Remaining faceless in today’s society seems a near impossible task, but the masterminds at RCA Records have taken a swing at it in a real life “The Voice” type experiment. In September the record company released an EP for a new artist, with no name, just seven tracks titled “H.E.R., Vol. 1” accompanied by a press release stating: “I can’t tell you much about H.E.R. just yet, but give it a listen and let me know what you think.” Almost instantly R&B fans, and celebrities alike, fell head over heels for the anonymous singer and before the music world knew it the angelic voice behind H.E.R.’s mysterious album cover silhouette had taken a No. 1 spot at the top of iTunes R&B chart.

Today the EP has been streamed millions of times both on Spotify and Soundcloud and has received praise on social media from artist like Alicia Keys and Wyclef Jean. Fans are eager to know to whom the voice behind the EP belongs, but RCA and the singer chose to keep the mystery alive amidst the albums raising popularity. As her fan base grows some simply want to know the reason behind the secrecy. “The mystery is a metaphor for who I am,” the singer told The Los Angeles Times in a telephone interview, “or who I was at the time of creating the project.” She explains that the songs were written in a time of heartbreak, “I remember saying I’ll never be that girl… that girl that falls for the wrong guy. I was constantly criticizing that girl and eventually I found myself being that girl, being her.”

her2

With no other information listeners have been forced to focus on the music, which – come to think of it – may have been the reason behind the projects anonymity in the first place. Despite an amazing team behind her at RCA, including executive producer DJ Camper who has worked with artists like Jay Z, Kanye West and John Legend, the EP was primarily written and produced by the singer herself. The musical genius is there, demanding attention; H.E.R.’s truly emotional lyrics are elevated by the sultry, mid-tempo tracks that accompany the mesmerizing voice.

Songs like “Losing” create an audible painting of the singer’s emotional narrative with lyrics, like “it’s killing me, tryna make sure that both of us survive.” Her lyrics provide a level personal disclosure, which gives some sense to the EP’s acronym, which stands for Having Everything Revealed. Though ironic – maybe because of the singer’s identity, or lack thereof – it’s testament to the power of creative honesty. “This was the most real I’ve ever been when it came to creating,” she says during the same phone interview, “I want it to be about the music — its honesty and realness. I want women to really feel how honest and vulnerable I am and to understand that they are not alone and that these are all human emotions.”

her3

Despite the singer’s official secrecy, RCA has yet to give fans any hints, some ‘detectives’ claim to have figured it out. Music blogs and websites, like Genius online, almost instantly began speculating the similarities between the seventh track on the EP, a cover of Drake’s “Jungle,” and a cover done a year ago by a singer named Gabi Wilson. RCA records signed Wilson in 2015 and that same year released the cover of the Drake song on Complex magazine’s online website. Whether or not the two voices behind the two separate “Jungle” covers come from the same person is up to the listener and while some have their minds set on the idea of Gabi being H.E.R. nothing is certain until RCA confirms.

In the meantime fans can enjoy “H.E.R. Vol. 1” on Spotify, iTunes Music and Soundcloud while patiently waiting for “Vol. 2” to drop, yes, there is going to be a Vol. 2!

At the time of her interview with the LA Times the singer confirmed the team at RCA has been working on “Vol. 2” and that it is scheduled to release later this fall. They added that the two (Wilson and H.E.R.) do not follow one another on social media and Gabi Wilson has yet to comment on the EP at all. The singer left a glimmer of hope for those eager for a name by saying, “I’ll reveal who I am in due time.” But for now it’s all about the music, it’s all about H.E.R.

-Ayla McLelland

To describe Mellody Hobson as anything less than extraordinary would be a grave injustice. The Chicagoan businesswoman seems to enchant everyone she meets with her eloquence and breathtaking personality. Through her hard work and grace she has managed secure her spot within many prominent business empires and become one of the only two black women who chair a publically traded company; all while remaining grounded and unbelievably humble.

