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Rihanna – Rated R



Rihanna trots out her latest and greatest album with Rated R, a no-holds barred journey through the past eight months of the blessed and cursed Bajan pop singer’s tumultuous life.

Ri-Ri has never been one to avoid the spotlight. She grew up in the Caribbean with dreams of international fame and did well for herself with “Umbrella,” the most ubiquitous song of the last five years. But the spotlight’s hue changed one night in February 2009, when the lady missed her curtain call to perform at the Grammys. A dust-up with then-boyfriend and R&B star Chris Brown forced our heroine underground, as a frightening LAPD photo surfaced, sparking a frenzy of conjecture and concern. It appears as though the bruises raised that fateful evening ran quite deep, and now manifest as the meat of Rihanna’s new LP.

Rated R begins where Rihanna began her year, at the top of the charts,1 a literal “Madhouse” where thrills quickly turn to chills and reality is distorted by flash photography and limousine window tint. This ominous, buzzing intro comes from a production team out of London known as Chase & Status, and, along with two other offerings on the album, represents their most visible work to date — an eerie and substantive dive into the depths of Rated R.

Rihanna clearly senses how much her fans were craving what was expected to be her most personal work to-date when she fires the opening line in “Wait Your Turn”: “The wait is over, the wait is over.”2 Atmospheric remnants of C&S’ intro linger in this second track, but it isn’t long until melody’s sweet breath lifts it from a vaguely industrial, murky shuffle into a beautiful and hopeful place, yet one which the brooding album never quite reaches again.

One thing Rihanna’s listeners — who number roughly “27 million” by Ri-Ri’s count in song three, “Hard (feat. Jeezy)” — want, I think, is to know how she felt, and where she’s been this year. As an answer, there is no “Umbrella,” or “Shut Up and Drive” on Rated R. Looking for Jay-Z, and sunshine? Look somewhere else, Buddy. Rihanna has given us “Hard,” and Jeezy comes with her. The low end dominates, and Jeezy’s signature delivery and image shed no light on the dark and empowering anthem.

It is worth mentioning that Rihanna has her swagger on full display throughout Rated R. At first, I was having trouble dealing with it; I was listening for substance and melody, but got an earful about a Maybach, and claims as “the hottest bitch in heels” and “gangsta for life.” However, it becomes apparent these layers of go-to material goods and hip-hop braggadocio, “all black on, blacked out shades,” are what she uses to insulate herself from the issues and headlines awaiting her outside every door. It works for the album. Hey, at least she didn’t turn to emerald or taupe when things went south. Jay-Z has also been into black lately, but can I just go on the record and say that Black is my last name? Moving on…

We are treated to a breakup ballad next with “Stupid in Love.” I think Rihanna comes down easy on the antagonist as she sings, “I still love you but I just can’t do this.” But you know what? That’s just how life works.

“Rockstar 101″ pits Slash3 himself against production from The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart. Surprising, then, that the high point comes from a vocal: “So baby take me in / I’ll disobey the law / make sure you frisk me good / check my panties and my bra”. I do believe the girl’s finally gone bad … and I hope she travels with extra security these days.

“Russian Roulette,” the album’s first single, is next, and although precarious with its metaphor, may be the most powerful song on the album. “Fire Bomb” is a chuggy guitar ballad that I hope the youngsters don’t take too literally, either. “Rude Boy” offers Rihanna’s warmest address to the male sex. And let us be thankful that her tiff with Mr. Brown has not soured the gal completely on guys. Although she sings track 11 “Te Amo” from a male perspective. Or maybe a lesbian’s.

“Cold Case Love” is better than the forensic police show “Cold Case Files,” something my mom tries to make me watch when I visit. The song builds up for six minutes on the backs of The Y’s, a relatively new production team featuring Justin Timberlake at center, and borrows heavily from Timbaland’s signature “wet willy” style engineering technique.

I’d suggest sticking around for “The Last Song” out of respect. And Rihanna does deserve our respect for emerging from scandal so composed, with this album, and the promise of bigger and better things to come from the still only 21-year-old diva.


  1. "Live Your Life" was #1, "Rehab" was in there, too.
  2. Also notable is that the album's original title, "Such a Fucking Lady," is a lyric also found in "Wait Your Turn."
  3. From Slash's Snakepit, Guns N' Roses. More on Slash's Snakepit.

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