Rihanna established her pop credentials in 2005 with “Pon de Replay,” a boisterous debut single that narrowly missed the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and fast-tracked her to becoming one of the most popular, acclaimed, and dynamic artists in postmillennial contemporary music. Until the Barbados native took a break from releasing music in the late 2010s, she was a near-constant presence in the upper reaches of the pop chart. Through 2017, mixing and matching pop, dancehall, R&B, EDM, and adult contemporary material, she headlined 11 number one hits, including “Umbrella” and “Only Girl (In the World),” singles that earned her two of her nine Grammy awards. More than just a singles artist, Rihanna continually pushed ahead stylistically with her LPs, highlighted by the bold Good Girl Gone Bad (2007), the steely Rated R (2009), and the composed Anti (2016), all of which confounded expectations and placed within the Top Ten of the Billboard 200 with eventual multi-platinum certifications. Her secondary discography as a featured artist is impressive as well, with major crossover pop hits headlined by the likes of Jay-Z (“Run This Town”), Eminem (“Love the Way You Lie”), and Kendrick Lamar (“LOYALTY.“). She returned in 2022 with the Top Ten pop hit “Lift Me Up,” her first solo release in six years, recorded for the soundtrack of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty in Saint Michael, Barbados, Rihanna exhibited star quality as a child, often winning beauty and talent contests. Because she lived on a fairly remote island in the West Indies, however, she didn’t foresee the global stardom she later attained. Her break came courtesy of a fateful meeting with Evan Rogers, writer and producer of pop hits for such big names as *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, and Rod Stewart. The New Yorker was vacationing in Barbados with his wife, an island native, when he was introduced to an aspiring singing group that featured Rihanna. The trio performed for Rogers, who was then eager to work with Rihanna as a solo artist. After the fledgling singer recorded material with Rogers in the U.S. and signed with SRP (Syndicated Rhythm Productions), operated by Rogers and partner Carl Sturken, she sparked the interest of the Carter Administration — that is, the newly appointed Def Jam president Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter. Following an audition, Rihanna accepted an on-the-spot offer to sign with the major label.
Come May 2005, Def Jam rolled out “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna’s first single and the lively introduction to the full-length Music of the Sun. Produced almost entirely by Rogers and Sturken, the song synthesized Caribbean rhythms with pop-R&B songwriting. “Pon de Replay” caught fire almost immediately and peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, denied the top spot by Mariah Carey’s “We Belong Together.” Music of the Sun, released that August, spawned a Top 40 placement with “If It’s Lovin’ That You Want” and ranged stylistically from a remake of Dawn Penn’s rocksteady-styled crossover hit “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” (featuring dancehall star Vybz Kartel) to the Beyoncé-like “Let Me” (co-produced by emergent duo Stargate). Music of the Sun was only eight months old when Rihanna followed up in April 2006 with A Girl Like Me. It showed that the singer wasn’t a fluke success and could also stretch out, laced with three dissimilar hits. “SOS,” high-gloss dance-pop with a sample of Soft Cell’s version of “Tainted Love,” topped the Hot 100. “Unfaithful,” her first big ballad, and “Break It Off,” an electro-dancehall hybrid (with Sean Paul), became her third and fourth Top Ten pop singles.
Superstar status was attained with Good Girl Gone Bad, an album that built on Rihanna’s commercial momentum and developed into a blockbuster. Released in May 2007 and “reloaded” with additional material the following June, its lengthy promotional campaign yielded several chart-topping singles and boasted collaborations with A-listers such as Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, Timbaland, and Justin Timberlake. Lead single “Umbrella,” co-written by the-Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, sounded like nothing else on the airwaves and shot to number one, as did “Take a Bow” and “Disturbia,” while “Hate That I Love You” and “Don’t Stop the Music” added to the tally of Top Ten entries. “Umbrella” gave Rihanna her first Grammy win for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The album was on its way to triple platinum status by October 2009, when Rihanna set the dark and provocative tone for fourth album Rated R with “Russian Roulette,” another Ne-Yo collaboration and Top Ten single. Abused lover, dominatrix, and murderer were among the perspectives Rihanna offered throughout the album, released that November. Even the additional Top Ten hits “Hard” and “Rude Boy” — the latter her fifth number one — were stern in demeanor, making the early hits sound like the work of a significantly more complex artist. While Rated R was riding high, Jay-Z’s “Run This Town,” with Rihanna on the intro and hook, won Grammys for Best Rap Song and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration.
Annual studio albums, each one with a November release date and a broad range of light and dark material covering EDM, contemporary R&B, adult contemporary, dancehall, and straight-up pop, continued well into the following decade. In 2010, just after Eminem featured her on the diamond platinum “Love the Way You Lie,” there was Loud. Led by the Stargate-produced “Only Girl (In the World),” eventually a Grammy winner for Best Dance Recording, it was sustained with additional Hot 100 toppers “What’s My Name?” (featuring Drake) and “S&M.” Talk That Talk was heralded in 2011 with Rihanna’s most triumphant single, “We Found Love,” on which she collaborated with Calvin Harris. After she nabbed yet another Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Grammy, this time for her role on Kanye West’s “All of the Lights,” the streak concluded, and culminated, with the 2012 set Unapologetic. Her first LP to top the Billboard 200 (after all of the previous six had gone Top Ten), it also became her first to win a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. “Diamonds,” the anthemic and inspirational standout among some of Rihanna’s brashest moments, became her tenth number one pop hit and 18th to peak within the Top Ten.
Within a span of three years, Rihanna had released her fourth through seventh albums. An equal amount of time passed prior to the release of her eighth full-length. In 2013, she lengthened her list of chart accolades as a featured artist with an assist on Eminem’s “The Monster,” which became her 25th Top Ten hit as a lead or featured artist, went to number one, and led to her fourth Best Rap/Sung Collaboration Grammy. No longer with Def Jam — a deal had been signed with Roc Nation via Jay-Z, who left Def Jam several years earlier — Rihanna released non-album singles throughout 2015, beginning with the unembellished “FourFiveSeconds,” an unlikely matchup with Paul McCartney and Kanye West that reached number four. “American Oxygen” didn’t flourish as much from a commercial standpoint but upon release became one of her most remarkable recordings, a dignified ballad with a personal, pro-immigration theme.
Album eight, the strikingly composed Anti, became Rihanna’s second consecutive number one album following its January 2016 arrival. She partnered again with Drake, resulting in another number one hit with “Work.” “Needed Me,” a buzzing slow jam cooked up with a production team including DJ Mustard and Kuk Harrell, and “Love on the Brain,” a throwback soul belter involving Harrell and Fred Ball, entered the Top Ten as well. Those who missed the comparative lack of high-spirited exuberance in Anti were placated across 2016 and 2017 with Rihanna’s guest appearances on Calvin Harris’ “This Is What You Came For” and N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon.” Meanwhile, Drake, Future, DJ Khaled, and Kendrick Lamar likewise profited from Rihanna’s featured spots. Lamar’s “LOYALTY.” made Rihanna a five-time winner of the Grammy for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, setting a record for women artists in that category.
Apart from a featured appearance on PartyNextDoor’s 2020 single “Believe It,” Rihanna wasn’t behind any new music for several years, as she focused her efforts on her Fenty cosmetics and fashion empire and started a family. She returned in October 2022 with “Lift Me Up” from the soundtrack of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The ballad, written by Rihanna with producer Ludwig Göransson, Tems, and Coogler, entered the Hot 100 at number two. ~ Andy Kellman & Jason Birchmeier