Rihanna’s “ANTI”

A search for self-acceptance...

Last weekend, music lovers were graced with one of the most anticipated and long-awaited pop releases of 2016. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, you have “FourFiveSeconds” to educate yourself.

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Remember 2005, Pon De Replay Rhianna? Well, she’s no island girl anymore. Rihanna has reinvented herself again as a chain-smoking, high-rolling, reckless rockstar with a no-fucks-given attitude. Put simply, Ri Ri calls the shots, shot, shots.

Since her last album, Rihanna has had three years to develop and perfect her new sound. Confined to a major label in the past, Rihanna mostly made straight to radio hits with generic, four-on-the-floor drops—for instance, her 2012 smash, “We Found Love,” featuring Calvin Harris. Though this was commercially successful, Rihanna has now moved on to something more spontaneous.

In 2014, Rihanna walked away from Rick Rubin’s behemoth of a company, Def Jam, to launch her own label, Westbury Road, under Jay-Z’s umbrella label, Roc Nation. Since then, all of her work, starting with “FourFiveSeconds,” has taken on a more experimental approach. As she croons on the album’s opening track, “Consideration,” “I got to do things my own way darling.” Instead of limiting herself to the cookie-cutter, formulaic, robotic pop of Rihannas past, ANTI breaks the mold, allowing the album to coexist in a plethora of different musical domains. Like the new Rihanna herself, ANTI is eclectic and sexy. Pulling inspiration from multiple genres and musicians like Thundercat, James Fauntleroy, The Weeknd and even The Internet—ANTI has a diverse urban vibe, layered in synth, trap and bass melodies. This music is everywhere.

Seven years after her much publicized split with Chris Brown, Rihanna still might not be fully recovered, but with ANTI it seems she finally feels comfortable with her own vulnerability. In 2012, she confessed on Oprah that Chris Brown will always be the love of her life, and now, even four years later, she is still trying to move on. On the sultry Bonnie and Clyde themed track, “Desperado,” she sings in her signature half-snarl, “I can be a lone wolf witcha.” This paradoxical tension lies at the core of the album’s lyrical narrative. At times she attempts to find solace in her own independence. Over DJ Mustard’s fluttering snares and growling synths, she tells her myriad of ex-hookups, “I was good on my own/ That’s the way it was.”

But at other times, it appears that despite her propensity for self isolation, there is still a part of her that yearns for more. She is not yet certain how to deal with this feeling however, forcing her thoughts to come out in grotesque, often alcohol fueled confessions. On one of the album’s most powerfully intimate tracks, “Higher,” she belts, “I know I could be more creative/But I’m turnt up upstairs and I love you/Is the only thing that’s on my mind.” This level of lyrical intimacy is new territory for the pop-star. Stripping down her “fuck the world” shell that often overshadowed her previous work, Rihanna instead gives us an uncensored look at the real Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty.

Ri Ri only loses credit for an inexplicable mess of a roll-out. Between a botched release on Tidal and fans having to wait a full week before streaming on Spotify, there are a few questions that need to be answered. Most importantly, DOES ANYONE USE TIDAL? What we have here is probably just Rihanna pulling a Rihanna stunt. But what else is new? Rhianna is a queen. She does what she wants. 

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Grade: A- 

Essential Tracks:  “Consideration,” “Needed Me,” and “Desperado.”

Images Via, Yahoo Celebrity, Vanity Fair, Out Magazine