Finally! The moment in which many music fans have been waiting for quite some time has arrived. Barbadian singer/songwriter/model/entrepreneur/heartthrob Rihanna released her much anticipated eighth studio album as a surprise late last night (January 27th). We’ve seen this before with the likes of none other than the queen herself Beyoncé in the last weeks of 2013; as well as Drake early last spring. And, by the grace of God, we might see the same formula used with Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE follow-up. It’s crazy to think in just two short years surprise albums hardly even feel like surprises anymore. Fans have been yearning for Rihanna’s team to leak any kind of release date details practically since the beginning of 2013. But enough with all this hype talk. The album is here!
Taking a quick glance down Anti‘s tracklist, you’ll notice multiple key exclusions. Remember that one guitar-laced song RiRi did with two music legends? Not on this album. Or what about that patriotic ballad we heard playing during last year’s March Madness? Nowhere to be found. Okay, okay; but her club banger/collection agency anthem has to be on there… right? Nope, wrong again. ANTi only features new, never-before-heard music. Which, when you really sit down and think about it, deserves to be welcomed with open arms. I was slightly disappointed when “Bitch Better Have My Money” wasn’t on this album, but it most certainly isn’t the end of the world. Besides, if you or your music plug don’t have that song then y’all honestly might want to consider living under a rock to avoid any more social disappointment.
All jokes aside, this album serves as a breath of fresh air into an already stellar Pop career. Rihanna is known for her universal versatility and uptempo club jams. However, listening to Anti all the way through a few times made my brow crinkle. I’m used to hearing vibrant grooves like “We Found Love,” “Don’t Stop the Music,” and “What’s My Name?”. Instead, the bounciest track we receive is the Drake-assisted “Work” which also happens to be the album’s lead single. And possibly for the first time in her musical tenure, there’s only one radio-ready track. Of course, we are all accustomed to RiRi’s signature vocals and will love almost any song she puts out for public consumption. Despite that fact, many of the sonic themes on this album are trimmed down to their core, especially towards the back end.
Anti starts off edgy and moody, then transitions into a lighter, more colorful aesthetic. The meat of the album reveals the songstress returning to her gritty Rated R roots on consecutive tracks “Desperado,” “Woo,” and “Needed Me”. Rihanna has never been credited for being an innovative songwriter, but she at least has her hands in all but one of the tracks. The only song she didn’t write on is the Tame Impala cover “Same Ol’ Mistakes”. This song was an odd addition in my eyes seeing as the original came out a little over six months ago. Regardless, the near-seven-minute psych-rock track seemed to inspire Rihanna enough to feature it on arguably the most anticipated album of 2016 (it’s basically a toss-up between her, Kanye, and Frank).
The most interesting aspect about Anti is the absence of previously frequent collaborators such as Dr. Luke, David Guetta, and StarGate. She did keep The-Dream, No I.D., and Hit-Boy around this time along with some new writers; most notably James Fauntleroy, Jeff Bhasker, Travi$ Scott, and The Weeknd. There are no high-speed, dance-inducing smash singles. It’s weird. Essentially, based on all prior Rihanna albums, this album makes no sense. There is not any consistent thesis or musical style throughout this album. In spite of RiRi’s aforementioned versatility, this album feels somewhat ditzy. It ranges from fun to individualistic to painfully honest. The minimalist production direction heard in the last three or four tracks divulges the influence Kanye West had in the making of this project. He brought his Yeezus mentality to the forefront of Pop music and threw a satisfactory monkey wrench into the recycling machine that mainstream Pop has become.
In such a demanding genre like mainstream Pop, fans typically want grand, never-ending releases of catchy singles and, in that sense, this album does not deliver. Conversely, where I find that Anti shines is in its title. It isn’t supposed to be predictable or run-of-the-mill whatsoever. It is intended to shake up our definition of the Barbadian’s artistry. It is meant to be anti-Pop, anti-industry, and, to a lesser degree, anti-“Rihanna”.