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VanJess Talk “Through Enough”, GoldLink, & Feel Good R&B

ICYMI, VanJess’s speedy rise to fame was helped along by a sonic cameo on Issa Rae’s Insecure and cemented by GoldLink’s appearance on the same track: “Through Enough”. Comprised of sisters (not twins!) Ivana and Jessica Nwokike, the Nigerian-American duo credits both their Nigerian roots and west coast upbringing with influencing their uniquely global, feel-good take on R&B. Now riding the wave of a viral song and counting the likes of Brasstracks and Khalid as collaborators and fans, and building a larger project that’s sure to impress, VanJess is well positioned to be the breakout duo of a generation.

So, I really want to start with “Through Enough” since it just came out like a month ago, how are you guys feeling? How’s the reception been?

Jessica: It’s been good. I think when we recorded it last year, and we were really excited about it then. But kind of finally getting it out and seeing the response has been really great. It’s an exciting song, and we were excited to add GoldLink to it. We’ve been a fan of his since he came out in 2014, and having him on the record took it to a different place. It’s been exciting.

How did you guys get in touch with him?

J: Through our management really. Well, we met him at a shoot for his video, and another time we were in the studio doing backgrounds with him, and we just played him the song, and were like, “Yo, what do you think?” He said it was dope, he said he’d get on it, and we were like, “Oh my God!” So yeah, he genuinely likes the song, and I think a lot of the people we’ve been collabing with is totally organic, which is awesome. As an artist, that’s kind of how you have to do it.

What is it like to sit on a song for so long, and then putting it out into the world?

Ivana: I’d say it’s nerve-wracking, but also exciting because you’ve worked on something, and anticipating when it’ll come out, and wondering how people are going to receive it, and then the moment comes, and then it’s out. And then everyone’s either like “Yay,” or “Ehh,” and it’s kind of a relief when everyone really likes it. It’s definitely a process of waiting, let alone creating it. The whole waiting process is a thing. You could also create a song and just drop it next week.

J: That’s a thing too. I feel like it is nerve-wracking, but at the same time it’s relieving. For us, when we work on something for so long—and we’re perfectionists—it gets to the point where it’s ready, but we can’t drop it.

Because if you wait another month, then you’ll want to begin changing parts.

J: Yes, exactly, you start overthinking it. I was relieved when we released it, it’s a combination of all that.

When you’re writing, do you write together? Or do you trade off? Or what is your process?

I: We write together. Sometimes she’s writing, sometimes I’m writing, but overall we’re always bouncing ideas off of each other. At the end of it, it’ll always be a joint effort, but sometimes maybe, I’ll write something by myself, but she’ll help me put it together. Let’s figure out certain parts, and sometimes she’ll have an idea, like a melody, and maybe I’ll put words to this. Obviously we’re so close that we kind of know each other’s strengths and weaknesses—

J: Yeah, we can kind of tell where the other is going to go. It makes it easier to complete ideas, with each other.

Do you ever disagree?

I: Oh, of course! [Laughs] You know how it works? When we’re in the studio, and there is an engineer, and they’ll be our tiebreaker. Whoever is in the room is the one to be the final say [Laughs]. We don’t know everything, sometimes she’ll really see something wrong with it, but I won’t agree.

J: I think the more perspectives you have, besides us two, because for so long we’ve been creating on our own, so sometimes we may like it, but it’s important to hear what someone else thinks. After a while, if we have a good belief in a song, we’ll want to hear a third perspective. It’s almost like they have no emotional connection to it, because when you’re creating the art, you develop a connection to it, it’s your baby. Ultimately you have to give it at the end of the day, and the outside criticism can help make it better.

I: I think ultimately as a creative you should have that innate confidence that something is good, I think that’s the best feeling in the world.

I feel also that it’s impossible to hear your music with fresh ears, because you have all the context, you’ve heard it since the very beginning, so you have no idea almost what someone else will hear it.

J: That’s how it’s been going with our project now, we’ve been working on it for the past year, and there are songs that we’ve been attached to as demos, and now that we’re mixing, we’ll be like, “I like the original better.” But it’s because you get so used to it, and you just aren’t hearing it the same. You have to be careful not to get too attached.

I: Like she said, it’s really hard to have fresh ears even after you stop listening. You just kind of have to trust that if you’ve worked on it that long, at the end of the day, take away your nit-picks, and feel that it’s good.

Trust your intuition, I guess.

Both: Totally.

So, is “Though Enough” off of a bigger project?

J: Yes, it is. We’re working on a full album, but we’re calling it a project. We’re trying to put that out pretty soon, so yeah. Right now, we’re just kind of wrapping up and mixing, videos. We’re trying to premiere a video with you.

Ok cool! As far as being from California, do you think the west coast hip hop culture influenced you? I know you guys are also Nigerian so how do both of those places influence you?

I: Oh yeah, for sure. Being Nigerian-American is a unique perspective. And we’re first-generation. We grew up there for eight or nine years, so it’s definitely ingrained in us. And when we first came over, the culture was still very present. It’s definitely ingrained in us. There’s a feeling to African music and culture of it. There’s a soul and emotion that you can’t really describe. Being in California, west coast music definitely informs us too. The whole music scene in LA, definitely inspired us, because that’s where we recorded the whole project.

J: I completely agree, I mean, I think overall we’re inspired by the whole scene.

I: There’s been certain places that we’ll put in our lyrics, so it’s definitely a thing.

With the project hoping to drop in a couple of months, what are you most looking forward to with that?

I: Getting it out. [Laughs] But also, I’m also just excited for people to hear how much we’ve progressed. Because I feel like for us, it’s kind of like a wild card. There’s certain artists that drop a record, and that’s the only thing they’ve dropped, but for us, we’ve had such a journey from our YouTube thing, and we’ve had a long progression, I think a lot of people don’t even know what to expect from us in album. I’m excited to shock people, and show them in a way, we have something to say, and we really want to make our mark in the R&B world right now. We have such great musicality, and I’m just excited for people to see that we’re not just joking around, we really do put a lot into this. We’re trying to bring back feel good R&B.

Stay tuned to Milk for more dynamic duos. 

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