One of the joys of getting to write about music is hearing music I otherwise wouldn’t have the pleasure of experiencing. When I began listening to “Hard Headed” by Who’s This, I had no idea what to expect. Needless to say, the following several minutes of entranced listening defied my expectations along every step of the way, and what a special gift that is to receive.
“Hard Headed” blends a complex mix of soul, rock, rap, spoken word, singer/songwriter and electronic music over the span of its five and a half minutes. At times the structure feels similar to a work by Yes or one of Kendrick Lamar’s more daring pursuits from To Pimp a Butterfly- rhythms change, the narrative of Who’s This’s vocals guiding and setting pace for the instrumentation below him. The music is what I would consider progressive in its approach, yet where even the most daring of acts in that world can all too easily step off the rails of accessibility, “Hard Headed” remains planted firmly in spaces of familiarity. And perhaps by design- the dark soul that bridges the spoken word and rap sections is immediately sweet to the ear, as are the lyrical flows of Who’s This, delivered with sureness and palpable defiance, coasting over the organ and drum beat below like a necessary Trojan horse of message ushered in on the familiarity of its instrumentation.
The honesty espoused by the vocals never make these turns feel tricky or unearned. Quite the opposite. “Hard Rock,” as Who’s This is referred to throughout the song, catalogues the pain, confusion, trauma, despair, pride, tribulations, and growth of a Black man grappling with identity and existence in a world that is often at best blind to his existence. “Hard Headed” feels like survival, like falling into a diary of someone you’d like to know better.
Do yourself a favor and listen to it, then listen to it again. “Hard Headed” by Who’s This is out now, don’t miss this one.
Review by Bobby Guard