'ANTi' Is The Rihanna Album You Never Knew You Needed
Initially, Rihanna’s music annoyed me. That annoyance lasted right up until the 2007 release of ‘Umbrella’, when suddenly I was sucked into the same wave as the rest of the world. That song would go on to spend six weeks at number one, making Rihanna a household name. ANTi is Rihanna’s eighth studio release, and she came back to let us know that reinvention is still her strong suit, and her growth is only beginning. As a listener I find it difficult, if not impossible not to incorporate every song into my overall opinion of an album, so we’ll be taking this ride track-by-track.
The first song and first line of an album are both unfailingly intriguing to me. Even as the idea of the “album” is warped by shuffle buttons and the ability to be highly selective of the tracks included in your library, the order of songs is still highly personal. It’s a balancing act that requires a delicate hand and a deft ear. So what does Rihanna want us to know when we press play and hear those choppy drums?
"I come fluttering in from Neverland/Time can never stop me, no, no, no, no"
‘Consideration’ is what it says it is. You must give this woman some consideration! Maybe this means Rihanna is tired of following all the same formulas for success? Writer and producer Shea Taylor, who has seven (!) credits on Beyonce’s 4, helps Rihanna to burst through the front door of ANTi and immediately get down to business. TDE songstress SZA lends her vocals, giving the short intro an airy bounce reminiscent of how Wendy must have felt on that cloud with Peter Pan. It’s clear that time definitely won’t be stopping Rih.
Next up is ‘James Joint’, an ode to marijuana and the intense sexual pleasure it can bring. I’m guessing the title is in reference to James Fauntleroy, who co-wrote the song with Taylor. It’s a light, sensual jam that will never be long enough at just one minute and twelve seconds.The melody at the end is reminiscent of Stevie Wonder, which only illuminates the beauty of the arrangement. If there’s a full version of this one, I need it. We all do. In the meantime, grab a joint (if you’re into that? Hopefully it’s legal wherever you are?), grab your lover, and press play.
Jeff Bhasker is probably not a name you’re familiar with, because I definitely wasn’t. Then I took a little tumble through the black hole that is Wikipedia, and found out he is the same man that had a large hand in producing the fine art that is Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That’s when I understood the magnitude of ‘Kiss It Better’. Something like Rihanna’s own ‘Darling Nikki', it’s raunchy, sexy, fun and amazing to sing along with. If you aren’t body rolling to this sh*t, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This song is what it feels like to want everything that another person can physically give you. Even when they’ve hurt you, their touch or kiss is all it takes to make it better. It’s already a hit with fans, and the buzz could (fingers-crossed) lead to a pretty interesting music video. ‘Kiss It Better’ might sound cheap to some, but as Rih sings, “who cares, when it feels like crack?”
‘Work’ is next up as a guaranteed club hit. Producer Boi-1da sends Rih on a quick trip back to the islands for a slow-wine, while Drake lends his voice as her neglected lover. I guess homegirl has been working a little too hard, and now it’s time to hit her man with some work instead! It’s such a fun song to sing and dance to, and essential to the album in terms of lightening the heavy load of some of the more intense tracks, as well as providing a strong single and a familiar sound that much of her following will appreciate.
I didn’t really care about ‘Desperado’ the first few times I heard it. The more I listen, the more I like it. The lyrics don’t really make much sense, other than alluding to a lover who’s on the run, literally and/or figuratively. Rihanna is trying to decide if she wants to join him, since she feels as though there isn’t much left for her wherever she is. Her vocals on this track are the highlight. It still falls a little flat for me, but it absolutely has it’s place on ANTi.
‘Woo’ begins with Rih’s latest supposed love interest Travi$ Scott chanting “woo, woo” quite infectiously in his signature, crackly, overproduced voice. Hit Boy and Scott share a production credit on ‘Woo’, which is unsurprising since the song is basically on its knees in prayer for a verse from Yeezus himself. I can’t help but wonder if this might have been a leftover from one of Kanye’s studio sessions, especially since the chorus is literally just Travi$ Scott howling softly. Regardless, this sh*t goes hard. When I heard she and Scott were spending time together, I was instantly excited. Travi$ Scott has created a pretty distinct sound, lending a rock and alternative edge to his rapping and singing. I loved this side of Rihanna on songs like ‘Wait Your Turn’ and ‘Rockstar 101’, and we’re reminded of that era in a refreshing way. She also takes some pretty big shots lyrically.
“I bet she could never make you cry/‘Cause the scars on your heart are still mine/Tell me that she couldn't get this deep/She can almost be the worst of me/Too bad she's just eating off your dreams/Let me know when you're ready to bleed/Baby you just need to send for me”
Do you see those lyrics?! Is she singing about scars on a certain R&B-singer ex-boyfriend’s heart, perhaps? Shots fired at Karrueche, or nah? I have many questions, and I’m sure you do too. Rihanna has already expressed that she will always love and care about Chris Brown, though the two are not friends. So when she says “I don't mean to really love ya/I don't mean to even care about ya”, it’s clear that the emotions of this song aren’t quite welcome. In the end, she seems to be trying to convince herself as much as the rest of us, singing “I don't even really care about you no more” over and over. This song has to be about CB. I refuse to believe it isn’t. The end.
DJ Mustard went f**king nuts on ‘Needed Me’. I don’t know how else to say it. It’s one of his more unique tracks in comparison to the distinct sound we’ve come to love. I have no choice but to assume he literally came in the studio and crafted this beat for Rihanna. She owns this song in every way, and seems to have taken another page from Travi$ Scott’s lyrical metre. This song is perfect for anyone who has had casual sex with someone who ended up wanting more in the end.
