It’s been a thousand long years since some of our faves dropped music — okay, I’m exaggerating — but 2022 is remedying the gaping hole in our hearts (and our playlists) with the release of new projects that we have been waiting years for. First, it was Beyoncé, and now, with just months to spare before the new year rolls around, here come Rihanna and SZA finally making good on their promises. The drought is over, baby. The girls are back.
When Rihanna’s ANTI dropped in 2016, the critically acclaimed album was widely considered one of her best, despite the fact that it was snubbed by the Recording Academy — a slight that we still haven’t forgiven years later. Little did we know, it would also be the last music project we’d get from Rihanna for almost six years. After ANTI, Rihanna pivoted from singer and performer to business mogul, channelling her energy into building out the rest of her multimillion dollar empire to include beauty and fashion; in the years that followed, she launched Fenty Beauty, Fenty Skin, Savage by Fenty, and the now defunct high fashion collection FENTY. Fans were proud to see Rihanna broadening her horizons as a businesswoman, but we missed her in the studio and on the stage, and we incessantly told her as much through our tweets and our Instagram stories.
After six long years of trolling us by releasing everything but new music — thank you, for the Fenty Beauty Hot Choc’lit Heat Gloss Bomb though, girl — the start of a new Rihanna era is finally upon us, and it’s kicking off in the most beautiful way. On Friday, the Bajan superstar made her return to the music world with “Lift Me Up,” a moving power ballad that also doubles as the lead single from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack.
“Drowning in an endless sea, take some time and stay with me,” she croons over the soft lullaby of an angelic harp. “Keep me in the strength of your arms. Keep me safe and sound.”
The heartfelt lyrics were penned by Nigerian songstress Tems, who channelled the collective feelings of loss and grief weighing upon the world to match the sorrow felt by the cast and crew of Black Panther after the shocking passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020 after his extensive battle with colon cancer. From the trailer alone, we know that Wakanda Forever is meant to be a love letter to Boseman, and Rihanna’s single perfectly articulates the pain and longing that we’re still feeling from his loss.
“After speaking with Ryan [Coogler] and hearing his direction for the film and the song, I wanted to write something that portrays a warm embrace from all the people that I’ve lost in my life,” said Tems in a statement. “I tried to imagine what it would feel like if I could sing to them now and express how much I miss them. Rihanna has been an inspiration to me, so hearing her convey this song is a great honour.”
Rihanna’s not the only one back on the scene; TDE’s SZA also dropped a new song for her not-so-patiently waiting fanbase to enjoy. She released the Dave Meyers-directed visuals for “Shirt,” starring alongside Lakeith Stanfield in the short film as one-half of a Bonnie and Clyde-esque duo wreaking havoc on the city to a tragic end. The song is peak SZA, with beautifully-sung cursive (if you know, you know) lyrics that’ll take you a few listens to learn atop a groovy, psychedelic instrumental. It feels like a continuation of her debut album CTRL.
During the visuals’ end credits, SZA generously offers up a tease of another song, likely something from her upcoming second studio album. How long we have until we get to hear what else SZA has been keeping in the vault, however, is still unknown; all we need to know is that it’s coming out “very much soon,” according to a recent interview with Complex. The truth is that she’s not in a hurry to put anything out, no matter how desperate we are.
“I don’t have any deadlines, because at the end of the day, when my shit comes out, it comes out,” SZA told Complex of the pending project. “And if ever I lose my ability to choose, I have no problem vacating my current life and doing something different. I’m not glued to being an artist for the rest of my life or anything for that matter. I’m seeing where it takes me.”
“I don’t even know what this album is about and what it sounds like,” SZA continued. “Which is why I had to go to the mode of what feels good to my brain and to my energy and the songs that I think are hot, I just have to go with them.”
We don’t know what this next chapter of Rihanna and SZA’s discographies will hold for us — though rumour has it that the mysterious R9 might be a reggae project — or when they’ll even hit streaming platforms. For now, we’ll take what we can get with gratitude. We’ve waited this long for them to come back. A few more months can’t hurt…right?