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There has been a lot of conversation in the past few years about the “death of R&B”, stemming a from a perceived lack of great albums/artist in the genre or a muddling of the actual meaning of R&B. And if R&B is in-fact on it’s last leg, no one seems to have told the 24 year old Grammy award winning sensation known as H.E.R. Since the 2016 release of the “H.E.R Vol 1” the pride of Vallejo, California has made a name as one of the true shinning talents poised to take over in the years to come.
The album that gives H.E.R a place on this list is the first official project labeled an album, the immaculate “Back of My Mind”. With the hits like “Damage” and “Slide feat YG” H.E.R makes the first of what is sure to be a string of amazing albums. There just seems to be a different level of understanding of music on this project. The “I can’t breathe” singer sits as one of the only artist to garner a comparison to Prince that does not result in a purple lighting storm.
“Back of My Mind” sits as love letter to the genre of R&B. There is a playfulness on this album than had been sorely missed in past projects in the genre. One thing pointed out by Angie Martinez during an interview with H.E.R, that becomes more apparent as the album goes along, is the heavy rap influence on some of the vocals on this album. That doesn’t seem accidental considering Hip- Hop was partially birthed by R&B, so when you have an artist as musically inclined as H.E.R you will not just hear each of their influences, but you’ll hear an expansion on those influences which is what this album does best. It is not content to sit as a rehash of old ideas, it chooses to blend, polish and create something entirely new.
A song that truly believes embodies the mastery displayed on this project is “Trauma feat Cordae”. Even down to the mixing on this song which is reminiscent of a track like “You’re All I Need from Mary J Blige and Method Man”, everything on a song like this shows the truly inspired performances this album has. The choice of Cordae for the feature mixed with the haunting vocals of H.E.R is just one example of the excellence on display.
Back of My Mind finds its way to the roots of R&B and uses the ever expanding meaning of that term to craft a genre defining classic. It’s no surprise that among a truly great year for music it’s this album that will most likely go down as a true moment of monumental change in the trajectory of R&B and it’s future.