Artist to Entrepreneur: Can We Still Expect Great Music From Rihanna?

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The music industry is a fickle beast. One moment an artist could be on top of the world, performing on the world’s biggest stages while dropping show-stopping collabs; next moment they could fade into obscurity almost instantly as they clamor for another #1 single. Not many artists are afforded the luxury of listener patience as they work on their next album.

Rihanna – entrepreneur, philanthropist, model…oh, and also singer, dropped her 8th studio album ANTI in January of 2016. Since then she’s been endlessly teasing fans with a followup but as we slowly approach ANTI‘s 5th anniversary, there hasn’t been a single peep of a release date. While on the collaboration front, she’s provided us with a brilliant N.E.R.D feature and a barely noticeable contribution on the PARTYNEXTDOOR single. In the past 4 years, she’s all but removed herself from the current music industry discourse (despite her enduring staying power suggesting otherwise).

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Instead, Rihanna has been blessing the world with Fenty Beauty. Launched in 2017, the cosmetic brand took the world by storm with its broad inclusivity across skin tones and gender. Forbes reported that Fenty earned $100 million in sales in its first six weeks, then reached more than $550 million in its first full year alone. The Savage X Fenty lingerie line she launched soon after knocked it out of the park as well, solidifying Rihanna’s position as the highest paid female musician in the world.

So given that the majority of her recent fortune is from Fenty, what’s left for Rihanna to do as an artist? Sure, R9 is going break records with the hype its built up over the years, and the lead single is an almost guaranteed #1 if she plays her cards right (paired with how volatile the chart is right now too). However from a business sense, there’s little reason for her to do so.

A project quality will make-or-break an artist’s career, even one of Rihanna’s stature.

Take Chance the Rapper for example. His now-iconic KitKat jingle gave him mainstream attention and the subsequent ‘Best Rap Album’ Grammy win made him one of hip-hop’s brightest stars. Yet the absolute travesty that was The Big Day was able to ruin any momentum his career had. A cancelled tour and sea of ridiculing memes later, the most notable thing he’s done since then is…become the host of the Punk’d remake.

Of course, Rihanna is a much bigger artist than Chance but that makes her potential fall from grace even more perilous. No artist is impervious to a hit in commercial viability when a less-than-favourable project drops. Why risk the brand damage when she could gracefully bow out of the limelight as one of history’s best pop stars, all while continuing to grow her juggernaut of a cosmetic company?

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“I am always working on music and when I am ready to put it out in the way that I feel fit, it’s gonna come out. And you’re not going to be disappointed when it happens. It’s going to be worth it.”

Rihanna when asked about R9 on Entertainment Tonight

There’s still a chance that Rihanna could return music out of her love for the artistry, yet there’s a much higher likelihood that the album will serve as a companion piece to a future business move – ala Kanye’s eccentric announcements that just so happen to coincide with any one of his Yeezy clothing lines. The exposure a new album will bring invaluable attention towards Rihanna’s brand, so it makes sense that she’s biding her time for an opportune moment to strike.

Legendary artist Dr. Dre was another artist that had his fingers in multiple pies. While running his insanely successful Beats By Dre headphones brand, he kept fans on edge for over a decade with never ending teases for his elusive 3rd solo album – Detox. It eventually dropped in 2015 under the title Compton as a companion piece to the Straight Outta Compton movie. However, the attention his business deals attracted had long surpassed the general public’s want for a new Dre album. Compton made a major initial splash, but it eventually came and went while Dr. Dre soon all but retired in name.

Despite the historical significance of the album’s release, Dr. Dre had already become more businessman than artist. Though Rihanna currently commands much more of the public consciousness than Dr. Dre did in 2015, the potential of history repeating itself will always be present.

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Will R9 be Rihanna’s final album? Who knows. All we can do now is wait and hope that it’ll be an album that can live up to her best work, and not end up as a project who’s focus is to chase after industry trends.

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Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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