Discovering one’s purpose is one of the the most important steps towards creating self-actualized work. For the independent, Maryland-based duo OSHUN, that purpose is clear.
“In us naming ourselves OSHUN, we kind of signed a lifelong commitment to representing love and fertility,” the two said in an interview with the Fader in 2017. “It was a spirit-driven thing.”
OSHUN — who’s namesake derives from the Yoruba river deity of purity, love, and fertility — is a hip-hop/neo-soul duo comprised of the self-proclaimed goddesses Thandi and Niambi, who met during an orientation for a select scholarship at NYU, and whose rapport as friends has blossomed literally since that day — they performed at a talent show the very same day, together, merely hours after meeting each other.
“I was like… ‘Shawty, why don’t you just be my soulmate?’” Thandi joked about their friendship in an interview with Neo Elite.
Their bond as friends is not unlike that of kismetic soulmates. It isn’t just that they play off each other’s energy so well. These two are in tune with one another, almost as if they’re on the same spiritual wavelength.
Thandi actually spoke a little about this in the aforementioned interview with the Fader: “In our first semester of school, we were both in this ‘Who am I?’ phase…we started talking a lot about the orisha. Niambi felt a particular connection to Oshun, and so did I.” And the essence of Oshun can be felt all over Thandi and Niambi’s debut album Bittersweet, Vol. 1, as the two channel that spirit of self-love, empowerment, positivity, and sensuality.
On their website, OSHUN refer to themselves as the “sonic manifestation of Afrofuturism”, and there probably isn’t a more perfect way of describing the duo’s aesthetic direction, particularly on the first five songs of this album. In terms of instrumentation, these songs feature an avant-garde blend of natural and manufactured sounds that complement their “space-age” personalities. At times, some of the instruments and effects genuinely sound as if they were pulled straight out of a sci-fi television show.
On “Solor Plexus”, Thandi raps ”I speak my mind ’cause I am sweet, and don’t fear it / All the chaos outside, I don’t run from or hide / I’m the neo-Sojourner, I’ll free the land with my mind,” which establishes OSHUN’s lyrical motives on Vol. 1. The duo focuses their lyrics on spreading the truth, liberation and empowerment — of the self and of the mind. On the track “Me”, they expand on the topics of independence (“I don’t have to want you to love every part of myself / Got my confidence with no help”) and self-love (“Self-love is all I need / to find my inner peace”), while on “Blessings on Blessings” Thandi discusses how a near-fateful event revealed her purpose:
“On my birthday I died, but I came back from the dead
Four pound baby, hella tubes inside my head
Told them ‘Nah, I’m here to stay,’ and the world I’m here to save
Many roads I have to pave, and my gift is that I’m brave.”
From black spirituality to self-care routines like weekly steambaths and healthy eating, the first five songs are absolutely jam-packed with salient, relatable topics which culminate in the song “Glow Up”, a beautiful song about the physical and spiritual manifestations of hard work and self-respect.
With the sixth track, “Burn”, Vol. 1 undergoes a tonal shift, as the duo burrows deeper into the psyche of the river goddess with five straight songs that are significantly more affectionate and tender-hearted in nature. This intimacy is best characterized by the song “My World”, featuring beautiful Jorja Smith vocals, in which the artists serenade their amours on the chorus (“So I’ll give my whole world to you.”) The subject matter is similar on the other four songs, diving into the warmness of romance — minus the second half of “Parts”, in which Thandi delves into what appears to be an emotional rift in a relationship (“Starting to feel more comfortable when you and me apart”). Instrumentally, the second half (apart from “Parts”) sounds much more organic as Vol. 1 briefly departs from textured production and futuristic sound effects, in favor of the more earthly, modern rhythms of R&B, piano pop, and afrobeat.
And the dichotomy of the album is not something to be ignored. The first half focuses more on spirituality, consciousness, and the elevation of the individual; the direction of the second half is of love and romance. The message spoken through just this format is profound: one must truly elevate and wholly love themselves before they can share that love with another person.
Thandi and Niambi show through their musicality that they are very intentional, meticulous creators — much like the deity they personify.