When the mysterious H.E.R. first arrived to the R&B scene, she was completely anonymous, preferring to let the music speak for itself. Even after her identity reveal, H.E.R.’s — or rather, former Radio Disney child prodigy Gabi Wilson’s — self-assured yet vulnerable heartbreak anthems still command full attention. Her new EP, I Used to Know Her – Part 2, is making sure of that.
H.E.R.’s prior releases all seem to bleed into each other: while consistently enjoyable to listen to, that consistency might be the only problem with her output. H.E.R. has always seemed to be one step ahead of today’s contemporary R&B crowd, but within her own discography, there’s been a limited amount of growth and renewal. This makes I Used to Know Her — Part 2 come as a surprise — it takes the good of H.E.R.’s work so far and strips it bare. Full of soulful piano, acoustic guitar and layered vocals, I Used to Know Her — Part 2 is a softer take on H.E.R.
Seconds into the first song, an uncharacteristically guitar-heavy track titled “Carried Away”, exposes a new variety to her music — it sounds like it’s setting up for coffee shop soft rock, until Wilson’s R&B vocals swoop in and transform the song into something new. I Used to Know Her — Part 2 marks a continuation and final chapter to I Used to Know Her: The Prelude, another EP she released earlier in the year has a more modern hip hop sound with a Gabi Wilson spin. The change between these two releases alone is astounding. Having established a unique sound with two years of releases under her belt, she’s finally beginning to challenge herself with experimentation in her music.
Following suit is “Hard Place”, another song that sees H.E.R. exploring what a catchy acoustic guitar tune can add to her strong voice, layered over itself at times in lieu of background vocals, creating the effect of a group harmonizing. “Hard Place” is a standout on the EP, sounding like an updated take on tracks that would pop up on R&B radio stations in the early 2000s.
The final track, “Lord is Coming”, is melancholic and contemplative, beginning with a two minute spoken word poem. We’ve seen this before from H.E.R. on the outro of “Against Me”, the second track of I Used to Know Her: The Prelude, and it’s been a well incorporated highlight both times. In my opinion, this is the best track on the album — it’s eerie and unforgettable, pitting Wilson’s voice against a haunting choir in the background. The two blend together seamlessly, losing the instrumental in the process but seeing no harm from it. It’s a pensive note to end the EP on after jumping in from the relatively upbeat sounding “Carried Away”, but the best one H.E.R. could have landed on.
Being open and honest has always been her manifesto — after all, the acronym H.E.R. stands for “having everything revealed”. While the name was once thought to be a playful reference to her own anonymity, it can now be understood as a mission statement for her music. This time, the brutal honesty of H.E.R.’s lyrics is laid down over soft, simple instrumentals; ones that, at times, seem non-existent compared to the dominance of her voice, which instead is present even when she barely seems to climb many notes. The combination of the carefully poised power in her vocals and the emotional rawness of her lyricism makes for a vulnerability that breaks down barriers between artist and listener. H.E.R.’s music has always been about reaching out to hurting hearts and spreading straightforward truths of modern womanhood; listening to her feels like having a friend by your side who understands everything you’re going through.