or in between plays at a live game. I’ll give kudos for the song not pretending to be anything more than that.

For some reason, we didn’t get an actual music video for “Crazy,” which was well…insane. Obviously a standout on the project, a Donna Summers-esque video with choreography would have launched “Crazy” into the stratosphere. Alas.

“Speed of Love” is easily my favorite song on K. It’s a gentle, acoustic number (which I’m always a sucker for) and hits all the right emotional notes. “Speed of Love” feels like a fully-realized song, which is a shame since we don’t encounter it until the end of the EP.

Finally, we bring everything to a close with “Better.” The piano-driven midtempo track adds a nice finishing touch with lyrics focusing on seeking a partner who loves you on equal terms. The lyrics, “Your partner should be a reflection of you,” in particular stood out to me. Yay for expressed expectations!

You can listen to the EP for yourself below:

While I wasn’t impressed with the project as a whole, I appreciated the messages and themes of blackness, self-love, remembering to be grateful, and so much more.

If it were any other artist, I could let many of the things I’ve been critical about slide. However, this is Kelly Rowland. After watching her navigate the music industry for as long as she has, my standards are a little higher than usual.

Plus, I ultimately want to see her continued success, and I hope she continues to release music and a fully-realized follow-up to 2013’s Talk a Good Game.

What did you think about the album? Let me know in the comments!