Berhana's Debut, HAN is a Glimpse into the Range of his Future
Evan Dale // Nov 12, 2019
It was always going to be a challenge to prove that he’s more than Grey Luh and Janet. Call it the curse of a hot start.
Atlanta-NYC Neo-Soul modernist, Berhana is a name lesser known than his early-canon smash singles. But that changes with the release of his debut album, HAN. Three years removed from the self-titled debut EP that brought more than a hundred million streams in tow, a more thought-out, crafted identity worthy of his early career’s prowess is the result. HAN is its manifestation.
As deeply personal as it is experimental; as compositionally unique as is Berhana’s vocal talent; HAN is still just the beginning for the young artist. But it’s a hell of a start. And it all starts with HN001. The first of five intermissionary inclusions that help guide the album’s underlying flight attendant themed ambience, HN001 serves well as a brash statement that HAN – from the very beginning – was always supposed to be something of a verge from what was expected given his explosive hit singles.
‘We suggest you take a moment to clear your thoughts in preparation for our journey’, introduces a Siri-esque narrator that will continue to make helpful suggestions on listening strategy and astute observations on humanity throughout the rest of the album. And with good cause does she ask us to clear our minds because with them go our expectancies.
With an open ear and an understanding that Grey Luh – though a certified banger – is a beautiful but short sided look into an artist with much more to offer, Berhana’s audience is primed to dive into something – rather somethings – new by the end of the introduction.
And that’s important because Golden – HAN’s second track – is something of Frank Ocean influenced soul and hip-hop coalescence built on beachy guitar strums and layer upon layer of experimental production and funky instrumentation. And even as it shines as a brisk glimpse into Berhana’s affinity at the funk-heavy lane, HAN continues evolving and shifting as it moves forward, leaving little if any time for listeners to bask in any stylistic lane before rolling to the next.
Shortness is a theme of HAN. Only one stretch of three tracks eclipses the four-minute mark. And in combination with Berhana’s many influences and changing lanes, that leaves HAN a tasting menu of sorts for what stylistically could be to come from his future. Funk-driven dance anthems like Golden & Lucky Strike dot HAN with unexpected groove and light-heartedness. Health Food & I Been though undeniably funk-laden with a uniqueness Berhana succeeds in conveying, feel altogether more future-soul and inventive. Drnuk & California are vibrant displays of Berhana’s vocalism that dive deeper into his established, unique R&B / hip-hop lane. G2g is bizarre altogether as a punk and pop track.
HAN as a whole is an indefinable, patchwork quilt of shuffling styling and brisk experiments, opening a series of doors ever so slightly to let the music out and the reactions in. It’s a collection of undeniably bold risks taken that offer listeners many glimpses, but few certainties for Berhana’s directional forthcomings. And in that seeming lack of identity exists HAN’s true lane as a product of its environment.
Modern artists – particular those in the hyper-experimental lanes of R&B, Neo-Soul & Hip-Hop – are refusing their labeling. Instead, they’re embracing the range of their influence, adjusting it to their liking, and creating something new and unexpected. Projects like HAN are becoming more commonplace. Just listen to Moise’s Amongst The Leaves, Omar Apollo's Friends, or Dijon's Sci Fi 1 from earlier in the year. The rangy comparisons between the projects are endless.
And artists like Berhana, bold, talented, and indefinable in their aesthetic, are pushing aside expectation and genrefication for a future of more well-rounded, experimental music. HAN is fitting of no exact stylistic delineation; defining of a future stylistically meandering and musically comprehensive.