3 singles, 3 music videos, and almost three years of anticipation led to the moment of ANTI’s release. The rocky release came a little premature on Wednesday January 27 when some clumsy, most likely fired soul (or the less boring app error excuse) on Tidal decided to give listeners 20 minutes to listen to Rihanna’s eight studio album and save as many snippets as possible for anxious entertainment publications and a Navy that have predicted the dropping of ANTI for the last ten weeks. With crushed spirits after each week passed, new promotional tactics were added like the Samsung sponsored ANTIdiaRy where viewers could look into eight rooms that captured the previous eras of Rihanna’s music career. An interesting concept for stans who were basically out Rih’s blood with the push backed dates and lack of release information.
After the premature release of ANTI, Rihanna made the stream available to Tidal members and as a gift for everyone else who rather spend their dollars on Spotify and Apple Music gave away free downloads on her website. Now that the Rih drought is over and the world has calmed down after a couple days of Rihysteria and Kanye’s twitter fingers (Another very messy story) it feels like the perfect time to write about my thoughts on ANTI. When you’re an extremely small online music writer, being first when new things drop should be your goal so you can get more potential eyeballs on your site but it takes more than one listen to truly experience an album. When ANTI officially dropped I ended up listening to it twice before I went to bed. Three times during the next day and it finally became the soundtrack to my life when the weekend finally arrived.
You’ve already heard about Rihanna’s “dramatic” departure from EDM beats and calculated smash singles but I don’t think you’ve heard from people who really took some to time to dive into Rih’s hazy, smoke-filled dark paradise. ANTI isn’t for the TOP 40 radio stations and lit nights at the club with your squad. I’ve heard this album alone and with friends and too much vodka and I’ve come to the conclusion that this album is best experienced by yourself with all your emotions bottled up, ready to be poured out as you grab your bottle of choice and vibe out with the Queen of Digital Streams for an hour.
My reviews tend to only showcase the good things about an album especially when it feels like I’ve been waiting eons for it to be consumed by my ears so I’ll try to be extra critical for this one. So hit play on whatever streaming service or illegal download of ANTI you’re listening to and let’s get started:
Consideration (Featuring Sza):
With the large list of artists and producers that were rumored to be working on ANTI including Boi-1da, Kanye West, Timbland, No I.D., Natalia Kills (Teddy Sinclair), Sia, Calvin Harris and Grimes; SZA remained very under the radar and led to a nice surprise when I started the album. If TDE’s sole female artist SZA doesn’t ring any bells, I’d highly recommend getting familiar before the world figures out how dope, lyrical and soulful she is but landing a song with Rihanna might make that recommendation a little late. “Consideration” is a commanding introduction to the ANTI era as Rihanna announces, “I got to do things my own way darling / You should just let me / Why you will never let me grow?” The production from Kuk Harrell and Tyran Donaldson glitches and stomps as Rihanna lets us know that this album is for her personal growth and reflection, not the Billboard charts. SZA sounds amazing alongside Rihanna and while their collaboration was unexpected, it definitely has me wondering if the duo could make some more sweet music in the future.
This interlude that many hoped would be a full track dropped last year on April 21st and it’s just as calming as before. Rihanna isn’t secretive about her love for the green and I could imagine her lighting one up with hopes that her guy would make an appearance soon. The keyboard and arrangement of “James Joint” is very jazz inspired and that harmonica at the end is a nice musical touch to show the amount of detail that went into making sure these songs were produced at their peak.
Kiss It Better:
I’ve written about my excitement for “Kiss It Better” since everyone got a preview of an electric guitar being played to create the beat on an Instagram post so my hopes were high for this one. Rih definitely didn’t disappoint as she got a talented team (Jeff Bhasker, John Glass, Teddy Sinclair) together to create the 80s “Purple Rain” esque power ballad that is sexy yet urges someone to get their shit together and prove that they want to be in this relationship. I love how the electric guitar plays off the chill feel of the beat plus Rihanna’s deliver of this song never gets old with each repeated listen. “Kiss It Better” ended up being one of my favorite tracks on ANTI and the strongest single potential next to the following track featuring a frequent Canadian collaborator.
