The year was 2005.
Beyonce was by far the hottest in the game. She had achieved her lifelong dream of being a massive global superstar. She was snatching Grammys and hairpieces. Shutting down award stages around the world. She was having her "moment". She had the kind of career that your favorites can only dream about and, most importantly, she was getting dicked up on a regular basis.
Life was good.
Meanwhile, Beyonce's boyfriend, elderly rap legend Jay-Z, was not quite as happy. He had also achieved massive success in the music industry, but he was anxious to settle down, put a ring on it, and have about 3-4 babies with big-ass lips and oddly-shaped heads. But Beyonce was not interested. She was just starting to build an iconic career and a business empire and every time Jay would schedule a time to get Beyonce pregnant she would push it back like a Christina Milian album.
It went something like this:
Jay: Hey, Beyonce it's 9PM, I thought we were going to try to have a baby tonight at 8?
Beyonce: Well, I was on my way to your house but I decided to stop in the studio to make an album. I promise as soon as I'm done making the album, shooting 30 videos, and going on tour, you can get me pregnant.
(5 months later.)
Jay: Hey, Beyonce am I still getting you pregnant tonight?
Beyonce: Well I was driving through the Checker's Drive Thru and I saw Kelly and Michelle working the window, and we started talking and one thing lead to another, and now we're in the studio making another Destiny's Child album. I promise, you can get me pregnant after the album, the re-release, the greatest hits, and 12-month world tour.
(12 months later)
Jay: Beyonce! Where are you?
Beyonce: Oh, I can't get pregnant right now, I'm shooting a movie.
Jay: How the fuck are you shooting a movie? I sent you to the store for some milk.
Beyonce: Well, I was on my way to the store but I saw some people shooting a movie, and I said, "I wanna be in it", so I asked them and they just wrote me into the movie in 3 minutes. I promise you can get me pregnant after the movie.
This continued for awhile and both Jay and his sperm started to get frustrated. Jay was getting desperate, and one day, after heavy thought and consideration, he decided it was time to put his wifey out of business.
The goal was to find some vocally challenged, rhythmless, pretty young chicken nugget , dress her up, and surround her with a lot of loud music and bright colors to distract people from her lack of talent. He knew that some people would stan for anything with catchy songs and high heels, and all he needed was a bunch of geighs to latch on to her and it would a wrap. So while his little chicken nugget was killing the game, Beyonce would be flopping, and would have no other choice but to let him inseminate her.
He searched all throughout the United States for just the right girl for his plan, but came up short. LaFace had already snatched up Ciara and even he felt that signing one of the Destiny's Child's castoffs would be grimey.
Then one day TyTy told him about a girl in Barbados who was willing to do something strange for a little piece of change. So he hopped on a flight down to the island and when he was there he saw a young girl with the face of a model and the forehead of a Tweety Bird.
Jay-Z: I heard you could sing. I've come down to hear you.
Rihanna: Well, I'm not really a serious singer, it's just something I do for fun. I have no formal vocal nor dance training, I've only sang in public once and it sucked musty balls. So I don't know if I have what it takes to be a superstar.
Jay-Z: Don't worry about that, I'll help you.
Rihanna: I don't know Mr. Jay-Z. I don't feel right about signing a record contract and taking up money and resources from artists on your label with actual talent. I don't know if I could be easy...
Jay-Z: Don't worry. You need to be more confident. I have a feeling that everything will work out.
Rihanna: I still don't know Mr. Jay-Z. Isn't Beyonce your girlfriend? If I do become a superstar wouldn't I be your girlfriend's competition? I never saw Rene Elizando running around with Paula Abdul. And I damn sure never saw Bobby Brown running around with Anita Baker. Don't you think people will wonder why you are putting so much support and time into your girl's competition? Beyonce is my idol and I don't want her to be mad at me, calling me and hanging up, and keying up my car and stuff...I just could not... be easy...with that...
(4 hours later)
Jay-Z: It's nothing like that. It's just business. What do you say? Can I make you a superstar?
Rihanna: I'm just not sure. I'm not really good on stage... What if I mess up? What if people laugh at me?
Then Jay gave Rihanna a gift which eased her worries. It was the gift that inspired her to sign a recording contract. A gift that Rihanna kept near her wherever she went. The gift that made her realize that no matter how bad she sucked, somewhere in the world some group of tone-deaf tweens and queens would ALWAYS support her.
That gift was the Britney Spears - Live from Las Vegas DVD.
From there Rihanna was put through the Def Jam machine.They put gloss on her lips, designer dresses on her hips, swooped a bang over her Superdome, and gave her the best songs that money could buy and Beyonce didn't want. Although Rihanna had a few hits, she was not putting Beyonce out of business in quite the way Jay-Z had planned. Beyonce was still running around the world, touring, shooting movies, recording, and not getting pregnant. Rihanna was starting to blend into the rest of the Beyonceitis victims, and if her 3rd album was not a blockbuster she was in real danger of getting dropped from Def Jam and Roll Bouncing at Sonic's with Tierra Marie.