“I was good on my own, that’s the way it was/You was good on the low for a faded f**k”
Could she have been any realer with him? Doubtful. “You needed me”, she says, letting ol’ dude know that the feeling is not mutual, and she isn’t here for his complaining. She asks, “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?” WELL IF NOT, NOW WE KNOW, RIH. I needed this song, without a doubt. It is essential to the mood of the album, and perfectly positioned between the surrounding tracks.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume many of us share a familiar feeling when we hear Ginuwine’s ‘So Anxious’, or Aaliyah’s ‘One In A Million’. Timbaland has been bringing us slow jams for decades, and ‘Yeah I Said It’ is here and ready to be added to that certain “special” playlist. Here, we’re given a little over two minutes of pure lust. Rihanna’s deep breathiness on this track complements the lyrics so perfectly.
“I ain't tryna think about it, no/Yeah, I said it, boy, get up inside it/I want you to homicide it/Go in slow, but I want you to pipe it/And I think I kinda like ya/Up against the wall, we don't need a title”
I definitely needed a moment after that first verse. If you’re a person who has sex, then there’s a good chance you’ve wanted someone to f**k you senseless. Perhaps you’ve taken a page from the book of Rih and aren’t at all shy about it. I love the raunchiness of this track, because it succeeds where songs like ‘Birthday Cake’ couldn’t. It does so by giving her voice the chance the shine, and her sex appeal to come through without ever having to see her face or body.
Let me begin by saying that I really love the original version of ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ and I’ve been a fan of Tame Impala for a few years. I suggest you take a listen above if you already haven't. Kevin Parker understands psychedelic rock in a way that somehow modernizes it without completely sh***ing all over it. I’m a sucker for drums, and Parker is disgustingly good at creating interesting patterns and change-ups like those in ‘New Person, Same Old Mistakes’. These map out a wonderful landscape for his thick, rolling bass. I can’t say I was thinking of anyone covering it when I first listened to Tame Impala’s 2015 release, Currents. I’m pleasantly surprised that Rihanna chose to include this cover on the album, because now I don’t want to hear a single other attempt. Parker’s otherworldly, bass-led vocals and lyrics are a shockingly good fit with Rihanna’s tone, even while essentially having been written for his own ethereal falsetto. Her approach respects the original structure of the song, while somehow sounding like it could have been hers all along.
‘Never Ending’ is a sharp change in mood, and I can’t say it felt welcome. The song contains interpolations of Dido’s 2000 smash hit, ‘Thank You’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite feel as natural as a song like ‘Diamonds’, penned by Sia, who shares a similar style. Still, it’s well-written and likeable enough. As far as the overall feeling of the song, I don’t think this one is meant to be about anything but Rihanna herself. It makes sense, seeing how this album is meant to express the “anti” of the ideals she is constantly forced into. The lyrics are beautiful, personal and relatable. For example: “Ghost in the mirror/I knew your face once, but now it's unclear/And I can't feel my body now/I separate from here and now” which is describing the feeling of looking in the mirror and no longer recognizing the person looking back at you. Aside from the poetics, this one is skippable. I do think that could have been avoided, had it been placed near the end of the album. The transition from ‘Same Ol’ Mistakes’ to ‘Love on The Brain’ would have been much more dynamic.
My initial thought upon hearing the first minute and a half of ‘Love On The Brain’ was: “OH B***H. SO YOU JUST GON’ GIVE US ALL THE F***ING VOCALS?” I kept having to remind myself that I was LISTENING TO RIHANNA. I took this track as one long reminder why she’s still here, and isn’t going anywhere. She can serve you vocals better than any of these little factory-fresh pop stars emerging from the commercial wasteland that is Top 40 radio, all while sitting at number one her damned self. She can, in fact, sing a love ballad. And this song was created to let us know that she’s prepared for and working towards Queen Bey levels. It’s your typical brooding and begging love song, and it’s infectiously good. Her vocal performance exceeds any and all expectations, and that carries right on through to the next track.
While not as polished, and at times seemingly strained, Rih continues serving vocals with ‘Higher’. Fortunately, her reaching to hit those big notes fits the overall tone of the song, and even the lyrics themselves; “You take me higher, higher than I've ever been, babe”. She’s desperate for this person’s presence, because they have an intensity she hasn’t been able to find elsewhere. Co-written and produced by No I.D., it looks like Kanye sent more than one talented friend along to work on ANTi when exiting his role as executive producer. In his signature style, No I.D. samples elements from The Soulful Strings’ 1970 song ‘Beside You’. It’s such a simple, pleasurable two minutes, and I think it’s a lovely fit as the second-to-last song.
As the final track (it is my general view that bonus/deluxe-only tracks are non-essential), ‘Close To You’ does what ‘Never Ending’ failed to do for the album as a whole. The piano brings us in gently, then Rihanna exhales into the first verse, projecting a rare vulnerability in her voice that carries through the entirety of the song. It’s lovely to listen to, and while it may have been easier to skip anywhere else on the tracklist, it’s a genuine and superb ending. This song coming last feels so right to me because it cements what I suspected all along; that we are hearing quite possibly the most honest and pure collection of songs that Rihanna has taken her time to make. Every track may not be polished to perfection, or what fans were expecting, but they all live up to the album’s title. ANTi goes against much of what we thought we knew about Rihanna. The album is, first and foremost, about her voice. It’s also about her journey through love, life, stardom and her general lack of f**ks to give when it comes to public opinion. There are still sides to Rih that we haven’t seen, and I’m happy to report that she is well on her way to finding them and showing us how much she is truly capable of.