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Rihanna

Rihanna

1988—

Singer

Rihanna is the rare rhythm and blues (R&B) diva to emerge from the Caribbean world. Though she had made two previous albums, the Barbadian singer debuted a glamorous new look in the spring of 2007 as her latest single, "Umbrella," began to climb the charts. By late summer "Umbrella" was on the verge of becoming the most successful single of the entire year. Craig McLean, a writer for the Daily Telegraph, called it "a brilliant pop song, propulsive and sinuous…. Already it is feeling like a defining song of 2007."

Born on February 20, 1988, as Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Rihanna grew up in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. Her father, Ronald, was a native of the island, and her mother, Monica, was originally from Guyana, a nation on the northeastern coastline of South America. Along with two younger brothers, Rihanna saw her parents' marriage suffer because of the crack-cocaine addition her father developed. "I knew that my mom and dad would argue when there was foil paper with an ashtray," Rihanna recalled in an interview with Grant Rollings for the Sun, a British tabloid. "He would just go into the bathroom all the time. I didn't know what it was."

Monica struggled to support her family by work in the financial-services industry, but Rihanna was fortunate to attend one of the top schools in Barbados, the Combermere School, founded in 1695. She loved to sing at an early age and formed a teen group, called Contrast, with some friends. In 2004, the year she turned sixteen, she won the title of Miss Combermere, though she had been a self-confessed tomboy who cared little about makeup or clothes until that point. Her break into show business came when producer/songwriter Evan Rogers came to Barbados for a vacation with his wife; the mother of a friend of Rihanna's knew Rogers's wife from their school days together, and the mother arranged an introduction. Rogers and his business partner, Carl Sturken, were responsible for making stars out of Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera, N'Sync, and several other top pop acts. Rihanna sang for Evans one of her favorite songs, Mariah Carey's "Hero," followed by the Destiny's Child's track "Emotions." He was impressed enough to sign her to his company, Syndicated Rhythm Productions (SRP), and arrange for her to come to New York City to cut a demo record. Rogers and his wife assured Monica Fenty that Rihanna would stay at their home and would be watched over as if she was their own daughter.

The next stop on Rihanna's path to stardom came after SRP contacted Jay-Z, the rapper turned mogul who cofounded Roc-A-Feller Records and who had recently become president and chief executive officer of Def Jam Records. Rihanna was invited to audition in person for Jay-Z in his office, "and that's when I really got nervous," she told Sylvia Patterson in the London Observer. "I was like: ‘Oh God, he's right there, I can't look, I can't look, I can't look!’ I remember being extremely quiet. I was very shy. I was cold the entire time. I had butterflies." The tryout was a success, however, and she was signed to Def Jam, which released her debut album, Music of the Sun, in August of 2005. Capitalizing on her West Indian roots, the label positioned the teen as a fresh new voice that merged rap and Caribbean rhythms, which were showcased in the first single released from the album, "Pon de Replay," a dancehall reggae that peaked at number two on the U.S. and British charts.

Subsequent singles from Music of the Sun were less successful, but Rihanna's enticing good looks—statuesque and with green eyes—helped her land lucrative endorsement contracts with Nike, Clinique, and J. C. Penney that opened the door to unique cross-marketing deals. In April of 2006 her second album, A Girl Like Me, was released, and its first single, "SOS," reached number one on Billboard's Hot 100 chart thanks to a tie-in with Nike. Another release further blurred the line between art and commerce: "Just Be Happy," a song written for her by African-American/Chinese-American rapper Ne-Yo, was available only on her Web site as a part of a special promotional campaign with Clinique and its fragrance, Happy.

