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Album Review: H.E.R. – ‘Back Of My Mind’

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In 2011, RCA Records introduced an up-and-coming young fourteen year-old singer named Gabi Wilson with a single titled “Something to Prove.” After that, the artist and future music went radio silence, until re-emerging five years later with an at-the-time secret persona named H.E.R. Now in 2021 and no longer a secret, H.E.R. is ready to reveal everything on the release of her proper debut album, Back Of My Mind.

Preceded by the platinum-selling hit “Damage” and the Chris Brown-featured “Come Through,” the anticipation of H.E.R.’s official debut album has been on the top of everyone’s list since she debuted with her her series of EPs and singles beginning back in 2016.  With 21 tracks in total clocking in at over 78 minutes, the singer, who turns 24 years old on June 27th, has every reason to celebrate this long awaited release.

The album kicks off with the DJ Camper-produced anthemic “We Made It,” which finds the singer-songwriter celebrating her victories to get to the point where she is in her career. After all, she has had an epic 2021 so far, walking away with a couple of GRAMMYs including Song of the Year as well as an Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Fight For You” along with her co-writer and fellow artist Tiara Thomas and producer D’Mile. That same “victory” energy can be found on the solo version of “I Can Have It All” featuring DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller, which also formally featured Meek Mill on the DJ’s recently released Khaled Khaled album.

Speaking on collaborations, H.E.R. has turned to some guys to bring their prospective on this album. On the album title track “Back Of My Mind,” Ty Dolla $ign brings his well blended vocals and harmonies to in a way that compliments her vocals and easily being one of the standout tracks. Maryland rapper Cordae delivers some heat on the Hit-Boy-produced “Trauma,” finding H.E.R. realizing some past relationship traumas could block something good going in her current one. H.E.R. takes a trip back down memory lane on the 70s soul sounding “Blood Waters” featuring Thundercat and produced by fellow GRAMMY-winner Kaytranada, which is her protest against “corporate racists” and there still being “no conversation” about “reparations” in the crazy past few years we have lived as Black people in America. There’s also surprise team-ups that you wouldn’t necessarily think of happening before. H.E.R. takes a different route with her vocals on the trap-esque “Find A Way” featuring Lil Baby and get vibey on the Yung Bleu-assisted “Paradise.” Then of course, there’s her Cali link up with YG on the 2019 hit “Slide” closing out the album.

But aside from the features, of course a talented artist such as H.E.R. can very well hold her own. The remaining tracks stays true to her formula of vulnerable-yet-real in your face lyrics and true R&B production with her own spice mixed in. 

“Been inconsistent for a minute/Just listen for a moment/Lay here, don’t leave me,” sings H.E.R. on the mid-tempo “Closer To Me,” which samples fellow California artist Goapele’s 2002 song “Closer,” also sampled in 2009 on Drake’s “Closer To My Dreams.” “Cheat Code” has a very Lauryn Hill-vibe to it with the production and vocal styling. That’s for good reason though – the song samples “The Sweetest Thing” from the artist who knows no concept of time. 

The rest of the album has H.E.R. going through all complications of what comes from a relationship on tracks such as “My Own,” “Process,” and the Rodney Jerkins-produced “Exhausted.”

“Maybe I should be more like her / Just forget about what’s right, just forget about my worth / Maybe I should be heartless too,” sings H.E.R. on the acoustic guitar driven ballad “Mean It” while comparing herself to the “other woman.” This is almost like her solo version of “Girl Like Me,” the Jazmine Sullivan collaboration found on her Heaux Tales album earlier this year, and could’ve honestly used a feature from the Philly singer-songwriter as well.

Production goes back to the basics of an acoustic vibe on other tracks, like the mellow “For Anyone” and “Hard To Love,” which can be used as therapeutic moments for anyone currently going through the motions of finding love yet other signs could be there.

For an album that took years in the making from her Best R&B GRAMMY-award winning 2016 debut self-titled EP/compilation to now, H.E.R. has used her talents wisely without giving up what made people fall in love with her mysterious persona to begin with. Back Of My Mind is like a mix of all of her previous projects all polished up with more experimentation, live instrumentation and the lyrics that will hit home and the heart. Standing for “Having Everything Revealed,” H.E.R. has clearly revealed everything and no longer hiding behind the dark tinted glasses and more comfortable with us knowing Gabi Wilson again.

Back Of My Mind is now available on all streaming platforms and digital music retailers via MBK Entertainment/RCA Records.