Decades before Gabby Wilson reintroduced herself to the world as H.E.R. (Having Everything Revealed), Common introduced us to his version of H.E.R.: Hip Hop in its Essence is Real. And she shaped my youth. I met H.E.R. at a time when emotions were experienced too deeply and perspectives were too easily shaped. She brought me the lyricism of Lauryn, the raw and unapologetic sexuality of Kim, the melodic rhythm of Latifah, and the futurism of Missy.
I fell in love with H.E.R—and with each of them.
When it was time to leave the socially awkward years of middle school behind, I was convinced that high school would be my time to shine. I’d identified everything that society didn’t like about a fat, Black, queer girl and decided that I’d simply be the opposite.
Spoiler alert: I failed.
Instead, I found a way to publicly declare my love for H.E.R. by way of my school district’s student-led radio station. While most kids were signing up for athletics or SAT prep, I was donning headphones and cracking open a mic to tell the world (well, the world of Southfield, Michigan, at least) my opinions on the state of hip hop. I championed and played the music of artists I was convinced would be next to blow.
But she was already beginning to fade from the musical landscape.
By the time I made it to college, no one even seemed to know H.E.R.—she wasn’t relevant anymore, especially during the snap era in the South. Now, she was simply relegated to the margins as a prop, only worth paying attention to if she was licking a lollipop or allowing a credit card to be swiped down the crack of her behind. I no longer saw myself reflected in H.E.R., and I lost myself.
I so badly wanted to be a part of hip hop’s magic. I’m nobody’s rapper and never wanted to manage anyone’s career other than my own, but I knew I could play the music and connect with the people. But the more I played songs that called me anything but a woman and only valued my anatomy or my proximity to a man, the more I lost value in myself and in my sisters.
I went years without even playing a hip hop record from anyone who wore lipstick. I appreciated the work of artists like Mumu Fresh out of Philly, Lady Blade in Detroit, and K’LA the Lyricist from Indiana, but radio wasn’t trying to hear from these women. Even as Trina consistently and single-handedly held down the female rap category, my Florida radio station only played her records during club mixes.
Suddenly, I was thrust back into my middle school mindset. My insecurities over my chubby belly and flat butt resurfaced. I mean, what Black girl doesn’t have a big booty? Without the shape and the sexual prowess, who would ever see me? That’s where I was beginning to believe my value lived.
I quit radio in 2012, not to save my self-esteem but to rescue my finances. I’d been beating myself up emotionally for minimum wage for way too long. Then, I embraced the antithesis to terrestrial radio: streaming. And it changed the game.
I had avoided the Spotify and Apple Music girls for years, but my late discovery was godsent. I was curating my own playlists, and they nourished me and helped me rediscover H.E.R. It turned out that she was still alive—even if she wasn’t allowed to be on the radio anymore. Now, she’s growing and expanding, breaking barriers and stereotypes alike.
This Black Music Month, I choose to celebrate the musicianship, lyricism, and artistry of all Black performers. I’ve learned to respect the immense power in our basslines, our kicks, our high hats and strings, and—of course—our words. We build and we destroy with every note. I acknowledge the power of both while guarding my heart from negativity beyond a sharply-written diss track.
And when I need a little musical reminder about how truly dope it is to be a Black woman, I know I can always look to H.E.R.
“…our violence isn’t the threat, our love is.” — TankLeave a Comment