meh4

Hobson recalls an unconventional childhood as the youngest of her six siblings all raised by single mother Dorothy Ashley. The family experienced the hardship of frequent evictions due to poor fiscal decisions on their mother’s part, causing them moving between the North and South Sides of Chicago. Nevertheless, in her conference –  titled “Color Blind or Color Brave” – with TED, an organization dedicated to spreading the knowledge of some of the world’s most influential people, Hobson explains that her mother was “ruthlessly realistic, she was an unbelievable role model,” recalling Dorothy telling her “Mellody, you can be anything.” This straightforwardness is what made a Hobson conscious at a very young age of racial inequality and the value of hard work. She recalls her mother asking how the other kids at a birthday party treated her, “I was seven… And she looked me right in the eye and she said, ‘They will not always treat you well.’

meh2

This fostered Hobson’s  passionate advocacy for minority rights and diversification in the workplace. She speaks out about her beliefs and applies them to company she is the president of, Ariel Investments. “I have this thought experiment that I play with myself,” Hobson shares in her TED conference, “imagine if I walked you into a room and it was of a major corporation, like ExxonMobil, and every single person around the boardroom were black, you would think that were weird. But, if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company, and everyone around the table is a white male… when will it be that we think that’s weird too?” Her extraordinary way of thinking allows Hobson to have open conversations about race and make everyone “comfortable with the uncomfortable.” Hobson is a part of many philanthropic organizations aimed toward diversification in education and the business world. With help from Ariel Investments she is a part of the Black Corporate Directors Conference, aiming to bring more minority members to corporate boards and, The Ariel Community Academy, a public elementary school in Chicago’s south side.

Having been educated in Chicago’s school system herself, the importance of inner city childhood education is personal to Hobson. In an interview with Vanity Fair she narrates an instance during her fifth grade year when her misspelling of a word in a spelling test lead to her being asked to leave the classroom as every other student was awarded a cookie for their perfect grades. “I’m looking into the room through the glass door at everyone eating their Girl Scout cookies, and I say to myself, ‘Never again. I will never, ever fail at something related to school ever again.’ It unleashed my obsession.”  She stuck to her word.

meh3

After attending St. Ignatius College prep school in Chicago Hobson was accepted to both Harvard and Princeton. She decided to attend Princeton where she studied international relations and public policy and in the summer of her junior year landed a spot as an intern at Ariel Investments, a financial investment company specializing in small and mid-sized stocks. John Rogers, CEO of Ariel Investments tells Vanity fair, “When I saw Mellody, I saw this bright, brilliant person who could indeed achieve anything.” Hobson began working for the company after graduating and worked her way to eventually becoming the company’s president.

“I didn’t know anything about the stock market,” she admitted, “but I went and worked at this firm and fell in love with the business” Hobson mentioned during another of her TED conferences. Looking back at her childhood she added, “I do not think it’s an accident that I work in the financial industry, because as a child I was desperate to understand money, desperate.” As she climbed her way up at Ariel, Hobson simultaneously created long lasting relationships with all the right people. With friends and business partners ranging from CEO of Starbucks, Howard Shultz and co-founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, to DreamWorks Animation’s CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and, the one and only, Oprah Winfrey. Her introduction to Howard Schultz led to her invitation to join the board at Starbucks, which then led to her meeting Jeffrey Katzenberg and joining the team over at DreamWorks Animation, where she also holds a chair on the board. Somewhere amidst all her hard work, relationship building and philanthropy Hobson was introduced to world-renowned Filmmaker George Lucas who, just like everyone, fell mesmerized by Hobson.

Hobson continues to grow, she continues to push boundaries both for racial equality and in the financial industry while show her love and optimism for the world around her. But, she doesn’t change who she is or her values or what she holds dear and important. Peter Thompson, a long time friend of Mellody’s, vouches for this saying that, “even in that very high-powered group of amazing and intimidating people, Mellody is Mellody, to be the same person no matter what, that is very rare.” If anything her incredible and continued success has humbled her. “I am still in awe of the life I lead,” Mellody tells Vanity Fair, “I don’t ever want anyone to think I take it for granted. I am amazed by it.” All the while, the rest of the world is amazed by her.

