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“You Might Not Have Heard but Rihanna ‘Quit Music’ This Summer”

According to web24.news, Rihanna has officially “quit music,” the reasons for which can be plurally collected as regarding lack of inspiration and artistic impetus. Rihanna (which I tenuously pronounce REE-ann-uh) is a widely known Barbadian pop diva whose certain songs you had to have heard by now, even if you haven’t discussed or even encountered the name. 

I mention that she’s Barbadian and this is sort of superficially important in a sense because she APPEARS black, to the eye. Along these lines, also, for being wedged within the “pop” world, she takes an especial absorption of hip-hop elements in her musical masquerades. In this way, I think, she wields an increased ability to be an icon for young black girls to, say, Taylor Swift, at the risk of sounding prejudiced or simplistic. 

Also, if you follow the Facebook thread of Def Jam, the first hip-hop record label, you’re likely to see some pretty steamy photos of Rihanna, some of which once prompted me to comment that “Rihanna is definitely not for the children.” All of this adds up, toward my overall point, to some serious “whip appeal” [1]. And though I think in this day and age it’s harder than ever to name who the true “king of pop” is, or whatever [2] [3], and though I haven’t really gotten into a musical analysis of her at all yet, I’m hoping that the picture I’m painting of her should pretty much obviate that she’s “on top of the world” or “the person to beat” on the top of the pop mountain. The fact that she’s so ubiquitous and inescapable despite not having put out an album since 2016 should dictate as much. Yeah, she’s not even part of Donald Trump’s America. That’s pretty cool, you’ve gotta admit.

But I think we were all still so engrossed in her music, her beauty and her general vibe that we for the most part didn’t even NOTICE she hadn’t put out anything new in four years, to where this 2020 announcement of her cessation of recording and performing comes across as timely, rather than late or anticlimactic. This would of course, then, lend itself to the manifest tragedy of the icon calling it quits. Indeed, with our listening mechanisms so fractal and schizophrenic within this current era [4], and what with the incredible sheer population of different artists making recording these days, it’s very easy to overlook someone like Rihanna, or take her for granted. And it’s impossible not to imagine that some of her inkling to retire didn’t have to do with inadequate exposure to the public. To make matters worse, she got snubbed of a Grammy at the 59th proceedings, at least in my opinion, certainly in the “Best Album” category if nothing else, in which she wasn’t even nominated at all. That is, there’s such a thing as propagating an artist in a positive way in the sense of just playing his or her songs, but there’s another kind of publicizing too that’s qualitative — doling awards, framing the artist’s merits and accomplishments within some sort of official rhetorical discussion (perhaps we’re just low on these laudatory realms in America) and just generally acknowledging that an artist has successfully grafted out a niche both in the industry and in our hearts, which I believe that Rihanna truly did.

And sure, Rihanna’s not ENTIRELY beyond the retro. This is undeniably the pervasive plague typically applicable to pop music in the last 20 years. Amy Winehouse, in particular, I found to have created music that could have well materialized in the 1970s and not come across as overly futuristic. “Hello” by Adele, which obliterated the competition at the Grammys, is basically an Elton John song, more or less. 

And “Love on the Brain” is, yeah, kinda retro — although it’s also just undeniably an example of DOING IT BETTER than anyone else in history, which you could perhaps also apply to Adele (though I think Rihanna bests Adele in the department of consistency of lyrics as well). But if Rihanna didn’t truly UPDATE music the way, say Michael Jackson might have, with his fusion of Motown themes and disco beats, or (sorry) Aqua with their intensely satiric and therefore postmodern “Barbie Girl” effort [5], I’d say she came closer than anybody else in 2010’s pop did, at least.

Last decade seemed to officially usher in, anyway, the default strategy of just surrounding yourself with an ARMY of producers. And by and large, the strategy has worked pretty effectively, as Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly tends to play as an eclectic wilderness of fresh beats and inspired rhymes, and Rihanna’s Anti from 2016, her last LP and last recording of any kind, similarly stays fresh all the way through. Of course, you could argue that you don’t need a producer to unleash such a stunning, blood-chilling vocal performance as “Love on the Brain,” on which Rihanna basically just hauls back and wails like an updated Bessie Smith or Aretha Frankling.

