Nigerian-American duo, VanJess has a come up story that is only possible in the social media era. Sisters Ivana and Jessica Nwokike spent the first eight and ten years of their lives in Nigeria before moving to La Palma, California. They began posting covers sporadically to their YouTube channel in 2009, but it wasn’t until they did a mashup of Drake’s “Headlines” and Frank Ocean’s “Thinking About You,” that they really began to see some traction. The video got over 70,000 views in five days, jumping to over 400,000 views by the end of September. A success that they kept a secret from their parents for fear that they’d try to talk the girls into pursuing a more reliable career. That same year, the duo hired a manager and recorded in a real studio for the first time.
The group has a rather unique sound with Jessica singing in a lower, T-Boz-esque register, and Ivana taking care of the creative melodies and higher parts. In 2013, they released their first debut EP 00 till Escape. This EP has essentially been scrubbed from the internet, I couldn’t find it anywhere. They re-released it in 2015, but I can’t find the re-release either.
In 2018, the group released the first version of their debut album Silk Canvas. The album didn’t have any features and it was self-released by the group. It generated a good amount of buzz and even landed the group a performance on the popular YouTube channel, COLORS. In November 2018, the group announced that they had signed to the RCA joint venture label Keep Cool. A year later, in November of 2019, the group re-released the album with features from Ari Lennox, Bas, Saba, Xavier Omär and others.
In February of 2021, the duo released their EP, Homegrown, which had features from Phony Ppl, Devin Morrison, Jimi Tents and Garren and production by KAYTRANADA on their song “DYSFUNCTIONAL.” While the group’s genre is R&B/Soul, there are some elements of Funk and Hip hop in their music and they pride themselves on genre bending . In fact, their song “Slow Down,” has a sample from “Darkest Light” by The Lafayette Afro Rock Band, a funk rock band from the 70s.
The duo have listed Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Xscape, TLC, SWV, Brandy, Toni Braxton, and Whitney Houston as additional influences to their music. They attribute their unity to their late father who always encouraged them to stick together.