Rihanna: the ANTI experience

More than a month after Rihanna’s latest album, Anti, was released and two weeks since it hit number 1 on the Billboard charts, there are still people who have held off listening to the whole record (past the wildly popular Work, that is). And to be perfectly honest, I don’t blame them. Anti‘s release was messy, to say the least, and it was perhaps in an attempt to regain some dignity and semblance to professionalism that Riri released Anti exclusively to two premium streaming services: Apple Music (8 million users) and Jay Z’s (flopped) “fair to artists” platform, Tidal (>1 million users). This confused and pissed off many fans, as Rihanna had been promising the release of Anti to her increasingly restless supporters for months, so when Rihanna only made it available to such a small percentage of listeners (even if it was only for a week or two), and especially as messily as she did, it’s not such a surprise that it didn’t immediately turn out to be her biggest success.

That being said however, the actual music that Anti yields is some of Rihanna’s best in my opinion: for the most part, it’s fresh, original, and unlike anything she’s ever given us before, yet it’s still undeniably Rihanna. I was lucky enough to get home on Friday the 29th of January, launch Apple Music and almost see the actual hands of God reach down and place Anti right there in front of me, after waiting for so long. Within seconds, I’d pressed play and I sat there for the whole 43 minutes at my computer, feeling blessed and immersing myself in this experience of the album, and I encourage everyone to do the same. But as not everyone has the time (or the funds, smh @badgalriri – although since it’s initial release it’s been put up on Spotify for free), at least choose which in particular you’d like to listen to; below are quick descriptions of each of Anti‘s 16 tracks to help your decision.

It’s important to note that although the accreditations leave it unclear, it’s unlikely that Rihanna had much involvement in the actual writing process of any of the songs on Anti. However, from accounts given by some of the artists that wrote tracks for the album, and even from those who had songs that weren’t chosen, Rihanna was firm in her idea of the kind of sound she wanted for the Anti, choosing what songs went on, turning away tracks she didn’t connect with, and ultimately, she made them all her own with her distinct voice and style. Anti is a brilliant piece of work –  ★★★★

TL;DR, if you can’t be bothered listening to them all, I recommend Consideration (feat. SZA)Work (feat. Drake)Needed MeYeah I Said ItSex With Me.

Consideration (feat. SZA)

The first track on the record is one of my favourites because it’s nothing like anything Rihanna’s done before. Rihanna, born and raised on reggae in Barbados, unleashes her Caribbean influence in this track with heavy ska and dancehouse influences. The scratchy, haltingly laid-back beat gives over to Rihanna leaning into a few phrases, and begins a very common pattern throughout Anti, whereby no once can really understand what she’s talking about, but it’s something about being an assertive boss bitch and coming in on a pale white horse (??). The tone builds to a new height of smooth confidence and bluntness, both lyrically and musically. It’s then perfectly clear why Rihanna had SZA on this track, her voice perfectly suited for this trap-reggae fusion. The song is casually powerful, subtly dangerous, and a perfect opener for the album, perfectly spoken by Rihanna, “I got to do things my own way, darlin’”. 2:41

James Joint

The first words of this track are “I’d rather be smoking weed”, so it’s not at all difficult to figure out what the song is about. Rihanna had planned to have this be the teaser track for Anti, back when everyone still had faith that she would release the album in 2015 lol. She apparently intended to put out James Joint on the the 20th of April (4/20) for obvious reasons but it seems she may have been celebrating a bit hard, because the song was released a day late #woops. The whole track only lasts just over a minute, though it’s definitely small but perfectly formed. The song itself has a dreamy, hazy vaporware feel to it (undoubtedly a representation of the substance it tributes), old-school synth basses, strings, and futurefunk electronic vibraphone, with Rihanna breathily harmonising with herself about her drug-based relationship with a boy, which sounds as though it may have ended with prison, but it’s ambiguous. 1:12

Kiss It Better

Many fans are crying out for this song to be released as a single, which isn’t hard to understand. This track is another on Anti that is quite unlike anything Rihanna’s done before, and quite unlike many people have done for a long time. The song is like 70s rock meets the 21st century trap hi-hat, with garage-style electric guitar and short girly hook related throughout the song, yet all set over modern beats and accompaniment. The electric guitar flows smoothly into the verses which are definitely more modern, with deep bass synthesisers and more electric beats, which move with the vocals to build up into the pre-chorus, the ending of which again has a very old-school cutting out of background leaving just Rihanna’s voice, before the chorus comes in which brings back the 70s rock vibe. This particular song is one of the most emotional on the album, one with a very strong “pissed off but can’t be bothered to care” feeling to it, represented in the slow but trippy beat, as well as the lyrics. “Man fuck your pride”has become a popular line to quote from this song, and a line that pretty much perfectly summarises the track. 4:13

