as #R8 approaches, we ri-cap on rihanna's greatest hits
As we wait on tenterhooks for Rihanna’s new album release, we take a trip down memory lane, assessing the music she’s made to date.
Rihanna's new album is the most eagerly-anticipated of her career. After releasing seven LPs in eight years between 2005 and 2012, we've now been waiting nearly two and a half years for R8, as the singer has been referring to her mysterious eighth album on Instagram. With rumors suggesting she could drop it any day now, i-D delves into the singer's back catalogue for a timely album-by-album "Ri-cap".
Music of the Sun
Released when she was just 17, Rihanna's debut album draws heavily from her Bajan heritage - the title of lead single Pon de Replay means "play it again" in Bajan Creole, one of the island's two official languages. With its sleek pop hooks and snappy dancehall beats, Pon de Replay is the shining highlight, but Music of the Sun's mellow pop-reggae songs are consistently listenable. Deep cuts worth revisiting include underrated follow-up single If It's Lovin' that You Want, Ri's chilled cover of Dawn Penn's You Don't Love Me (No No No) and There's a Thug In My Life, a glossy R&B ballad with a title that belongs on a much later Rihanna album.
A Girl Like Me
Arriving just eight months after her debut, Rihanna's second album continued her career's rapid upward momentum. Buoyed by its clever Tainted Love sample, electro-pop stomper SOS became her first US number one hit, while the album's other massive single, melodramatic ballad Unfaithful, shows off Rihanna's range. Elsewhere A Girl Like Me refines Music of the Sun's formula as it alternates between mid-tempo pop-reggae and emotional R&B ballads, but with a few more memorable tunes. Ri teams up with Sean Paul for Break It Off's infectious digital dancehall, Kisses Don't Lie is one of her best Caribbean-flavored tracks and though not a big hit at the time, We Ride now sounds like a classic summer jam.
Good Girl Gone Bad
Rihanna's third album in as many years expanded her sound, dispensed with filler and made her a full-on pop superstar. Lead single Umbrella spent ten weeks at number one in the UK and could have overshadowed a weaker collection of tracks, but Good Girl Gone Bad has strength in depth. The Timbaland-produced Rehab, Ne-Yo duet Hate that I Love You, MJ-sampling club banger Don't Stop the Music and innuendo-filled Shut Up and Drive all became hits too, while fiery revenge anthem Breakin' Dishes is the great Rihanna single that never was. The album was reissued a year later as Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded with three new songs: Disturbia, Take a Bow and If I Never See Your Face Again. By this stage, Rihanna was unstoppable and all three were eventually released as singles too.
Rihanna began recording her follow-up to Good Girl Gone Bad shortly after being assaulted by then boyfriend Chris Brown during the run-up to the 2009 Grammy Awards. Even now, it's difficult not to view Rated R as a response, at least partially, to this shocking incident. The singer's fourth album is edgier and more menacing than anything she'd previously recorded, as steely R&B and hip hop beats rub shoulders with rock guitar riffs and bolshy, bragging lyrics. When Rihanna declares, "I never play the victim, I'd rather be a stalker," on Rockstar 101, she sounds like she really means it. In the middle sits Rude Boy, a super-catchy sex jam that proved to be a taster of things to come - no pun intended - from the singer. If Good Girl Gone Bad was Rihanna's commercial breakthrough, the fierce, thrilling Rated R feels like her artistic one.
After the dark and defiant Rated R, album five found Rihanna letting her hair down - once she'd dyed it bright red for the cover shot. Loud is more accessible and less cohesive than its predecessor but Rihanna is a convincing genre-hopper, pulling off Only Girl (in the World)'s euphoric dance-pop, the reggae-flecked R&B of Drake duet What's My Name? and Avril-sampling pop-rock on Cheers (Drink to That). Nor does she hide her provocative side: S&M is so scandalous Radio 1 censored lyrics like "Sex in the air - I like the smell of it" and fan favorite Man Down sees her assume the role of a murderer on the run. The latter also houses one of her most boisterous and Bajan vocal performances - check out the way she pronounces "altercation".
Talk That Talk
Rihanna continued her tireless winning streak with her sixth album in seven years. Here she flits effortlessly from Calvin Harris-produced club bangers We Found Love and Where Have You Been? to glossy urban pop like the lilting R&B of You Da One, Watch 'n Learn's giddy dancehall and triumphant, Jay Z-assisted title track. Drunk on Love even features a trendy sample from The XX's Intro. Talk That Talk is also Miss Fenty's most sexually aggressive album yet - Birthday Cake obviously isn't about a candle-topped iced sponge, and Cockiness (I Love It) includes the lines "suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion" and, erm, "I love it when you eat it".
Rihanna's seventh and most recent album blends dubstep, dance, pop, hip-hop and R&B sounds in a similar way to Talk That Talk, but it's often bolder and more adventurous. The ballads range from the surprisingly restrained Stay to the gloriously overblown What Now, Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary is a seven minute electro-R&B epic influenced by Sting's old band, The Police, and Rihanna's strip club anthem Pour It Up feels strangely subversive sung by a woman. Even lead single Diamonds has a brazenness to it, as it's probably Rihanna's most straightforward pop song since the Good Girl Gone Bad era. As if to underline the album's title, Rihanna also includes an irresistibly catchy duet with Chris Brown called Nobody's Business.
The first single released from Rihanna's new album, laid-back acoustic jam FourFiveSeconds, doesn't sound anything like the second, cold and combative trap track Bitch Better Have My Money. Over the weekend Rihanna gave a live airing to another new song, an anthemic ballad called American Oxygen that sounds different from both of them. "I've made a lot of songs that are just really big songs... they just blow up," Rihanna told MTV recently, adding that she wanted to record songs that "felt real, that felt soulful, that felt forever". Factor in the fact that Kanye West has served as the album's executive producer and R8 is shaping up to be Rihanna's most audacious LP yet.
Text Nick Levine
Photography Paolo Roversi
Styling Alastair McKimm