H.E.R. Credit: Timothy Saccenti

In September 2016, RCA released H.E.R. Volume 1, the debut EP from an R&B singer whose stage name, H.E.R., is an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed.” She didn’t offer clues to her identity in the EP-release details, but Genius quickly found the receipts that showed H.E.R. to be the nom de plume of Gabi Wilson—which I suppose would mean something if the public had a long-term investment in Wilson and her music. She’d certainly given people the chance, starting from an early age: she covered Alicia Keys on Maury at age 10 and continued to make the rounds on daytime TV (Good Morning America, The Today Show, The View); at 14 she signed a deal with MBK Entertainment/J Records shortly before those labels were gobbled up by RCA in 2011. But since that time Wilson has been working on her music more discreetly, and she’s re-emerged with an understanding of what she wants to say as a solo artist. As her string of H.E.R. EPs have landed solid-to-great positions on the Billboard charts (there are five to date, plus an album called H.E.R.), Wilson has attempted to maintain the appearance of anonymity; in her first public interview since debuting H.E.R., with the L.A. Times in July 2017, she awkwardly engaged in the secrecy shtick as if were a strong narrative. Thankfully Wilson’s music holds up beyond the gimmick, perhaps because it’s more fun to believe such otherworldly, moving songs couldn’t possibly be made by a mere human. Her latest EP and second of the year, November’s I Used to Know Her: Party 2, typifies the magnetic draw R&B appears to have on all of pop music at this moment. On “Hard Place,” she uses hip-hop as a rhythmic base and gospel as a source of inspiration to make a triumphant ballad about loving someone who’s wrong for you; Wilson’s earnest singing brings emotional complexity to a familiar motif, and her increasingly powerful performance suggests there’s a bright end to the story.   v