After the annual music industry hiatus that occurs at the close of every year, we are back in 2016 with new music. Rihanna has kicked off the new year with the release of her 8th studio album, ANTI. ANTI was released on January 28th, 2016 and was subject to controversy due to disappointingly low first week sales. In an effort to gain subscribers, the album exclusively hit streaming service TIDAL a week before its scheduled release. Additionally, a partnership with Samsung led to 1 million albums, both physical copies, and digital albums, being given away for free before the album’s actual release date. Both the early streaming release and the free copies not being reflected in Rih’s first week sales lead to stiflingly low numbers for a star of her magnitude. Fortunately, none of this had anything to do with the quality of the overall album.

Warning: This is not pop princess Rihanna from 2010-2012.

ANTI, which features SZA, Drake and Travis Scott, feels like a more mature, aggressive Rihanna has stepped into the vocal booth with something to get off her chest. The tone of this album is more passionate, more pissed off then we have ever heard our beloved Rih. The album is laced with deep, bass-heavy synths which perfectly compliment Rihanna’s vocals. The first track, “Consideration”, is a duet with TDE artist SZA that has an island feel to it. The island theme continues until you get to the more aggressive middle of the album. Rihanna is truly in her element on “Needed Me” with lyrics like “I was good on my own that’s the way it was, you were good on the road for a faded f***.” By the end of the album, Rihanna has reached supreme confidence, doing whatever she damn pleases. She impressively covers Tame Impala on “Same Ol’ Mistakes” and flourishes on “Higher”, an Amy Winehouse-Esq ballad. While we are no stranger to a Rihanna ballad “Higher” and “Close To You” just feel different, one might say special. The album is a great listen straight through, front to back. You can listen to the album effortlessly without reaching for your phone or computer to skip a track. It appears that Rihanna is in a new space, and it sounds amazing.

So what has triggered the change in sound for the “Pon De Replay” singer? Only Rihanna truly knows, but if I had to guess I would chalk it up to personal growth. Rihanna has become one of the elites in the music industry, steadily on pace to be on the same pedestal as a Beyoncé or Taylor Swift. If anything is clear from this album, it is that Rihanna is more confident than she ever has been. She is trying new styles and sounds and it is working for her. It is apparent from the way the album was released that she no longer needs to rely on album sales and radio records. Rihanna is doing whatever she feels like, and it is a privilege to watch.

Written by: Jesse Natale