Jersey club hinges on breathless, exhilarating speed. It’s a style of music almost impossible to listen to without wanting to dance: The jittery, sped-up samples and seamless blend of house, R&B, and hip-hop insist on movement, even if you can’t quite keep up with the tempo. The genre has achieved mainstream recognition in fits and starts, most recently through Ciara’s DJ Telly Tellz-sampling “Level Up.” But for years the regional scene in New Jersey has been a hotbed of talent, including Irvington native Cookiee Kawaii, who’s been making club music for a decade. Kawaii’s sultry spin on the style assumed a life of its own last summer through TikTok: The ass-shaking “Vibe (If I Back It Up),” from her Club Soda, Vol. 2 EP, soundtracked footage of dancing ducks and live-action Sailor Moon riffs. With a perfectly looped hook and wispy vocals, the short, instantly gratifying track fomented enough hype to net a Tyga feature and a gold record certification.
Now Kawaii returns with Vanice, an official debut that aims to spotlight the Jersey club scene as rendered in her own image. Executive-produced by house legend Junior Sanchez, the 16-song set is very much designed for turning up. The minimalist foundations that give the genre its satisfying punch—stuttering breakbeats, aggressive tempos—show up, though they’re often rooted in more offbeat production choices. Familiar percussive woofs and a bed-squeaking sample (the same one that powers “Vibe”) establish the album’s lineage and supply a welcome reminder of Kawaii’s own heat-seeking breakthrough. “[email protected] Anonymous” takes those basic elements and applies them to a ballroom banger that brushes off online trolls with ease: “I ain’t worried about you but you worried about mine,” she trills over a stomping house beat, proving her ability to twist Jersey club into different shapes at will.
Elsewhere, Kawaii’s pop and R&B instincts are on full display. “Planet Us,” a lovestruck ode to dancing on the moon with your boo, opens with plucky synths and speeds up at the chorus. On “Love Your Body,” Kawaii trades seductive verses with Los Angeles-based neo-soul artist Oya Noire, moving towards a laid-back R&B sound that suits her shrugged-off come-ons. The shifts don’t always land: Opener “Cookiee & the Monsters (Turn Me Up)” tries on a Rico Nasty-style emo backdrop, complete with overworked guitar riffs. The looped strings on “Violin” fare better, as Kawaii reels off a mile-a-minute verse: “I hit the bank then I cash out/Same way I hit the booth and I lash out,” she raps, giving proof in the tenacious performance.
Titled after the artist’s given name, Vanice is also intended to reveal more facets of her personality alongside the self-assured floor-fillers; the album is “the root to all of this... who I am outside of being Cookiee Kawaii,” she explained in a statement. Yet for all of its delightful, shape-shifting blasts of Jersey club, the record doesn’t stretch so far in its lyrics, which remain firmly in a bossed-up mode that’s less interested in introspection. As a magnetic party-starter, Vanice clearly succeeds, but there’s room for the personality who created these songs to animate them, too.
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