Have you listened to HER? – the RnB prodigy compared to Prince and Marvin Gaye

H.E.R., aka Gabi Wilson, has received plenty of attention, but her debut album is worth it - Rich Fury
H.E.R., aka Gabi Wilson, has received plenty of attention, but her debut album is worth it - Rich Fury

H.E.R. apparently stands for Having Everything Revealed. But while there may initially have been some mystery about the identity of this multi-talented American RnB sensation, it soon turned out she had been hiding in plain sight all along. Gabi Wilson appeared on the Today Show as a 10-year-old prodigy in 2007, performing an outrageously accomplished cover of Alicia Keys’s If I Ain’t Got You. She acted in children’s TV films, before signing a major record deal aged 14, and has been carefully nurtured by Keys’s management company.

Although Back of My Mind is billed as Wilson’s debut album, she has been releasing music as H.E.R. since 2016, with standalone singles, guest spots and five EPs collected in album form as H.E.R. (2017) and I Used to Know Her (2019). She has already won five Grammy awards, and picked up an Oscar this year for Fight For You, her 1970s-funk-styled theme for Judas and the Black Messiah. Her 2020 single I Can’t Breathe became an anthem of the Black Lives Matter protests. In the US, the 23-year-old is touted as a superstar in waiting, drawing comparisons with such multi-disciplinarian greats as Prince and Stevie Wonder.

Should we believe the hype? Well, there is certainly a lot going on during We Made It, the opening track of Back of My Mind. “Me, me, me, me,” Wilson sings in a high, fluid, melismatic gush, in case we were in any doubt about who this was about. Concocting a dense and sensuous swirl of trippy psychedelic sounds, Wilson delivers a pugnacious semi-rap lyric about triumphing against the odds; it concludes with her voice heading for outer space while she unleashes a dazzling lead guitar solo, before confirming her multi-instrumental prowess with a cascade of rippling, jazzy piano flourishes. While listeners are processing that, there are 20 more tracks to be taken into consideration.

Across a running time of 76 minutes, Wilson unpacks her heart with poetically intimate lyrics about relationship troubles in a blur of downtempo RnB grooves and hip-hop flow, showcasing Wilson’s sensational multi-octave soul singing and masterful instrumental playing, all filtered through atmospheric digital effects that lend her old-fashioned analogue skills a contemporary sheen.

The gold standard for pop albums used to be “all killer, no filler”, but Wilson leans more towards the “all chiller” mode, designed to get you in the mood and keep you there. One outstanding track, Bloody Waters, created with bass supremo Thundercat, gorgeously replicates the bubbling grooves and silky vocal style of Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece What’s Going On.

It’s a good reference point for her flowing ambience, although I don’t hear an individual song to put her up with the all-time-greats to whom she is so often compared. Wilson has yet to score a proper crossover hit single; the sensual tone of her slow jam style may be too subdued to seduce the mainstream. But if this is the sound of her just warming up, I can’t wait to see where she goes next. H.E.R. is on a fast track to VIP status – IMHO.

Out on Sony now