I Used to Know Her (2019)
Released by singer-songwriter H.E.R.
The 2019 album of singer songwriter H.E.R. I Used to Know Her combines music from prior E.P.s, expanded interludes, and added songs to make up this 19-song full-length project. With an album cover consisting of her holding up a frame of a polaroid of her adult self looking over the shoulder of herself as a child, the album's storytelling even flows through its cover art.
The album opens with the track “Lost Souls” featuring DJ Scratch, and the fact that Lauryn Hill is a writer on it can be distinctly heard stylistically through the beats and backing vocals underscoring everything, along with the rapping and singing performance. The message of the song resonates as well from lyrics such as “what you gonna leave with your legacy, it’s like we don’t believe in longevity” and “a lost soul can’t lead the people,” reflecting the time it was released while continuing to stay relevant.
Next comes “Fate” with a slower R&B style that holds a more haunting melody from the piano. H.E.R.’s strong vocals are drawn to the forefront along with the church choir like backup vocals in a manner that reverberates like the strings early on. This song reflects in a more personal manner as she questions herself and what she controls.
“Carried Away” bounces back to upbeat guitar riffs and a chilled-out tone giving more lines listeners can easily connect to about being carried away in relationships. The next song “Going” feels like it could be a continuation as she goes into all she can really give when focusing on her own life.
Flowing down into the song “Be On My Way,” the echoes in the backdrop of the music produce a sense of not just leaving, but leaving an empty space behind. The lines “I’ll be on my way / I’m no good if I stay” echo in the same way. The transition from this song into “Can’t Help Me” drives those stresses home as she sings about not recognizing herself in the moment.
Entering the song “Something Keeps Pulling Me Back,” the track is back to more solid beats being tapped out behind the lyrics. There is a steady pumping drawing the listener into the song and pulling on their senses. Building up on that style comes “Feel A Way” which fades more tones into those beats while folding in more sensation from H.E.R.’s lyrics.
“21” carries on the 90’s R&B style from the opening track and combines with the style of the other songs of the album, once again mixing more of a rap, singing style. H.E.R.’s contemplation of herself at 21 fits in well with the album's representation of her story. “Racks” featuring YBN Cordae keeps up the tale of that time mixing with the introduction of fame and money.
As the album slides into the song “I’m Not OK,” slow piano is reintroduced into the beat-based backing drawing out the emotion of separation and slipping away. The follow up of “Against Me” re-affirms her sense of feeling lost internally. The airing of the issues is drawn forth once more in “Could’ve Been” featuring Bryson Tiller as she almost reminisces and contemplates what was done in the past and possibilities that were not the reality. From there comes “Good To Me,” one of the longest songs on the album at a little over 7 minutes as the lines of questioning come forward. The end of this song has her speaking out about her thought process and where things are taking her back to as she writes.
“Take You There” layers her voice over itself, making the lyrics reverberate in the listeners mind and taking them into the sensations being painted, almost like they are being put into the place of another. Then “As I Am” raises the tempo back up as she feels herself in the song in a way that the listener cannot help but to move along with.
As the album begins to close out with the last three songs, “Hard Place” leaves the listener just as absorbed in H.E.R.’s experiences as she herself seems to be. “Uninvited” backed by strings carries an intimacy into the song that provides a sense of listening in that couples incredibly well with the way the album exposes more and more how H.E.R. communicates her thoughts and life. Closing out the album lies “Lord Is Coming,” featuring YBN Cordae whose opening comes across almost like slam poetry, directly expanding on the message of the time introduced in the opening track. As she starts singing, the music reflects the biblical imagery of trying to come out over the damage building up in the country. The storytelling of this album beautifully exposes in detail how she sees the world and her life with a musicality that resonates wholeheartedly with the listener.
— Essence Saunders
California State University, Stanislaus