2021 has been a lot of things so far, but what matters is the Black women in R&B have been killing it. From SZA to Jazmine Sullivan, Black women in R&B are delivering some of their best music ever and seeing the proper national success that they have always deserved. With their smooth new EP, Homegrown, VanJess seems to be next in line.
With a runtime of half an hour, the Nigerian-American sister duo have crafted a project that breathes funk and tempo back into the current R&B soundscape while exploring the intricacies of patience in relationships. Their first release since 2018’s Silk Canvas, their debut, Homegrown sees a considerable expansion of the duo’s sonic palette as they hone in on 90s R&B influences even more. The project features collaborations with KAYTRANADA, Jimi Tents, Garren, Phony Ppl, and Devin Morrison.
Homegrown is a cyclical collection that utilizes its cohesive sound to deliver a story (and some lessons) about love. Beginning with “Come Over,” VanJess plunge headfirst into a slinky mixture of dance and R&B that reverberates with soul. Their warm tones latch onto the funky bass with lyrics like “When can we kick it, tonight?/Can we freak it, tonight?” The song is cheeky and revels in its flirtation. “Come Over” properly introduces the general sound and mood of the project while also priming itself to be a #1 single in a just world. From the rise and dominance of subgenres like cloud R&B and trap&B last decade, a sizable amount of the genre has been stuck in this midtempo area that can get dreary very quickly. With “Come Over,” and a few other tracks on Homegrown, VanJess remind us that R&B can be uptempo. Produced by, M-Phazes, the track is simply terrific, especially those drums in the final chorus. From there, the sisters bless us with their take on a relatively more straightforward trap&B track by the name of “Slow Down.” The warm velvety texture of their individual tones, as well as their vocal chemistry, shine particularly brightly on this track. “Slow Down,” which features production from Snakehips, is a bonafide slow jam that seamlessly interpolates Wreckx-N-Effect’s “Rump Shaker.” While the freak was out to play on the opening track, “Slow Down,” as the title suggests, goes for a more refined approach with lyrics like “Do things with a purpose/Do things with intention.” This idea of intention plays hand-in-hand with the general theme of patience across the project. “Roses,” builds on these themes by using the flower as a metaphor for the physical, emotional, and mental connection that deserves proper care to access. When the girls dip into their lower register on the last two lines of each chorus, it makes for one of the most sonically pleasing moments on the project. “Curious,” a bouncy single released prior to Homegrown, is still as enjoyable as it was a few weeks ago; it is also the strongest vocal collaboration on the EP.
Homegrown‘s fifth track, a previously released KAYTRANADA collaboration by the name of “Dysfunctional,” is the crux and turning point of the project. On the groovy dance track, VanJess shift the narrative away from lusty temptation and instead detail a failing relationship that seems to be drawing to a close. The somber songwriting is juxtaposed nicely against the relentlessly uptempo production, but it’s the lyrics “You got me out here screaming, waiting for you/But I know that you won’t hear me call” in the refrain that really hit home. The lyrics may initially feel like a complete 180 from the previous tracks, but those seeds of troubled paradise were being sewn all along the way. “Dysfunctional” transitions beautifully into “High & Dry,” a yearning and reflective indie R&B track that relies on slightly syncopated melodies, percussion, and sparse production. The back half of the project doesn’t feature songs as strong as the first half, but they’re still great in their own right. Phony Ppl liven up the party on the rock and funk-inflected “Caught Up” while the Devin Morrison-assisted “Boo Thang” sees the relationship in question finally reach some point of genuine stability.
VanJess bring things full circle by closing Homegrown with a remix of the opening track. “Come Over Again,” features a sample of Faith Evans’ “Come Over” and spruces up the song with an arrangement that is a distinct departure from the original track. Despite the sonic differences, “Come Over Again” ties the end of the story back into the beginning with lyrics like “I’m just really glad that I can hit you how I do/We got a mutual appreciation.” The relationship has grown stronger, but like all things, it’s ultimately cyclical in nature and the feelings expressed in other songs on the tracklist are likely to reappear in the future. Luckily, the full project gives us, and VanJess, the proper tools to handle that. Homegrown is an outstanding body of work; a deep dive into relationships that reminds us that R&B is supposed to make us dance too.
Key Tracks: “Dysfunctional” |”High & Dry” | “Roses”