Gimme a beat: reports have surfaced that for the last year Rihanna, and her label Roc Nation, have had been beat collecting for a couple of new albums. Rolling Stone says that one album will feature an exploration of Rihanna's Carribbean roots, while another is a pop album. These rumors sound so familiar...because you've heard them all before.
Rihanna herself confirmed she wants to make her next LP a reggae album inspired by Bob Marley in her Vogue cover story back in May. (No worries if you missed it while you were drinking the Drake tea she also spilled in the course of that convo.) So, no big surprise that she's been looking for beats to fit that mood. ANTI, the Barbados-born singer's last album (her eighth overall), was such a left field work of art, chock-full with different styles and unfinished thoughts. "Work" was a standout single with a Caribbean vibe (thanks to in part to co-writer PARTYNEXTDOOR and his Jamaican heritage) that helped pave the way for an all-reggae or Caribbean-inspired LP. Clearly the market is willing to embrace a dancehall ethos if she could take that single to No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 for 9 weeks.
This all sounds so much like the rumors that flew before ANTI dropped (remember the days of calling it R8?) in 2015, and came to fruition when we finally got to hear "Work." But, in actuality, Rihanna has mined her cultural heritage throughout her career, from her debut "Pon de Replay" to "Rude Boy" to "Man Down" to the hours and hours of reggae and dancehall remixes of her hits. Rihanna's going to explore her Caribbean roots, you say? No shit.
What's new here is that she may be working on two different albums at once, including an all-pop songs one. Smart money, though, should bet on her releasing one album with pop songs and dancehall, reggae, and Caribbean-influenced tracks. While ANTI was a fascinating departure for Rihanna – artistically beyond the scope of anything she'd done before (and widely misunderstood by critics upon its release) – the rumors around this new album(s?) sound precisely like the rumors that floated around ANTI.
So if R9 is going to be another musical wild card – exposing listeners to genres that have much in common with the popular song structure driving SoundCloud rap (sparse tracks, fast digital beats, and lyrics that sharply veer from social justice issues to sex to violence in the space of a few bars) – then bring it on. There are too few women exploring the spaces, just outside mainstream pop, that fascinate Rihanna. She proved with "Work" that she can bend the sound of pop and rhythmic formats to fit her artistic vision, rather than creating music to fit in to the existing soundscape. I look forward to her filleting the currently male-dominated charts once again. After all someone has to break Drake's new streaming record.