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Since 2016, HER has been serving up top-shelf R&B. Mixing emotional tales with potent production, her music has been a vessel of vulnerability. Whether waxing poetic about insecurities in love or crooning about political injustices, HER has mastered the ability to communicate the complexities of womanhood (especially one of Black and Filipino origins) and attempts to make messages out of her messes.
With the release of her proper debut album, Back Of My Mind, via MBK Entertainment/RCA Records, she delivers a melodic memoir of uncomfortable truths, sharing the parts of HER that carry weight. The only difference between this set and her previous projects: she’s made more figures and thus attracted more triggers. But material wealth has only given her more material to work with.
For context, HER was an industry mystery five years ago. Before stating one’s pronouns became standard practice, the singer/songwriter emerged with only a photo of a silhouette and ironically, a name that stood for “Having Everything Revealed.” Equipped with a velvety voice, the HER package included all-inclusive R&B at a time when the genre was commingling with rap, experimenting with alternative styles, or leaning into nostalgia. To this day, she says people fail to recognize her without her trademark shades.
The mysterious chanteuse turned out to be Gabi Wilson, the Vallejo, California native who had been performing since she was a child. She has released two compilation albums, comprising two sets of EPs — 2016’s HER: Volume 1 and 2018’s I Used To Know HER: The Prelude and I Used to Know Her: Part 2 — that solidified her star power. The awards and opportunities followed in abundance: four Grammys, an Oscar, five Soul Train Awards, an MTV Video Music Award, a Netflix movie cameo, soundtrack and TV show placements, brand endorsements, numerous collaborations and performances on national stages, including the BET Awards, the Super Bowl, and the Country Music Awards.
It may seem strange that the accolades would precede an artist’s official debut but HER’s Back Of My Mind is a portrait of perhaps the most triumphant and mentally challenging season of her career. The 21-track LP pops the cork with the celebratory “We Made It,” a Dom Perignon toast to the stress and blessings, both past and present.
The tone shifts by track two with the album’s namesake featuring Ty Dolla $ign, setting up the emotional obstacle course that dominates the debut. Lyrically, the tracks sound like transcripts of conversations that live in HER’s head. While her image has been equated with success, her moments of weakness and self-doubt are repurposed into motivation throughout the album. HER and featured guest Lil Baby wave off the haters and honor the hustler’s mentality on “Find A Way.” “Trauma,” co-starring Cordae on their second song together and produced by Hit-Boy, harps on what could be BOMM’s tagline: “I take it personal, I ain’t perfect though.”
In spite of her imperfections, HER’s pen is mightiest when the category is love, especially the unrequited kind. Among the highlights include “Cheat Code,” a guitar-driven joint with a writing credit from Julia Michaels (who’s penned songs for Selena Gomez, Fifth Harmony, and herself) that puts a cheater on blast and “Mean It,” where HER also strums her pain caused by an ain’t-sh*t lover.
As a result of her L’s in romance, HER proceeds to plaster caution tape all over her heart. The album’s lead single “Damage” (which samples the ‘80s classic “Making Love In The Rain” by Herb Alpert, Lisa Keith, and Janet Jackson) is a delicate plea to her partner to handle HER with care. On the Goapele-inspired “Closer To Me,” HER craves reassurance in a shaky situation while “Hard To Love” outlines the kind of concerns that drive couples to therapy, solo or together. To keep the rotation spicy, HER also lends her version of hot girl summer anthems with the YG-assisted standout “Slide,“ the sneaky link-ready “Come Through” and a late-night rendezvous with Yung Bleu on “Paradise.”
Elsewhere, HER takes issue with the state of the world. The Thundercat-assisted “Bloody Waters” borrows the formula from her Academy Award-winning “Fight For You” (included on the score for the highly praised drama Judas And The Black Messiah) by wrapping political messages in a weighted blanket of funk and pain that soothes yet aches. HER’s state-of-mind, though, is probably best summed up on “Exhausted.” Producer extraordinaire Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins lends his magic to the whew-worthy track that finds HER as a woman who’s had enough: “I’m way, way, way, way past bein’ jaded / And all of y’all just way too opinionated / I’m just sayin’, when do I get a say?”
On the DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller collaboration “I Can Have It All,” HER gets the chance to talk her sh*t: “I know they say, ‘Money’ll make you change’ / That’s ’cause they can’t handle the price of fame / And while you was fantasizin’ ’bout chains / I was plottin’ on a way to buy my momma a house one day.” Although HER’s image was built on mystique, the narratives that fuel her music are familiar stories of shame, fears, and the growing pains that ultimately lead to clarity. Having means and good karma may have jacked up the price for her shows but it’s evident that even an artist of her caliber can’t afford peace of mind sometimes. But as long as she speaks her mind into a mic, those of us listening can at least try to have these crucial conversations with ourselves.
Back Of My Mind is out now via MBK Entertainment/RCA Records. Get it here.