Work (Featuring Drake):
“Work” officially premiered on numerous iHeartradio stations on Wednesday January 27th and over 70 countries getting it to number one on the iTunes charts. I was one of the many early birds that woke up at 8 am to hear the track and at first listen it completely threw me off. With Justin Bieber currently ruling the charts with his island infused EDM music, some might overlook the many dancehall-type tracks Rihanna has dropped but “Work” has to be the strongest so far to showcase her reggage sound. The mid-tempo track isn’t deep in lyrical content but the song is made to make you want to wine on someone in the most packed club or house party. Drake makes his appearance toward the end and adds his smooth vocals for the island record. After a couple listens, I was hooked to “Work” and now the repetitive hook, “Work work work work work work” never leaves my head whenever I hear it.
Rihanna really sets the scene for “Desperado”. Whether it be a deserted wasteland or a late night in a dangerous city, I can picture Rihanna dealing with some not too friendly people as this song plays in the background. Mick Shultz, Kuk Harrell and James Fauntleory are behind the scenes bringing this dark song to life with minimal production and trembling drums. One of my favorite lines in ANTI comes from this song when Rihanna starts with, “Desperado / Sitting in a old Monte Carlo / A man whose heart is hollow.” Following that dangerous guy on the run comes with its own issues and Rih is prepared to be Bonnie to her Clyde on this one.
I wrote about a producer named Glass John ranting about Travis Scott’s involvement with ANTI a couple months back but Rih decided to keep the RODEO rapper on and it makes for a very trap sounding slow cut. “Woo” contains everything I love about Travis Scott and his mentor Kanye West’s darkest music from the distorted, trippy production to the way that Rih sing’s the track sounding like a female version of Scott. Rihanna can’t get over her ex on this one as she admits, “I’ve been thinking bout ya late night / I’ve been thinking on the yayo.” The Barbados tortured soul is just like the rest of us when we want someone that we know isn’t good for us or has moved on to someone new. Besides a couple songs in past records, I don’t think I’ve heard Rihanna willing to be so vulnerable about what she’s going through since her fourth album Rated R. On the next track Rih gets even deeper into her feelings as she realizes her self-worth.
DJ Mustard broke the mold and brought Rihanna something fresh to talk that talk on with “Needed Me”. On the slow burner Rih lets her ex know who needed to be with who at the end of the day, “But baby, don’t get it twisted / You was just another nigga on the hit list / Tryna fix your inner issues with a bad bitch / Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage? / Fuck ya white horse and ya carriage…” That pre-chorus has Rihanna dropping truth on a savage level making “Needed Me” the anthem for the scorn women who finally realize that being a savage can be better than being dumb in love at times. Can’t wait to see this one quoted on tweets and Instagram captions.
Yeah I Said It:
“Yeah I Said It” is one of the shorter songs off of ANTI but Rih manages to add enough heat and passion to keep the two minutes and 13 seconds very steamy. That “I want you to homicide it” line alone….I need to go take a cold shower.
Same Ol’ Mistakes:
“Same Ol’ Mistakes is basically a straightforward cover of Tame Imapla’s trance inducing “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” off their 2015 record Currents. I don’t think anything was changed in this song but it’s interesting to hear Rihanna on a psychedelic rock song like this. I wouldn’t mind hearing some original music from Rih in this lane.
Dido plays a huge role in this track with it sounding a lot like her 2000 hit “Thank You”. “Never Ending” is an extremely mellow sounding record and the Dido feel reminds me of being slightly depressed when I heard her song on the radio or being slightly disturbed by her haunting sample in Eminem’s “Stan”. And the chorus, “It’s pulling me apart / this time / Everything is never-ending / I slipped into a parallel they’ll never understand / This feeling always gets away / Wishing I could hold on longer / Why does it have to feel so strange to be in love again?” Love shouldn’t sound this sad Rih…
Love on the Brain:
People lost their mind when they heard “Love on the Brain” and to be honest it took a couple listens for me to understand the hype. Rihanna’s vocals have never sounded better and who’d expect to hear her in a 1950s doo-wop track but I think there are a ton of current artists who capture the sound of the past better. The abuse that Rihanna experienced while trying to hold on to her relationship with Chris Brown is highlighted in “Love on the Brain” and emotions hit deeper with the glimpse of the drama we were given. Overall this isn’t a song I go back to when I’m not listening to the album.
