Azealia Banks, Fatman Scoop, Missy Elliot, Cookiee Kawaii

Cookiee Kawaii reclaims her sound on the defiant debut album, ‘Vanice’

7.8
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Image by Angelo Kritikos

Jersey Club is having a moment. The lightning speed beats and hyperactive bounce of the genre have become increasingly more pertinent in the sound of the zeitgeist (cue: Ciara’s Level Up). This is likely thanks in part to the astronomical rise of Tik-Tok, whose one minute limit makes Jersey club the perfect sound for maximum impact. As such, a whole host of Jersey club artists have seen samples of their music suddenly turned into trends. One of them is Cookiee Kawaii, whose track Vibe (Back It Up) you have likely encountered soundtracking everything from makeup tutorials to a twerking duck. But Kawaii is no 15-minutes-of-fame face on your newsfeed; she’s been crafting Jersey club for the past decade and is somewhat of a veteran for the genre. Off the back of Vibe (Back It Up)‘s astounding viral ascent, Kawaii has released a debut album that sees her reclaim a sound suddenly interpolated by the whole world. It’s a reclamation that happens according to her own rules, and one which foregrounds Kawaii’s status as Jersey Club’s sovereign innovator. 

Perhaps spurred by the sound of her underground suddenly erupting into the mainstream, Vanice is completely unafraid to reinvent the Jersey Club blueprint. Released via Empire and her own The Cookiee Jar label, Vanice sees Kawaii boldly fuse the genre’s breakneck breakbeats and staccato stutters with sometimes unexpected motifs. Opening track Cookiee & The Monsters is essentially a pop-punk anthem by way of bouncing trap-house, with skeletal electric guitar riffs winking towards its iconoclastic brilliance. Mostly Vanice is a party monster fed by the sounds of Chicago house, ballroom, and R&B, with ballroom culture in particular informing many of Kawaii’s aesthetic choices. DISCO in an audacious and stripped back take on the sound, with the noxious 4/4 crash replaced by the sound of a gun being cocked. A loungey synth buzzes in the background while robotised vocals are layered beneath Kawaai’s own louche speak-to-the-beat verses. It’s full of an impossibly stylish confidence, using the sounds of Jersey Club to create the rhythmic patterns of it’s not-so-distant Harlem cousin. H@ters Anonymous death drops from the mirrorball as a more ardent investiture into the ballroom aesthetic. A full-on house track that doubles as a callout to online trolls, it embraces the maximalism of vogue beats with a cadence that recalls Riton & Kah-Ali’s obnoxious Fake ID

Love Your Body begins the album’s latter half whose tracks are the closest Kawaii gets to slowing down on Vanice. It’s a simmering RnB cut that loses its cool about three quarters of the way in, disassembling into propulsive and jacking chaos. Hey DJ weaves a soulful house hook beneath typical Jersey beats, before swerving into a smooth tempo shifting chorus that is both unexpected and totally refreshing. The excellently genrefluid Relax Your Mind somehow manages to be simultaneously soothing and psychotic while Start Over Again is the closest we have come to Shygirl featuring Azelia Banks. For all the experimentation, Kawaii is at her best when bending the rules of Jersey Club rather than rejecting them altogether. Downtown is set to Jersey Club’s typical time signature, but switches the booming instrumentation for lighter, breathier percussion and rapturous synthetic horns and a final act which swerves from trap to vocal-chopped bounce, marking it as one of Vanice’s early highlights.

The production on Vanice is given the freedom to push the Jersey Club template by grounding itself in Kawaii’s skills as a rapper and wordsmith. She has an innate affinity for offbeat flows, crafting her words to bend to the service of her beats. In the era of Doja Cat and Cardi B, Kawaii occupies the sort of niche Banks established by spitting bars over house tracks; entirely unique and somewhat irreplicable. While Vanice looks towards these idiosyncrasies to reclaim her sound and image from the algorithm, there isn’t a complete rejection of the mainstream internet culture that catapulted her into the collective consciousness. Moments on Vanice see Kawaii embracing the Wi-Fi powered aesthetics of hyperpop, such as the saturated rave of LETME2021, while tracks like Press Play (Gamer Girl) key in on her own innate geekines. Again it’s all on her own terms, giving Vanice an inherent and triumphant sense of queerness that begins the narrative of Kawaii according to herself. 

To this effect, it’s an incredibly imaginative album that synthesises Kawaii’s otherwise familiar sonic influences in a way that they sound totally newfangled. Her modus operandi is blatant; to continue to push the boundaries of her form and subvert its own expectations. In doing this, Kawaii relocates the power away from the internet and back to Jersey Club’s progenitors. Her bending of convention and the assured way in which she plays with her influences are auteur like. This album is very much Kawaii’s statement of intent, taking control of her identity and aesthetic away from the expectations of social media. She is not a phenomenon born from the internet, but rather the internet phenomenon is born from her. It makes sense that “Vanice” is Kawaii’s birth name, as this album is entirely the arrival of her artistic identity and distinct point of view. With Vanice, Kawaii makes sure that the next time you hear Vibe (Back It Up), it’s not a duck’s backside or a cosplayer dance challenge that comes to mind, but her and her alone. 

Vanice is available to stream and download here. See the music video for Relax Your Mind below.

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