Both Ne-Yo and Jay-Z appeared on Rihanna's third album, Good Girl Gone Bad, which was released in June of 2007. Its first single was "Umbrella" and had already caused a stir that spring for marking the debut of a new, more grown-up look for the singer. The song wound up spending ten weeks at the number-one spot on the British charts, the longest run for a female artist there since Whitney Houston more than a decade earlier. It also reached number one on the U.S. and European charts, it won MTV's Monster Single of the Year Video honors in September, and its lavishly produced video won Video of the Year at the same ceremony. For part of it, a nude Rihanna was coated in silver paint and then filmed inside a special black box. "The body paint was really oily," she told Elizabeth Sanchez in Men's Fitness about the experience. "I couldn't wait to get it off my face. That was the worst part about it—getting it off. I was in the shower for two and a half hours!… Days after, I still had some in my hair, ears, even my belly button."

Good Girl Gone Bad sold well and secured Rihanna's place as a new R&B/pop powerhouse. "The title of the album represents my liberation," she told Sanchez. "Being able to break out of the innocent image I was forced into. Now I'm just being me." World-famous before she was twenty years old, the singer has been romantically linked to musicians Omarion, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlake, along with actors Shia LaBeouf and Josh Hartnett. She lives in Los Angeles, and she admitted to Patterson that fame had its drawbacks. "With success has come a lotta great stuff, but there's cons, too," she reflected. "Who to trust is a huge one. I always have to keep my guard up. A lot. I'm dealing with fake people. All the time. So I just keep my guard up."

At a Glance …

Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty on February 20, 1988, in Bridgetown, St. Michael's Parish, Barbados; daughter of Ronald and Monica Fenty.

Career: Signed to Syndicated Rhythm Productions, c. 2004; signed with Def Jam Records; made television acting debut in Las Vegas, 2005; has endorsement deals with Nike, J. C. Penney, Clinique, and CoverGirl.

Awards: Monster Single of the Year and Video of the Year, MTV Music Video Awards, both 2007, for "Umbrella."

Addresses: Agent—Glenn Gulino, William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.

Selected discography

Albums

Music of the Sun, Def Jam, 2005.

A Girl Like Me, Def Jam, 2006.

Good Girl Gone Bad, Def Jam, 2007.

Singles

"Pon de Replay," 2005.

"SOS," 2006.

"Unfaithful," 2006.

"Umbrella," 2007.

"Don't Stop the Music," 2007.

Sources

Periodicals

Daily Telegraph (London, England), May 31, 2007.

Men's Fitness, August 2007.

New York Times, June 4, 2007.

Observer (London, England), August 26, 2007.

Sun (London, England), June 15, 2007.

Times (London, England), January 6, 2007.

—Carol Brennan

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Rihanna

Rihanna

Singer

Some people seem to have all the luck. And then there are those fortunate few who not only have all the luck, but the talent to go along with it. Rising dance-pop diva Rihanna has both luck and talent, and she stands poised to reign supreme on the pop charts. Back-to-back summer hits "Pon de Replay" (2005) and "S.O.S." (2006) catapulted her from a young singer in Barbados to worldwide star status, and her fusion of R&B, hip hop, and reggae have helped her stand out among other pop stars.

Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty, Rihanna grew up in the parish of St. Michael on the island of Barbados. Although she is living out her dream now as a professional singer, Rihanna did not ever imagine she would hear her songs on the radio. She revealed in a Boston Globe profile, "I would sing in the mirror, holding a brush to my mouth like it was a microphone." And even though the neighbors would complain about her loud singing, she kept at it. Without any professional singing experience, her first standout moment occurred when she was in high school and won a talent contest singing Mariah Carey's "Hero." Along with Carey, Rihanna counts Whitney Houston and Beyoncé as her musical idols.

In December of 2003, while still a high school student, Rihanna was introduced to producer Evan Rogers through a mutual friend. Rogers, who had worked with Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, Ruben Studdar, and Kelly Clarkson, was on vacation with his wife, Jackie, a native of Barbados, when he heard Rihanna sing. Rogers was impressed, and flew her to New York to record a demo. Over the next year Rihanna worked on her demo with Rogers and his partner Carl Sturken, who ran Syndicated Rhythm Productions. They began circulating the demo, which included the single "Pon de Replay." Def Jam label president and CEO Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, was the first and last label exec to get a sit-down with Rihanna. After an impressive audition at Jay-Z's office, Executive Vice President Jay Brown recalled in the Globe, "I wanted an artist who could be developed. When I knew she could sing, I knew I could work with her." After cancelling a set of meetings with other labels, Rihanna, who was only 16 years old, literally signed with Def Jam on the spot, with lawyers completing the contract by 3:00 A.M.