Work (feat. Drake)

If you’ve been aware of what’s trending in music lately, or if you follow me on snapchat (@domlzz 😉), there is a 100% chance that you have heard this song. The hypnotic hook and minimalist beat have taken the world by storm – the song featured at least twice a day every day on my snap story for a week after its release as the (real) leading single on February 27, the day before the rest of the album was unleashed. Apart from being at times unnervingly catchy (the song once popped up in a dream I had), one thing this song is known for is that trend I mentioned before that Riri begins in Consideration, that being that no one can really understand what the hell Rihanna is saying. Another track where Ri showcases her Caribbean heritage, she seems almost to emphasise her Barbadian accent, which coupled with some sultrily careless diction, means that most of what Rihanna says in this song goes completely over most listeners’ heads (work work work work work assimidumi wur wur wur wur wur befaddasumi dur dur dur dur dur dur). This apparently does not take away from the song’s popularity, which can only have been boosted by the featuring Drake for the bridge; Drizzy’s smooth vocals blend seamlessly into the track for a sweet interim between hooks. The finishing touch for this song is the sneaky inclusion of Caribbean steel drums, if you can hear them. 3:39

Other Songs

Woo – By far the the roughest track the album, Woo immediately opens with some grimy guitars, shortly followed by the introduction of a languid electronic beat, and the motif which gives the song it’s name, an auto-tuned snippet of likely Rihanna saying “woo”. The bass is deep and ripping and the track is sensational over headphones. The song discusses jealousy and resentment over an ex’s new girl, with Rihanna basically saying that she could never do anything as well as Ri had, but unlike most “your-new-girlfriend-sucks-compared-to-me” songs, which are falsely sweet and usually quite frankly annoying (see Meghan Trainor), this track doesn’t bother with sounding at all charming or gentle, but instead is what could be a much more honest expression of the feelings felt in such a situation. Rihanna makes it sound likes she’s about to go on a rampage – the track is threatening and rugged. If you need a quick confidence boost listen to this song and feel powerful. 3:56

Needed Me – This track opens with a bubbly electronic intro which carries on into the verse; Rihanna’s croaky tone slides into the song accompanied by a resonant beat. The vocal line contrasts between quickly-spoken passages and more languid, almost blunt-sounding phrases. The vocal part jumps around Rihanna’s range and rises and falls dynamically, as it leads up to the chorus. The hook, which comes around for the first time as the first line of the chorus, is cascading phrase from Ri dripping over rough synths and beats which build up for the chorus – the melody is one of the best on the album, regardless of just how simple it is. The production of this particular track pays tribute to the post-Flume type of distorted high-pitched sampling over fluttering, deep grinding bass notes. I happen to be a huge fan of Flume (another Australian artist), and this track is one of my favourites, partly because of how much it reminds me of his producing. Furthermore, the track moves steadily throughout its duration, each line being built upon, no phrase sounding exactly like any other in the track, despite its airy, languid production which stays constant for the whole track. The song also sounds like what I am expecting much of Zayn’s upcoming album to sound like, with its blurry backing tracks and almost piercing sampling of vocals from within the track. 3:12

Yeah, I Said It – This is one of my favourite tracks on the album. Rihanna provides a cool, reserved sound with some tight harmonies and inter-weaving vocal interjections, a mesmerising hazy electronic bass playing consistently throughout the track’s duration. The sound is combined with some minimalist beats, which are present enough to give structure an advantage point, but which are cut back enough to leave the sound languid and smooth. A piano occasionally provides a chime-like decision, and halfway through the track, Rihanna becomes breathier, helping to create a sort of ethereal sound. Rihanna manages to keep this track sounding simple, minimalist, and smooth, despite a relatively dense texture, and the sound only becomes more complex and layered as the song progresses. This track would be perfect to listen on the kind of summer nights where the heat of the day still lingers in a haze, being blown over fields by a gentle wind – you can almost feel a warmth in this track and the hazy sound like wind sweeping grasses. 2:13