But one song changed that.
That song was "Umbrella". The song was a catchy mid-tempo number. The message of the song was no matter how bad things get in you life, you can fuck Rihanna silly whenever you want to and things will be better.
From that one song Rihanna became a worldwide sensation. From the strength of "Umbrella" and the accompanying video MTV proclaimed Rihanna "the new Queen of R&B."
People ignored the fact that Rihanna was not (nor was she trying to be) R&B. We didn't ask a lot of questions. We were just tired of Beyonce and we needed a female artist who was:
1. Black (or at least Black-ish)
4. NOT Beyonce.
Rihanna was 3 out of the 4 and that was good enough for us. Like Jiggaman we just wanted somebody to make Beyonce go away for awhile. And as a bonus, Beyonce stans hated Rihanna with a passion and for some people, getting Beyonce stans angry was reason enough to stan for Rihanna.
From a live performance aspect her performances were always elaborately staged and choreographed, but she looked and sounded bored. As if there were about 76 other things she'd rather be doing aside from performing. She didn't have much of a range, nor volume or pitch control. And on ballads she was determined NOT to hit any of the notes correctly.
But it didn't matter. Rihanna was SLAYING the game...if only theoretically. She was a global superstar and a FIERCE fashion icon. It looked like Jay's dream was going to come true. Rihanna was dominating, and Beyonce would be put out of business long enough to hatch his offspring.
But on February 8, 2009 (dramatic pause) things went horribly wrong.
You know what happened, so I won't go too deeply into it. If you forgot I'll refresh your memory:
In the 9 months it has taken for the swelling to go down and for Rihanna to make sense of what happened to her, Beyonce has only gotten bigger. She refreshed her look and sound, embarked on her most succcessful tour yet, finally got people to take her semi-serious as an actress, and proved that she is one the most versatile performers of this time (or any time).
Who else can do this:
And then turn around and do this:
And now there's a new terror for Rihanna and her stans to deal with:
And that brings us to "Rated R", Rihanna's 4th album in as many years.
It's a pretty good album, but then again so was "A Perfect World", "Afrodisiac", and "The Declaration." What people fail (or choose not to) consider is that there is a distinct difference between a bad album, a pretty good album, and the type of event album that lives up to the hype generated when stans claim that their favorite is about to "change the game".
In 20 years, when Rihanna is playing bingo casinos and judging American Idol, her big selling point will be "She was one of the biggest stars of the 2000's and had 5 #1 singles. If there were a relevant Rihanna fansite the motto would be "5 #1 Singles. You mad?"
So for an artist whose reputation has been derived from numbers and chart positioning "Rated R" could be seen as a big misstep, mainly because I was hard pressed to find 2 #1 singles off of the album, let alone 5. Def Jam has already played most of the album's strongest cards. They have sent 3 singles to radio, and radio sent them to Lady Gaga who wiped her ass with them.
This isn't a singles album. It's a concept album of sorts, everything blends together and there is an obvious sonic and thematic structure, sort of like a movie soundtrack. The problem is neither the concept nor the execution on record, it's the issue of executing them on stage. On "Good Girl Gone Bad", even if Rihanna sucked live on stage (and she often did) you could not deny the catchiness of those singles. This album contains songs that are less commercially accessible but more emotional vulnerable. Songs that she will probably never be able to fully execute live on stage.
So in the end, what you have is album like any other album from a Beyonceitis victim. A sharply produced album with no BIG songs, but a lot of really good ones, delivered by an artist who is unable to breathe life into them on stage. You cannot with a straight face say "Rihanna is going to kill (insert song) live." It has never happened and probably will never happen. Rihanna is not a vocalist nor is she an entertainer. She a "recording artist" in the strictest and most literal sense of the term.
So why exactly should you buy "Rated R"?
Up until "Rated R" the only thing of any great distinction that Rihanna contributed to her music was her face, name, and body. On "Rated R" the fact that Rihanna had went through a very public and very unfortunate scandal gives the album a certain authenticity that you won't find in most female albums this year.
We complain that artists don't take risks or try anything different. Well "Rated R" is a gigantic risk and it is something different. And if you excuse Rihanna's vocal shortcomings, it is still her name and reputation on the line. So if some of you are about "real" music as much you claim to be you would support art for art's sake, regardless of the artist in front of it. The album's biggest achievement is the fact that the producers, songwriters, mixers, and engineers were able to craft a deeply emotional and textured album from an artist who is unable to convey emotion with just her vocals.
And that is why you should take your debit card, run to iTunes, go to the Rihanna section, and go buckwild. On record is where she gives and gets her life, and therefore that is how we must her support her."Rated R" may or may not be Rihanna's best, but Rihanna on record is as good as she gets.