“Work,” featuring Drake, is a different story. Somehow funky while also being spare and spooky, this is a song that, with the vibe of hip-hop supporting some classic and undeniably awesome pop vocals, actually constructs something of a case for “originality.” Now, I know that putting a sort of rap beat under melodic singing has been pretty much par for the course in mainstream music for at very least 10 years. But “Work” just SEEMS more purposeful, distinct and meaningful — it’s like this apparently simplistic, simply amalgamative strategy has been taken and twisted into the form of a human being, one who’s frustrated before the capitalistic malady of “work” which has apparently befallen her, hindering her ability to express her heart and true spirits.

And I’m sorry but this girl just has such a BEAUTIFUL voice that it would really be a shame to see it go to waste. The sad fact is, though, that for many creatives, including Talib Kweli and even non-musical bastions like J.D. Salinger, the “lack-of-inspiration” snag has reared its ugly head with troubling frequency. In specific, on the momentum of a litany of Patreon releases and gossip about a full new album, Talib Kweli (another vital black artist, sadly enough) also cut bait from recording on grounds of what he referred to as “culture vultures,” which would presumably amount to persons more concerned with profiting off of an artist’s creation than with manifesting and nurturing an overall human conversation and free-expression realm, which of course is something of which all ingenuous music should be a catalyst. 

Look, I’m no Rihanna expert. I don’t know which producer did what on “Work,” I find “Needed Me” listenable but not excellent, “Love on the Brain” gorgeous but kind of retro, and I haven’t really listened to her other stuff that much. “Diamonds” I think is a pretty good song but I could do without that weird crackhead voice that keeps saying “Shine bright like a diamond”. And maybe there was a time when she was overly prolific, just shoveling loads and loads of new music on us in an era when new music seems possessive of less significance than it ever has in history. But I can honestly say this about Rihanna: I like her more every time I listen to her. She’s got a level of CHARACTER that reminds me a little of En Vogue — it’s like there’s a tactile level of a certain kind of inspiration that almost seems like LOVE for her subject matter that goes into her projects. Of course, it’s only natural that such a depth of muse would have a finite reservoir to draw from. So I guess this blog post is just designed to recognize this particular case as such, you might say. 

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[1] I was a little bit tempted to look up this term on Urban Dictionary or something but I’d obviously feel like a huge douche bag doing that and I’m a firm believer in discerning meanings of words from their contexts. I mean, yeah, Rihanna is like Flo in “Butter” by A Tribe Called Quest and the entity of money itself in Biggie’s “Ready to Die.”

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[2] I know it sounds stupid but I mean think about it — back in the ’80s and ’90s there was a little more continuity about these things and you weren’t just destined for irrelevance two weeks after the genesis of your fame, like say, Nicki Minaj and that chick who did “Dirty Computer.” Michael Jackson enjoyed at least a solid decade of being the authority on pop and I remember one week in ’92 when Whitney Houston had three singles in the top 10 at one time. It wasn’t just like you sang one song and took off all your clothes.

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[3] I realize you could make a case for Taylor Swift exercising supreme dominance over the pop world and while I do think she has some personality and isn’t entirely without artistic merit, I’m tempted to still go back to how Rihanna is essentially a wholesome, venerable “black icon” in America, which is something this country virulently needs at this time, as well as her career trajectory having the ingenuousness to not have begun in country toward a sidelong stab at rap-pop.

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[4] What I mean by this is that there’s no one, dominant source of current music to look to, the way radio was in the early-’90s and MTV was during the rest of that decade.

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[5] Of course, this might have marked the ostensible end of music as after this things certainly took a turn for the vulgar with The Bloodhound Gang, Peaches and Nelly taking over. 

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