Release Date: Jan 28, 2016
Record label: Roc Nation
The first thing you should know about Anti is that Rihanna cares deeply about your opinion of it. Given the album’s patent lack of bangers, the way it’s been thrust out into the world as a Tidal exclusive and the 'Unapologetic' singer’s own confrontational public demeanour, it’s easy enough to think otherwise. Still, you’d be wrong. Anti is a classic example of what I’ll call the ‘popstar pivot’, like when Madonna made Erotica or Robyn Thicke dedicated an album of groaning ballads to his soon to be ex-wife.
Anti existed as an album cycle before it existed as an album -- arguably long before Rihanna knew what form her eighth album would take, either. Work on Anti began in the autumn of 2014 and proceeded in semi-public, progress being measured in Instagram posts and tweets, along with intermittent singles, each released to white-hot anticipation but none metamorphosing into massive hits. When Anti finally appeared in January 2016 -- three years after Unapologetic and months later than expected -- it bore none of these 2015 singles, a move that suggests a tacit acknowledgment that neither the curiously muted Kanye West and Paul McCartney collaboration "FourFiveSeconds" nor the unrestrained roar of "Bitch Better Have My Money" functioned as appropriate anchors for the album.
For much of 2015, repeated delays and a lack of solid information started to make Rihanna's Anti feel like pop's mythical creature. Now that we know it's real, we can hear the singer's eighth LP for what it is: a sprawling masterpiece of psychedelic soul that's far more straightforward than its tangled rollout. The three full years since 2012's Unapologetic – the longest break between releases in Rihanna's career – turned out to be exactly what she needed to make a rich full-length statement.
While the sentiments of Rihanna's eighth studio album are multiple, and sometimes contradictory, the overarching theme is one of agency: the unilateral power to choose, to define, to determine. This downtempo, deterministic slant is the most intriguing aspect of ANTI — her first LP since 2012 — as it stiff-arms conformity, dabbles in nihilism and fuels itself by way of mood-shifting empowerment.It's an R&B record — unmistakably so across these 13 tracks —imperfectly perfect in many aspects but held together by Rihanna's charisma, eff-you attitude and sensuality. She's rawer than Beyoncé, hands down, but more refined than her younger contemporaries.
Even though it was released just hours before Anti leaked online, Rihanna's first single, Work, was a solid harbinger for the entire album. Not because of how it sounds: the 90s-evoking, dancehall-infused track, produced by Toronto's Boi-1da and featuring Drake, with its charmingly repetitive hook – at once throwaway and effective – is unique from the rest of the record. But, rather, in the way that it doesn't sound remotely like a first single.
When Deities tell us to “Kiss it Better,” we go wild and believe that we can — because we can; because we breath in, breath out; because we sweat for a nickel and a dime; because we turn the kiss into an empire. When the Deity is washed in the labor-sweat cyst-ing underneath the lids of America’s wild-eyes, it fails, falls; the Deity’s experimentation with the savagery of our cracked-asphalt condition is a gilded worm poisoning bottles of neon Mezcal. When a steamy, Barbadian voice carries with it its own weather — its own climate — it tragically pours acid rain onto a mutating earth.
Part of Rihanna’s appeal is aspirational: survey the photographic evidence, and she seems to spend a pretty good chunk of her time wearing jewelry on yachts, smoking terrifically robust marijuana cigarettes, and making goofball faces at jokers trying to stealth-snap pics of her as she parties deep into the night. Yet somehow, those hijinks don’t lessen her seriousness; they merely amplify it. Rihanna’s sureness regarding her presence in the world—in the work that she’s made, in the ways in which she has earned the right to palm a cocktail and chill on a beach—is bold and motivating, like Actual Confidence always is.
What the hell happened with Anti? Rihanna’s eighth album has been in the works for a couple of years, and anticipation began to skyrocket just around a year ago as she started releasing singles. There was the acoustic campfire sing-along that brought together Kanye West with a Beatle, the snoozing ballad that sounded like a reject from Empire, and a raucous powerhouse with a memorable video of Rih covered in blood while murdering her accountant. None of those singles are here.
2015 proved to be a shaky year in the Rihanna promotional vehicle, at least musically. While the Bajan artist was busy inking deals with brands like Puma and her own cosmetics venture Fenty Beauty, her music was arguably suffering. Prior to then, Rihanna was averaging an album a year until 2012 when her career hit its financial pinnacle, as Forbes began clocking her coins, which averaged in the fifty millions.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There comes a time when rather than continuing to aspire to be the thing you've worked towards being, you realize you already are. Without effort, it's you. For Robyn Fenty, that's ANTI – the nonsensically long-awaited eighth studio album that vividly and quite vulnerably, encapsulates the sensations and flaws behind the most fascinating pop star in the world.
“F**k me up,” the world screams at the godhead Rihanna, but the Rih Most High has decided to make us wait. We might have expected the swerve encapsulated in the introverted ANTI, an album with only one song (“Work”) that you could play at the club unremixed, a collection that seems executive-produced not by Rihanna but by a metric ton of weed. Gone is the glossy workaholic who released seven albums in eight years; emerging is an artist doubling down on the capriciousness that’s central to her allure.