Same Ol’ Mistakes – aka ‘Stranger in Moscow’. This track is a straight up cover of the Australian band Tame Impala’s number by a similar title, New Person, Same Ol’ Mistakes, although if you like the original, you may not necessarily like Ri’s version. I heard her cover before I heard the original, and I was shocked by just how similar the two versions are: the only thing that changes between the two is the vocals – Rihanna instead of Kevin Parker. The two are pretty much exactly the same, which is why some people don’t like Rihanna’s version, taking the opinion that if you can have Tame Impala’s original song, why would you listen to Rihanna’s cover? Fair enough, especially if you’re more into Tame Impala than Rihanna anyway, but personally, after listening to both versions, while the original is undoubtedly better, I think Riri did a great job (Tame Impala agrees), her voice works well and you could even see this as a gateway into liking Rihanna if you previously weren’t a fan. 6:37

Never Ending – This track has a strongly folky feel to it. it opens with Rihanna softly signing over an acoustic guitar pattern. The verse has a melancholy vibe to it, thought the tone picks up during the chorus. The overall sound of the track is the most minimalist on the album, with a strongly homophonic progression, and a texture that becomes denser as the song goes on, but which does not reach the density of any of the other more electronic tracks. This, along with Love on the Brain are the two songs on Anti that stand out the most from the rest in terms of genre, this one in particular, as it’s merely Rihanna singing with harmonies and a simple guitar accompaniment, but the effect is refreshing amongst so many other rougher electronic tracks on the record – this track proves a respite from the very imposing sound on the rest of the tracks, and lets a listener sit back and appreciate the vocal talent of Rihanna without the support of a heavily produced electronic beat. 3:23

Love on the Brain – This is another of my favourites of the record, however not for the reason that I favour some others. Unlike tracks like Consideration and Needed Me, Love On The Brain isn’t something we’ve never heard before. In fact, I don’t think Adele would be out of place singing for it (crossing my fingers for a Live Lounge cover). My mum actually quite dislikes this track because as she said, “it could be anyone’s song, it’s not at all original”. I personally don’t mind at all, and one of the reasons I like this song is that, even though it’s not anything new in the world of music, it’s definitely unlike anything Rihanna herself has done before. It’s a throwback to the ballads that made her famous, but it has the kind of blues-y 80s rock feel that artists like Duffy brought into the 21st century, with rich instrumentation and a broad range of vocal techniques used. 3:44

Higher – Another slow-moving ballad, this one has a distorted violin fiddling in the background, with probably the most challenging vocal part of any track on the album. Rihanna is so close to being out of her range, yet still manages to keep her composure, revealing herself to be more vulnerable in this track, pushing herself to her limit leaving herself exposed to mistakes, which is what makes this song so tender, despite it having a quite raunchy, messy sound to it. The genuine sound of Rihanna straining her voice somehow is made to sound melodic and deliberate when out against a shaky-sounding violin part. 2:01

Close To You – This is another track that stands out from the rest on Anti. A classic piano/voice ballad, with Rihanna twirling around every word she sings. The piano moves gently, and the chorus only differs from the verses in that Rihanna moves up in her range, but even this is only slight, and overall, with the tasteful harmonies, piano, bass, and violin interjections, this song remains simple and emotional without being over the top and cheesy. This being said, however, the sound does sound very familiar, and this track in certainly not one of the riskier, more outlandish that I prefer on Anti. 3:58

Goodnight Gotham – This track is a quick interlude. The sing works around a central vocal snippet that has been cut up and pieced together again over some deep bass notes and edgy, jumpy kits beats and hollow-sounding percussion, creating an echoey, almost oceanic sound, with electronic trills scattered here and there. The track progresses a great deal in its short duration, and is an interesting piece of electronic sound manipulation. 1:28

Pose – A heavily electronic, rather aloof, disjointed song; what I sometimes think of as album filler, this track isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not great and is likely something Ri threw in to fill up space. The track does have some good qualities: it’s interesting and experimental, and again, unlike what Rihanna’s done in the past, the only problem is that it didn’t really work out. 2:24

Sex With Me – Rihanna leaves nothing to the imagination in the closing track of Anti: the first line in this song is “sex with me so amazing”. This particular track is smooth, catchy, and one of the chillest on the album. It’s light textured, with wispy synths mixed in with some static beats and Ri sliding around on the vocals, carelessly and confidently spouting lines like “sex with me is amazing, with her it’ll feel alright” and “stay off of my Instagram for your temptation”. This song is easy listening, it’s nothing at all groundbreaking, but it’s therefore a good safe bet for the album, and a nice, almost soothing, track to close the album. 3:26