-Ayla McLelland

I can’t personally think of many guys who aren’t madly in love with Soulstress, Alicia Keys. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are a good number of girl-crushes on her too. Keys has been America’s sweetheart since her debut album, Songs in A Minor that dropped in 2001. It featured songs like, “Fallin’,” and “A Woman’s Worth,” that set her apart from the pack and gave us something real to vibe to. For 16 years and five studio albums, Keys has held her fans down with her powerful voice, her skillfully played piano-driven scores and her relatable messages. Now, on the tail-end of 2016, she’s brought out a brand new album and a new message for the world.

akey4

Keys didn’t intend to leave her fans waiting so long for new material after her last album, Girl on Fire came out in 2012. After a four-year wait, her highly-anticipated sixth album, Here was released November 4 and the wait is well rewarded. The album contains 16 tracks, five of which are interludes that are plucked from a film short that accompanies the album. Features are minimal, with only a few stars such as A$AP Rocky, along with production work from Pharrell, and Keys’ rapper/producer husband Swizz Beatz. Other than that, the album is mostly driven by Keys, who composes the majority of her own songs.

Although the production is familiar, with heavy use of piano and guitar based melodies, it has more flavor of New York City Hip-Hop as its underscore. Some tracks contain breakbeats pulled from old-school rap songs, while others contain samples and snippets from classics from Nas and Q-Tip that give it a very 90s sound. And the focus of the music reminds me of Lauryn Hill and India Arie. The lyrics are less about stories, and more about messages. For example, one track, “Pawn It All,” has a very blunt message: Always be ready to let go of things, especially material ones in order to improve your life.  “Kill Your Mama” highlights the damage we’re doing to our planet—our home and provider. One of the most powerful tracks, “She Don’t Really Care,” points out the skewed mindset of many modern young girls who search for the wrong things in their lives, hurting themselves and others in the process.

akey1

Keys’ past work usually ran on the juice that powers most of the R&B genre, love songs. New love, broken love, and hopeful love were past themes of her music, and although that was never a bad thing, she decided she wanted to do something else with her voice for this project. “It is the best music I’ve done in a while,” Keys told Real 92.3 BigBoyTV. “In a lot of different ways this album brings me back to my first album in regards to the rawness and vulnerability. But it’s also the wisdom I have now.” I agree with her statement. This album is a lot like her first project.

Accompanying the album is The Gospel, a short film that is essentially a long video for the album, similar to Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’. The black and white video has heavy depiction of New York City’s gritty environment where Keys grew up. It is a visualization of Here and a depiction of her writing process for the album. The 22-minute film is just enough for you to get an idea of, not only how the album came together, but how Alicia Keys “came together” as well.

The singer explains the album’s title to BigBoyTV. “I called it ‘Here’ because I’m actually here. And I’ve actually arrived to a place where I can know myself.” Perhaps the biggest difference between this album and her previous ones would be the album cover. All previous covers had Keys’ image made-up, and possibly photoshopped, with model-like precision. This album’s cover, however depicts her raw and untouched.

akey3

Keys has been making a large splash in the media recently with her decision to stop wearing make-up. Since her announcement, she has made numerous 2016 public appearances such as Today Show, MTV Music Video Awards, and various other interview and performance appearances. Although she remains radiant and strikingly beautiful without cosmetic help, her naked appearances have stirred up backlash from fans.  People argue that not everyone is as naturally pretty as she, and Fortune Magazine’s May 2016 article on the increased earning potential for made-up women didn’t help. But not all is negative, as many women who stand behind the message have evolved her decision into a movement dubbed, #No Makeup. Keys says she never intended to start a movement, only that she made a personal decision for herself, and wants women to decide for themselves what is best for them. She was surprised by the attention she’s received, but stands by her decision firmly, saying that she didn’t wish to cover any aspect of herself, physical or mental. “I felt like I was becoming a bit of a slave to always feeling like I had to be made up in order to pick up my son from school, or go to the grocery store, or down the block to meet a friend,” she said in her BigBoyTV interview. “I didn’t want to feel like that all the time. It kind of made me feel crazy.”

Not everyone may agree with Keys’ methods, but we can all agree that she is onto something wonderful. Her music and her thoughts give us a glimpse of a world where we can be ourselves without our peers or the media telling us how we should look, think and feel. She made a personal discovery and wants to share it with us all. Her discovery is that anyone who can make their desires the most important thing–will become free, unhinged and unrestricted.

-Chris Simmons

visionaryartistrymag