I lost my mind when I heard this one. Actually I pre lost my mind when I heard a teaser on Rih’s Instagram awhile back and that mind loss was completely warranted after hearing this song play out. Rihanna might live a life of luxury: smoking blunts with her BFF Melissa Forde on yachts and wearing designer brands with ease but she’s still a person with feelings who gets drunk from time to time and spills her unapologetic thoughts on whiskey. Hearing Rih confess, ” I know I could be more creative / And come up with poetic lines / But I’m turnt up off sizz’ and “I love you” / Is the only thing that’s in my mind” takes me and most likely anyone who’s been drunk with a cellphone at their convenience back to unfiltered honest texts we wish weren’t sent but the brain can’t make wise decisions all the time. I would love to hear Rihanna scream out her emotions in an even longer song but I’ll accept this two minutes of blackout poetry.
Close To You:
“Close To You” rounds out the standard edition of ANTI and Rihanna isn’t ready to stop her combination of emotional blows just yet. This piano ballad has Rih trying to hold on to a relationship that was probably at the end of the line for awhile. The lyrics are meaningful and the loss in Rihanna’s voice is definitely felt with lines like, “Nothing but a tear / that’s all for breakfast / Watching you pretend you’re unaffected.” I wouldn’t judge if you pulled out a tissue by now.
People who heard ANTI a couple days earlier were very disappointed in the lack of upbeat bops to twerk and get drunk in the club to. Where is the 2016 version of “We Found Love”? Where is the hype Rihanna that manages to give no fucks yet create perfect pop tracks with enough edge to separate her from her Dr. Luke obsessed pop peers? Fear not, Rih has your uptempo fix and they’re as wild as they come. The Florence Welch sampled “Goodnight Gotham” starts things off and I’m still very upset that this isn’t an actual song. Produced by Mitus and Kuk Harrell “Goodnight Gotham” is straight out of a dark fantasy and I wouldn’t mind this song being the soundtrack to my nightmare in the future. “Pose” is next and it has everything but the kitchen sink. The down right nasty production is perfect from the clubs and the lyrics lack in depth so they’re primed to be chanted at the top of a lot of drunk girls lungs. “Sex With Me” is easily my favorite track out of the bonus tracks. Rih holds nothing back on this sexy cut as she lets her man know what she has to offer, “You know I got the sauce (sauce) / you know I’m saucy / And it’s always wet/ a bitch never ever had to use lip gloss on it.”
So to wrap this long ass review up, Rihanna took a lot of risks but they paid off on this one. Was the campaign messy af? Definitely. Could there have been a couple more upbeat songs to please the Top 40 charts? If they made sense for the sound of the whole record, sure. But what if Rihanna rehashed old success, added an artsy album cover and called it good. My guess is that everyone would complain about hearing more of the same and how they expected something fresh from their Bad Gal.
Well you can’t please everyone and thankfully Rih did an album for herself. If you don’t want to accept the platinum status of an album downloaded a million times on a streaming service that everyone loves to hate or the fact that a mainstream artist as pop formulated as Rih can change up her sound and live up to expectations of being next level and different then pray that R9 is a return to form for her but I hope Rihanna continues to move past what’s expected.
I haven’t been this excited for an “unexpected” release since Drake topped charts with If You’re Reading This Then It’s Too Late or Beyoncé forever changing the world with her digital drop and I don’t want to go back to mainstream safety. Keep people pissed off and ready for the unexpected Rih, it makes the game a lot more exciting.
Score: 4/5 Blunts
Must Hear Tracks: “Kiss It Better”, “Desperado”, “Sex With Me”, “Higher”, “Needed Me”
What do you think of Rihanna’s latest record ANTI? Let me know in the comments!
Stream on Tidal: HERE
Buy on iTunes: HERE