The launch of Rihanna’s eighth studio album was so obviously, resoundingly botched that you kept imaging her mentor Jay Z running around the offices of his streaming service Tidal shouting, “Don’t panic! Don’t panic!” like Clive Dunn in Dad’s Army. After months of careful preparation, involving a mobile-only website that transmitted cryptic messages and the unveiling of the artwork in an LA gallery, Anti mistakenly appeared on Tidal on Wednesday afternoon, was promptly bootlegged, then hastily shunted out as a free download. It’s tempting to say the confused launch somehow fits with Anti itself, which even the most vociferous Rihanna fan might be forced to concede is quite a confused-sounding album: a Coldplayish acoustic ballad called Never Ending rubs shoulders with wilfully soupy, experimental R&B; psychedelia breathes the same air as a wafty interlude that sounds like a luscious two-step soul number deprived of its bubbling rhythm track and a peculiar combination of Auto-Tuned vocals and 80s AOR guitar – courtesy of Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt – turns up alongside a pastiche of old-fashioned Muscle Shoals soul.
“I got to do things my own way, darling/Will you ever let me?/Will you ever respect me?” Rihanna asks in her native Barbadian patois on “Consideration,” the opening track of Anti. To say that the album, her first in over three years, has had a contentious road to release is an understatement, with reports of false starts and, eventually, the promotion of three singles that, though moderately successfully, failed to resonate with fans or critics the way her past hits have. And without missing a beat, Rihanna provides a pointed, unapologetic rejoinder to the rhetorical questions posed in the song's lyrics: “No.
Given the delays, rumours, and absurdist levels of cross-platform marketing the 27-year-old star’s people have been engaged in for the past several months, Rihanna’s eighth album, Anti, was always likely to be something of an anticlimax. Allegedly released for free after it was accidentally leaked on Wednesday, Anti has been heralded for months by coy videos with lavish production values. This collection of 13 songs, however, draws back from the haunted rococo conceptualising of the teasers and offers up a product curiously divorced from its marketing; a star apparently chucking a wooden clog into the song machine.
It’s been a strange year for Rihanna. After releasing seven smash albums from 2005 to 2012 and dominating the pop singles chart during that entire span, 2015 arrived with still no confirmation of a new album. At that point it was already the longest gap between studio albums in her career. Although she did score another #1 single thanks to her appearance with Kanye West and Paul McCartney on “FourFiveSeconds”, the two solo singles she released in March and April made practically zero impact.
Even before the public heard a single note of music, Anti was already one of the most intriguing musical releases of 2016. After putting out a new record almost every year since her 2005 debut Music Of The Sun, Rihanna took a break following 2012’s Unapologetic. She maintained a degree of omnipresence through a variety of guest features, stopgap singles, and her own outsized celebrity, but the thirst for a full-length release grew to unwieldy levels.
You can’t name your album “Anti” without inviting your audience to think about what you oppose. So what is Rihanna standing against on her eighth studio record? A smoothly choreographed product rollout, for one. This is a modal window. After repeated delays, “Anti” finally appeared online Wednesday night, first in an apparently unauthorized leak, then as an exclusive on the streaming service Tidal; Samsung also gave away a limited number of free downloads through a complicated promotion.
FOR THE FIRST TIME in her titanic pop career, Rihanna has made us wait for it. Take a moment to consider Rihanna’s past decade of dominance: she released seven—count em, seven—studio albums in eight years. Since we couldn’t go five minutes without hearing her swaggeringly guttural croon on the radio, we took her for granted. We didn’t know how good we had it.
Rihanna’s Anti, with its nonchalant release, nihilistic bloodstained cover and jagged sound is clearly a rejection of something, most obviously her taking another swing at the already crumbled remains of her pristine pop icon image, but also to a lesser degree the intrusiveness of the media and even the music industry as a whole. Rihanna is still shedding some of her “Don’t Stop the Music” skin, which makes Anti a fascinating, if a bit rocky, portrait of a supreme pop talent on the possible precipice of a bold career turn. The statement making starts early, as trickling bass and fuzzy staccato drums are the first sounds on the record, indicating that the bubblegum gloss will be kept to a minimum.
Hang up those dancing shoes and pull out those headphones: On her eighth album, “Anti,” Rihanna abandons the dance-floor in favor of a late-night, post-club vibe session. When the long-gestating 13-track collection was apparently accidentally leaked on Wednesday, after months of buzz-building by the Barbadian performer, the streaming service Tidal made the entire album available, and fans got a sense of at least one reading of the title. (Rihanna is signed to the label and management company of Tidal principal Jay Z.
‘Anti’ is the sort of album that, if you keep listening, will shift favourite tracks and keep revealing new charms. It’s not quite the revelatory departure we might have hoped for, and has the rich but unfocused feel of something worked on perhaps too long with obsessive fervour, but it’s also subtle and interesting; an intriguing soundtrack to an era of change. .
There are vocal powerhouse pop stars, who dominate with the sheer magnitude of their gift; kaleidoscopically vivid pop stars, who dazzle with enthusiasm and energy; diligent pop stars, who chip away at success until they strike oil; cheeky pop stars, who understand the absurdity of the situation but manage to convincingly stay the course. And there is Rihanna, who is not quite any of these things. That deficit has not proved to be much of an obstacle.