If nothing else, Rihanna nailed the title of her new LP. Anti is her first record since 2012’s Unapologetic, which marked the end of her prolific run of seven albums in eight years, starting with 2005’s Music of the Sun. It’s a 43-minute slow burn that’s antithetical in sound and spirit to any album she’s ever released, and feels wholly unconcerned with re-starting the engine of the most prolific machine in pop music Far from the amphetamine rush that often defined her loud, aggressive radio hits, Anti is shrouded in a cloud of marijuana smoke, a smooth, sexy, and even soulful snapshot of a personal Rihanna playlist. It seems that she finally has the desire and influence to put out the record she wants to release, regardless of its commercial appeal. For better or worse, Anti is Rihanna as she wants you to see her.
The temple of Rihanna was built on hits. A lot of hits. 29 of her 58 singles have been certified Platinum at least one time over by the RIAA (1m sold), with several more going Gold. You might have heard about the massive songwriting camps with dozens of the world’s greatest songwriters and topliners gathering in pop-up song factories, making hits for Rihanna to record, often on tour, in hotel rooms and far-flung recording studios. A Rihanna album from that run typically felt less like a singular statement than a collection of singles. Anti is not that.
With the exception of “Same Ol’ Mistakes,” her cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person Same Old Mistakes,” Rihanna has writing credits on every track. It genuinely sounds like a record Rihanna would listen to, if not one you’d expect her to make. The first eight tracks are a stylistic hodgepodge, with Rihanna trying on a bit of dancehall (“Consideration,” “Work”), a dash of THC-tinged neo-soul (“James Joint”), some contemporary Post-Drake hip-hop (“Needed Me,” “Yeah I Said It”), Purple-colored R&B (“Kiss It Better”), and a nod to 808s & Heartbreak (“Woo”). She’s still got that same sharp tongue that reminded you that you indeed better have her money; on “Needed Me,” she decimates a hypothetical paramour with
“You was just anotha nigga on the hit list/ Tryin’a fix your issues with a bad bitch/ Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?/ Fuck your white horse and a carriage”
Still, the whole record is a bit sleepy, and Rihanna slows it down even further on the last five tracks. After her Tame Impala cover, she strings together four ballads: “Never Ending” sounds readymade for a Volkswagen sync, and she pushes the limits of her vocal chords on the Dap Kings-lite “Love on the Brain” and the sparse “Higher.” She eschews guest features (Top Dawg Entertainment’s SZA and the aforementioned Drake are the only credited guest vocalists), but her co-writing credits still feature some of the biggest names in the industry.
As a business move, the rollout for Anti was less than stellar. It’s been expected during each of the last three Novembers, only to be delayed each time. When she was finally ready, the record was accidentally published on TIDAL, only to be quickly removed. But the damage was done; a copy ripped from the service made its way around the Internet, and Team Rih Rih was forced to bump up the official release by a day. The record was offered — in both mp3 and FLAC formats — as a free download for a “limited” number of people for 24 hours, before becoming a TIDAL exclusive for the first week of its release.
With no clear hit and an exclusive launch on one of the least popular streaming services, Anti may not do the monster sales numbers that Rihanna’s used to. But don’t get it twisted, because that likely won’t matter; with Samsung paying $25m to sponsor the record and subsequent tour that is sure to sell out arenas around the country, Rihanna and RocNation are still going to make ungodly sums of money. If any of Rihanna’s “Navy” subscribes to TIDAL (which she has a stake in), that’s just gravy. She’s found a way to make the record she wants to make, while still making the kind of dough that everyone around her wants to make.