Time flies when you’re making money, but it has been two years since Good Girl Gone Bad (and its plethora of re-releases) and almost twelve long drama-filled months since the Chris Brown “incident.” Everyone’s been salivating ever since word got out that Rihanna had started work on her fourth album, especially because her image’s staggering transformation from flirty young island girl to seriously bad diva wasn’t even provoked by anything as severe as criminal assault – what crazy change is going to come next?
There really is only one word to describe Rated R, and it’s Raw. There is no genre that you can tag on this album and be comfortable with your decision afterward because just like Good Girl Gone Bad, Rihanna does not limit herself to a strictly R&B sound. It’s definitely urban, and it definitely incorporates a lot more rock (she does get the Slash on a song called “Rockstar 101” after all), but by the time her fifth album rolls around, she will most likely be unrecognizable once again. Rihanna may have just gone “bad” before, but now she seems to be going all-out thug on us. From songs like “Wait Your Turn,” to “Hard,” to “G4L (Gangster for Life),” it’s clear that she isn’t messing around when she says “I lick a gun when I’m done because I know revenge is sweet.”
Def Jam is probably counting on the fact that people are going to be digging through all of these songs (after having bought the album) for the remains of one Christopher Maurice Brown, and to put it briefly, they’ll find him – strewn everywhere on the entire album, bits and pieces on a hook here, a chorus there. Riri isn’t raging non-stop on though; the lyrically controversial first single “Russian Roulette” is not angry, per se. The guitar is only heard sparsely after the intro, as is the rest of the instrumentation, and the song itself has an almost quietly sinister quality to it. Similarly, “Fire Bomb” is also perhaps one of the closest things you’ll get to a ballad on this album, although its story about cars and lovers and things blowing up is strikingly reminiscent to Rihanna’s altercation with her ex in his car. There is really a little of Chris everywhere in Rated R, on its artwork, the way it was marketed, and obviously in the music. Rihanna may not be singing about the incident in every song, but you have to wonder if her entire mindset hasn’t completely changed after a trial that has tested every last ounce of her resilience. “Stupid in Love” sounds exactly like a typical Stargate ballad, but the truly depressing lyrics set it apart from the rest of the album (although not necessarily in a good way).
Apart from the lead single, other standout tracks include “Te Amo,” which has Rihanna singing to a lady, but also leaked ages ago on the Internet and “Cold Case Love,” which is one of Rated R’s few collaborations, though this one blows Will.i.am’s out of the water. There’s no denying that this album is another step up in intensity from Good Girl Gone Bad (who would’ve thought it was possible?), with the F-word and N-word thrown casually around and the audible grit in every word that Rihanna spits out. It’s just a shame we can’t have a “Kanye vs. 50” throwdown because Chris Brown’s management pushed his album back so much (smart thinking).