REVIEW: Rihanna – Anti
The road to Rihanna’s 8th studio album has been extensive and baffling, but we’re finally here. Every release date rumor and any sliver of a possible album announcement throughout the three year break was a big news story until said speculation fizzled into nothing but unconfirmed noise. However, she was still a mainstay in popular culture without even croaking a note; gracing numerous magazine covers, starring in an animated flick, and racking up likes and followers on her ever popular Instagram account which tide us over for all things Rihanna until she felt the need to go back into a recording booth.
She returned to music with “FourFiveSeconds” in January 2015, and the songs that followed came months apart. “Bitch Better Have My Money” was fun for a minute; “American Oxygen” was boring to say the least. (Those three songs of the “Kanye as Executive Producer”-era are noticeably off the finished product). The official rollout finally began in the fourth quarter with the head scratching ANTIDiary series she did in partnership with Samsung. What was intriguing for the first two rooms, turned into “just shout me when she gets to the last room so I could know when its out.”
The disarray surrounding the project continued up until last week, when hours after the album’s lead single “Work” was premiered in the morning, the album leaked that same night after it was available to the public earlier than scheduled on TIDAL. The big build-up had all but crumbled into a weak whimper – and resulted in a quick release the following Thursday instead of the global release date of Friday.
System errors aside, at least we finally got the album. And what an album it is. The artistic vision of the project is void of the confusing marketing strategy that surrounded it. It is the most cohesive Rihanna project to date.
With Anti, the “pop” Fenty that one might have expected is no more. (Hence the name). There is no big single designed to climb the charts to herald its release. There is less filler and more substance – no reinterpretations of shop floor toplines to throw against the wall and hope they stick. Her vocals, a main point of criticism throughout her career, have drastically improved – going from futile attempts to outsing her peers to a comforting raspy delivery that draws you in.
“I’ve got to do things my own way darling,” she boasts on Scum’s boom-bap production for the opener “Consideration” – succinctly harmonizing with SZA’s warpy trills on the hook. Anti’s production is multifaceted but it is not a jumbled mess sonically.
It represents the difference sides of Rihanna, going from the pompous and playful Bad Gal, to the soft and quaint Robyn Fenty. She teases and plays hard to get on the rock ballad “Kiss it Better” and on the lead single “Work” – “Don’t give that away to no one” coos an imploring Drake.
The defiant persona continues on “Desperado” (a better Old West-themed song Willard Smith ever made in his life.) and “ Woo” – where she disrupts a happy home. She flexes her prowess over DJ Mustard’s mid-tempo Trap & B production for “Needed Me”. Boldly stating, “Didn’t he tell you that I was savage? / Fuck yo white horse and a carriage”, as she affirms her place as an Alpha to some sorry sap.
As the album progresses the tough exterior is stripped away, much like the production. Over sultry cuts like “Yeah I Said It”, the future karaoke staple “Love On the Brain”, and the pining at 4am drunk text/call anthem “Higher”, she uses the sparse backdrops and her refined delivery to evince the vulnerability she was shunning in the beginning. The addition of “Same Ol’ Love”, her hazy cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes”, seems like a weird addition, but it fits the album’s narrative to a “T”.
Though she may lose some people who enjoy the bright-Pop Robyn if she continues to go forward in this direction, Anti is Rihanna turning down the lights as she matures as an artist – delivering her most intimate, competent and complete project for her decade-long career so far.
Hard Tune: “Kiss It Better”,”Needed Me”,”Same Ol’ Mistakes”,”Love On The Brain”
246Mixtapes Rating: 4.5/5
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.