When Barbadian pop star Rihanna first hit the charts, she was just another teenage r'n'b chanteuse who was searching for a sound that combined pop, dancehall and hip-hop. Nothing really worked for her in the early days – she obviously had talent, but there was nothing there that really separated her from the posse.
Over time she has dropped the “I love Mariah Carey” statements and now is talking about how The Prodigy influenced this new album. In between she had the global blockbuster that was Good
Girl Gone Bad (2007), which yielded one of the best pop songs of the past decade in Umbrella. The album sold over seven million copies and catapulted Rihanna right to the top of the queue – just behind Beyoncé.
The events of last February, though, changed her career trajectory completely. Viciously assaulted by her then boyfriend Chris Brown, Rihanna was hitting the headlines for reasons that she found personally distressing.
When she returned to the studio she decided to channel her shock, anger and fear into Rated R. And this, while maybe not quite having the immediate pop effect of the previous album, is a solid and mature work which, naturally, has a darker hue to it.
Justin Timberlake, Ne-Yo, Slash and will.i.am all crop up, either on the songwriting or the guest-musician side, and you get some sense of the mood she’s in on the guitar-heavy Rock Star, which has her singing “Got my middle finger up/I really don’t give a fuck”. And then on G4L (Gangsta For Life, if you please) she trains her sights on “any motherfuckers who want to disrespect”.
It’s not all so in-yer-face though: Te Amo (a song that Madonna would kill for) is a beautiful slice of hip-hop-inflected calypso that will become one of the album’s standout tracks.
Her most interesting work to date and definitely her most cathartic – Rated R will surprise and delight in equal measures.
Te Amo, Rock Star