Column, Arts

YNFA: Healy’s Effortless Genre Blending Creates Rare Sound

Laid-back hip-hop and rap often don’t have the same symbolic lyrics and wistfulness found in music from singer-songwriters, but Healy expertly blends both of these elements to create music that is truly unique. 

The Memphis-based artist is hard to pigeonhole into one genre. He masterfully combines hip-hop beats and rap cadences with dreamy synths and guitar chord progressions, resulting in a rare sound that not many artists come close to. Add in his incredibly rich lyrics that touch on themes of self-discovery and the feeling that time is running out, it is a travesty that Healy does not attract the recognition and fan base he deserves. 

Healy, whose full name is Ethan Healy, began releasing his first songs when he was a medical student at the University of Tennessee. His debut EP, A Galaxy With Skin, which is available on SoundCloud, came out in 2015 and features highlights “$150 / roll widdit” and “Phantoms.” He released them both on Spotify in 2015 and 2016 respectively, followed by two more singles, “Winse” and “Slalom,” in 2016. 

These tracks provided the sonic foundation for Healy’s debut album, Subluxe. Released in 2017, the album title is a reference to the medical term subluxation, which is a partial dislocation. On this project, Healy explores his relationships—dislocated and not—with family, friends, and Memphis. He creatively uses voice notes of him and his friends talking about their daily lives, giving the album a personal feel. 

On “Reckless,” the second track of the album, Healy sings and raps about being carefree, going with the flow, and exploring Memphis. Backed by a bright and punchy chord progression, the song has a jovial and it’s-almost-summer feeling as Healy stacks up verse upon effortless verse.

“And I’m skippin’ school days, mic drops / Eyes on summer like cyclops / Yeah we fallin’ off the sidewalk / Mama wants you home before nightfall,” Healy sings. 

In 2019, Healy released his single “Tucson,” which presumably describes a relationship with a significant other. It is closer to R&B than much of Subluxe, with its subdued synths and prominent bass, making it perfect for those late-night contemplative thoughts. 

In the lead up to Healy’s 2021 sophomore album, Tungsten, he released four singles. “Nikes On” has an upbeat tone—reminiscent of “Reckless”—especially with the dreamy electric guitar that runs throughout the song. But its content signifies a change in Healy’s focus. He uses Nike shoes to parallel his struggle with the transient nature of time, a theme that encapsulates the whole album. 

“And the daydreams sting like sunburn / Eighteen and ain’t gettin’ younger / Why time got his Nikes on?,” Healy sings, highlighting his innate ability to craft punchy words that are bursting with meaning.

“Dead Sprint” and “Second Wind” follow “Nikes On” on Tungsten, with each track presenting a different interpretation of the realization that time never stops ticking. “Dead Sprint” is a somber and ephemeral track with a runtime of less than two minutes. The main message of this song is simple enough and it consists of just three repeated lines. 

“I’m desperate / Life is such a dead sprint / Headed for the exit,” Healy sings. 

Healy taps into his rapping chops on “Second Wind,” which is the fastest moving track on the album and the most rap-centric. He loads so much into each verse that it’s almost dizzying. With a picked guitar loop and hip-hop style beats, Healy sings about rediscovering his passion and striking a balance between ego and humility.

“Don’t call it a comeback / I call it a second wind / ‘Membered I’m still doing this for the hell of it,” Healy raps. 

On Tungsten, Healy showcases a much different, more grown up and reflective artist than he was on Subluxe. Both albums are terrific works of art, and on Tungsten especially, it’s clear just how intentional every decision Healy makes is. He is a master of his craft, and it shines through in his tracks, from the actual music to his lyrical choices. 

On Dec. 29, 2022, Healy announced that will release another EP this spring. Hopefully, this one will earn Healy the credit and applause that he deserves. 

February 9, 2023