H.E.R. One-Ups Her Oscar Win with Masterful Debut Album 'Back of My Mind'

BY Antoine-Samuel Mauffette AlavoPublished Jun 22, 2021

H.E.R. is having quite a year. The Bay Area-based vocalist has already picked up a Grammy Award for 2020 single "I Can't Breathe" and an Oscar for Judas and the Black Messiah track "Fight for You," while managing to squeeze in a Super Bowl national anthem performance in the middle of these momentous milestones. Whether it was showcasing her vocal range or the socially conscious depth of her songwriting, H.E.R. has undoubtedly arrived in 2021.

However, she may have made an even bolder statement by releasing a front-to-back heater of an album with Back of My Mind, where her mastery of all levels of music making is showcased to its fullest extent.

Upon first listen, it's hard to believe the level of maturity and industry navigation the 23-year-old artist has achieved. If her previous projects were essentially compilations of various EPs, this thoroughly cohesive album sees her co-producing along the likes of A-listers such as Hit-Boy and Mike WiLL Made-It. In what feels like a perfectly assembled 80-minute R&B master class, H.E.R. finds a way to balance collaborations from all sides of the music industry, managing meaningful features by everyone from hip-hop heavyweights Chris Brown, YG, Ty Dolla $ign and Lil Baby to breakthrough iconoclasts Kaytranada, Thundercat and Cordae. More than just romantic languish and sexually tense ballads, H.E.R. expands the reach of her genre of choice with the themes she covers, her effortless penmanship and her underrated guitar work.

Ephemeral R&B vibes are the glue that makes the album flow seemingly, but H.E.R. displays tremendous comfort in adapting her signature sounds to the needs of her guests. Even if the puzzling presence of DJ Khaled on "I Can Have It All" seems like payback for her recent feature on his Migos collab, H.E.R. takes the opportunity on that very track to go toe-to-toe with trap soul heavyweight Bryson Tiller. Whether it's the "Making Love in the Rain" sample on "Damage" or the epic Thundercat bassline on "Bloody Waters," H.E.R.'s sultry vocals are perfectly mixed into a warm and varied musical backdrop. That is how more political lyrics of empowering relationship posturing are able to meld smoothly into the album's sonic continuity. Finally, in an album defined by balance, "Mean It" and "Exhausted" provide listeners with the hurt feeling R&B subject matter they came to hear.

On Back of My Mind, H.E.R. is in total control of her sound, with masterful command of her artistic direction.

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