Hip-hop gloss can’t save the anticlimax of RiRi’s new album

The album cover of Anti.

The album cover of Anti.

It was a bit of anticlimax when pop singer Rihanna cancelled her performance at this year’s Grammys show in Los Angeles on Monday.

The Barbados-born singer was set to perform her catchy single Kiss it Better from her latest album, Anti. But she pulled out at the 11th hour because of a throat infection.

Her appearance at the Grammy awards would’ve been the first time audiences had seen her performing tracks from Anti, which she took her sweet time recording.

Despite being leaked on online streaming service Tidal before its release, Anti managed to hit platinum status in the United States two days after its release.

Rihanna’s previous album, Unapologetic (2012), featured chart-topping songs such as Diamonds and Stay. It was her final album with record label Def Jam, which is owned by the Universal Music Group.
She has since signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, which manages the likes of Emeli Sandé, Shakira and Kanye West.

There was a time when she was on the verge of becoming overexposed, releasing an album almost every year between 2005 and 2012 and denying us room to miss her. But we have never waited this long – four years – between Rihanna albums.

Many pros to Anti
This year, she has returned with the 13-track Anti (also available in a deluxe edition with three bonus tracks). She has ditched the dance-pop sound that dominated her previous albums in favour of a more laid-back pop-R&B sound with a hip-hop undertone – achieved thanks to the efforts of producers Jeff Bhasker, Boi-1da, DJ Mustard, Hit-Boy, No I.D and Timbaland.

Standout tracks on Anti include the first single, Work, which features Drake, as well as Kiss it Better, Needed Me and Desperado.

Her 2015 single Bitch Better Have My Money appears to have been an appetiser and no more, because it didn’t make it on to this album. FourFiveSeconds, her underwhelming collaboration with Kanye West and the legendary Paul McCartney, didn’t make the cut either. The folk-pop song presented a sound we’ve never heard from Rihanna before, but she failed to explore it further on Anti. So she hardly leapt out of her box with this new album, but she has refreshed her sound.

Her voice takes on a different character with every song on the album, which prevents her from sounding monotonous. You can clearly hear the signature sound of songwriter James Fauntleroy and producer Travi$ Scott coming through in the songs.

But, as with all her other albums, Rihanna has stuck with standard dancehall tunes and ballads, for example Love on the Brain and Higher, which sounds like vocal struggle between herself and the high notes. She does, however, play around with her range, which is refreshing to hear.

The space that she’s in
Anti deals with themes of love, acceptance and everything else that accompanies relationship dramas. “Nothing but a tear, that’s all for breakfast/ Watching you pretend you’re unaffected/ No you don’t need my protection/ But I’m in love, can’t blame me for checking,” she sings on her ballad Close to You.

On Same Ol’ Mistakes, another standout song, Rihanna sings: “Feel like a brand new person (but you make the same old mistakes)/ But I don’t care I’m in love (stop before it’s too late).”

Rihanna’s albums have so far served as barometers of the kind of space she is in, artistically and personally. With Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), she dropped the girl-next-door image and settled for an angry, dark tone in Rated R, which she recorded after suffering physical abuse at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, singer Chris Brown, in 2009.

From posting raunchy photos of herself on Instagram to shooting a controversial video for Bitch Better Have My Money, Rihanna has always gone out of her way to show she’s is not trying to be anyone’s role model. Anti may well be an allusion to this and the title suggests it may be an antithesis to her previous work.

The long wait has, however, resulted in Anti being an anticlimax. But it’s a decent album, worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest.

Katlego Mkhwanazi

Katlego Mkhwanazi

Katlego Mkhwanazi is the Mail & Guardian's arts, culture and entertainment content producer. She started her career in magazines, before joining the Mail & Guardian team in 2014. She is an entertainer at heart. Read more from Katlego Mkhwanazi

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