Will H.E.R. Be The Grammy-snatching Queen of R&B?
Who cares about the King of R&B debate when the Queen is getting ready to take her crown?
H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed) lives up to her name. She’s changing the game by integrating raw emotion and thoughts on contemporary issues, ranging from social media fakeness to curving undesired attention into her lyrics. On “Lost Souls,” a track with Lauryn Hill vibes from her recent EP I Used To Know Her: The Prelude, she calls out clout chasers and performative feminists. On “Lord is Coming,” she delivers a freestyle that questions how young people are truly handling mental health and politics by asking, “are we really trying when kids are dying and depression is trending?” Beware, she’s not afraid to spit the truth. Her albums might have you questioning your own motives—romantic and political.
When she dropped two EPs, Volume 1 and Volume 2 in 2016, her identity was unknown. Two years later, H.E.R.’s music speaks for itself, earning her five Grammy nominations including best album of the year and best new artist. Even without the Grammy nominations, H.E.R. is a force to be reckoned with. She’s been acknowledged by icons like Rihanna and Issa Rae. Label mates Bryson Tiller and Alicia Keys have given her shoutouts on Twitter. She’s the millennial woman’s renaissance performer: a rapper, singer, songwriter, and player of multiple instruments, including bass like her idol Prince. Sophomore sat down with H.E.R. and discussed her transparent vibes in this time of hiding behind our phones, romance (she’s not a guru but she drops facts) and a potential we hope it happens-let’s not jinx it collaboration with Janet Jackson.
Jody You said writing these songs was like writing a diary. What made you decide to share something that was so raw?
H.E.R. From the beginning, growing up 15, 16, 17, I realized that the songs that are more honest resonate with people. I had these collections of stories in the studio trying to figure out who I was as a person, who I was as an artist, and what I wanted to represent, and for me it was honesty. I realized that when I was creating other songs. It just kind of became my diary and all these things that represented that time of me transitioning into a young woman, being in high school and dealing with stuff. I dropped Volume 1 and I continued to keep that same theme.
J Well, that’s the thing about Volume 1 & 2, you cover almost every angle of being in a romantic relationship. From getting unwanted attention to asking for attention you’re not getting. Then you go on to I Used to Know Her and take on a wiser role in “Lost Souls.” I think it really shows your evolution as a woman and a lover. What stage in your growth would you say you’re at now?
H I have no idea. I Used To Know Her is definitely my perspective on life thus far. I’m only 21. you’re not the same person at 18 that you are at 21. I decided to make a project that was more broad. It wasn’t just about love—Volume 1 was very specific to that time but it still resonated with people of all ages. Now on I Used To Know Her, like you said, “Lost Souls” is a lot more about people, and life, and social media, and what’s going on today. Then you have Part 2, “Lord is Coming,” so it’s not just about love anymore.
J Your stories are authentic experiences. Did the people you had these experiences with ever reach out to you?
H Kind of. It’s like a sensitive thing; it’s never been super confrontational. Yes and no. There was no afterthought, it was just a moment of time. I feel everything very deeply... it’s almost like how I word things can make it sound deeper than it really is. It’s like an exaggerated version of the feeling, but I just feel everything to the deepest level. It’s almost like women who are in their 40s going through a divorce can relate to [the songs] as well, because of the way it’s worded and the way that this emotion can be the smallest situation; a boy in elementary school that you have a crush on having a crush on someone else. It can be that small of a feeling but we still feel it. That’s really what it is.
J Like you said, your songs resonate with a lot of people. What advice would you give to people who want to be as open as you are or as transparent as you are in relationships or even as authentic as a creative?
H As a person, your stories make you who you are. I guess it’s never too much. It just depends on how you share it. For me it’s my music, and if that’s therapeutic for you, then do that. If that’s what you want to do, but do what’s comfortable. It’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to make mistakes. You just gotta learn from them and listen to yourself.
J You spoke about your collaboration with Daniel Caesar coming together seamlessly. Are there any other artists you see yourself creating a gem with?
H I really want to work with J. Cole, that’s number one for me right now. I love J. Cole. I love Miguel, I really do. Drake. Those are three artists I really wanna work with right now.
J Are there any R&B inspirations you think it would be cool to collaborate with?
H Yep! There are so many. Janet [Jackson] would be crazy. She’s been talking about it, too, so you just never know.
J Have you heard of cuffing season?
H Cuffing season, yeah. People say I make music for cuffing season. And the music for when cuffing season is over.
J Yes, every stage of a relationship. Your albums are perfect for this time of the year, when we’re evaluating who we want to spend those cuffing season nights with. I liked “Every Kind of Way” but which songs would you say are the best to set the mood?
H “Focus” definitely sets the mood, you know. Can you focus on me? “Wait for It,” a lot of songs from Volume 1.
J Of all the material you’ve written, which songs would you say were the most revealing or had the most impact for you?
H Everything is super revealing. I don’t know if anything had the most impact because everything is specific to certain times. At one time “Losing” had a very strong impact but then I just wrote “I’m Not Okay” and that seems to have a huge impact on people. So it just depends, but every song has got its special place in my heart.
J Being on stage and performing is not new to you, but what’s it been like to perform with such intimate music on your own terms?
H It’s been great. It’s beautiful. I love creating my show. I have a whole band—bass player, drummer, keys, background singers—and I play guitar. I really enjoy the dynamics of my show and creating an experience with people. A lot of people expect that it’s going to be slow and vibey or I’m just singing on the mic but [it doesn’t sound] just like the records. It’s not what you expect at all.
J You bring your guitar. Does that add anything for you?
H Yeah, absolutely. I play other instruments on the show as well. I love to show my musicality; I’ve always love playing instruments. Bass and drums as well. A lot of people didn’t know that until they saw my BET performances.
J What do you value most in a relationship?
H I’m big on communication. I talk. There has to be open understanding [in relationships] because we live in an age, and I think it’s going away, where people just talk. “We’re unofficial so I can do this or I can do that.” [But] I’m gonna tell you what I want. I’m gonna tell you exactly what I want and what it’s going to be and if it’s not that then I’m out. As women, we forget that we have all the power; we determine how a man’s going to treat us and if they’re not treating us the way we need to be treated then we find somebody that will. Your standards are never too high. Some people expect more financially than they do affectionately, but I’m not one of those people. I just think that if you have a standard stay true to that and don’t let anybody take that away from you.
J You’re bringing back genuine R&B and using your platform to talk about social media and modern interactions. How do you feel about your title and the direction you’re taking the genre as a whole?
H It’s a blessing. It’s a confirmation that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. R&B is the core of everything. R&B is rhythm and blues, so creating this music that resonates with people and this new sound of R&B is just gonna take it further, take it to every genre and every type of person. R&B isn’t just black music. That is the core and we acknowledge that, but I wanna be on stage with Coldplay, I wanna be on stage with Carlos Santana, or a band like Toto and do something worldwide and elevate in that [way] like Prince, who is genreless; his core is R&B. That’s what I strive to be.