Shortly after signing with Def Jam, Rihanna's career kicked into overdrive and by May of 2005 she had released her first single, "Pon de Replay." It didn't take long for the infectious rhythms of this breakout summer hit to top the charts and score as a huge dancehall hit. Shortly after its release, Sirius Satellite Radio Hip Hop musical director Geronimo predicted that "Pon de Replay" would become the summer's big hit. In fact, only Mariah Carey's "We Belong Together" beat out "Pon de Replay" for the number one spot on Billboard's chart.

When her first CD, Music of the Sun, came out in August it debuted at number ten on the charts. Amid an avalanche of pop CDs, Music of the Sun managed to earn respectable praise for Rihanna's "above-average" singing. Rolling Stone critic Jason Birchmeier noted, "As with most albums of this ilk, Music of the Sun descends into faceless slow jams after a while … but thankfully it picks up the pace toward the end of its 13-song run and concludes on a fun note, with a remix of "Pon de Replay" featuring Elephant Man. The result is one of the more engaging urban dance-pop albums of the year."

In 2005 Rihanna took to the road with Gwen Stefani, where she was schooled in rock, an influence that appeared on her 2006 CD A Girl Like Me on the track "Kisses Don't Lie," which blends a rock beat with Caribbean rhythms. On her website Rihanna noted, "Coming from Barbados, I really hadn't heard that much rock music. Touring with Gwen changes my perspective. So, when I was discussing this project with L.A. Reid, Chairman of Island Def Jam Records, I made sure to say I want to experiment with some rock." The album, which was executive produced by Jay-Z, is pure pop, with two runaway hits, "S.O.S" and "Unfaithful." Most critics have credited Rihanna with avoiding a sophomore slump through clever and ambitious songs that continue to show the singer's promise. Although still only 18 years old, Rihanna shows maturity, both in her personal life and in her music. She told London Guardian reporter Amina Taylor, "My mom raised me to be a child and know my place but also to think like a woman…. So fortunately I am very mature for my age. In this business you have to work with the things that get thrown your way…. I don't feel under any additional pressure being young. Starting early means I get a chance to grow as a person and as an artist."

Selected discography

Albums

Music of the Sun, Island Def Jam, 2005; rereleased with bonus track, Universal/Mercury, 2005.
A Girl Like Me, Def Jam, 2006.

For the Record …

Born Robyn Rihanna Fenty on February 18, 1988, in St. Michael, Barbados.

Met producer Evan Rogers, 2003; made demo tape and signed with Def Jam, 2004; released single "Pon de Relay," 2005; released first CD, Music of the Sun, 2005; toured with Gwen Stefani, 2005; released hit singles "S.O.S.," 2006, and "Unfaithful," 2006; released second CD, A Girl Like Me, 2006; signed endorsement contracts with Nike and JC Penney, 2006.

Awards: MTV Video Award, Best New Artist Video, 2006; MuchMusic Video Award, Best International Video, 2006.

Addresses: Record company—Def Jam, Worldwide Plaza, 825 8th Ave., 28th Fl., New York, NY 10019. Website—Rihanna Official Website: http://www.rihanna.defjam.com.

Sources

Periodicals

Boston Globe, July 19, 2005; May 5, 2006.

Chicago Tribune, November 15, 2005.

Guardian (London, England), November 25, 2005.

Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2006.

New York Times, September 5, 2005; April 24, 2006.

Rolling Stone, August 18, 2005; September 8, 2005; May 26, 2006.

U.S.A. Today, August 2, 2005.

Washington Post, April 26, 2006.

Online

"Rihanna," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (June 4, 2006).

Rihanna Official Website, http://www.rihanna.defjam.com (June 24, 2006).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
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"Rihanna." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Rihanna." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rihanna

"Rihanna." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/rihanna