TuneDig is an in-depth and informed conversation between two lifelong friends about the power of music — one album at a time.

In each episode, we go down the rabbit hole to spend a while in the strange world we discover. We take an honest look at creativity in all its complexity—from writing and production to history and cultural impact.

We promise you’ll learn something new every time, no matter how much you already love the album we explore.

Episode 37



By every measure — sales, awards, chart-toppers, global name recognition — Rihanna is objectively as big as the Beatles ever were. In fact, ANTI is so big it’s still on the charts, a record five full years later.

Take a closer look with us at “the record you make when you don’t need to sell records”, and get a taste of the true freedom that comes from focusing on your inner voice when faced with insurmountable expectations.


Kyle: Today we’re talking about ANTI by Rihanna. 

Cliff: Hashtag “R8”, the eighth studio album from Rihanna, came out in 2016, January 28th, and it had a lot of newness attached to it. And on top of it had a lot of anticipation attached to it, because, as I’m sure we’ll discuss, Rihanna had a certain cadence of releasing music that kind of took place over a pretty long period of time … and then people collectively lost their absolute shit waiting just a few minutes for a new album from Rihanna, after a decade of nearly flawless hit making, and I think this is an album… no, I don’t think; I know for sure… that this is an album that you brought up for us to talk about, and immediately engaged, whenever we started discussing this, with all the things inside of me that’s not sure I want to be a person who’s willing to like pop albums as much as I inevitably discovered that I do sometimes.

Kyle: It started, in all fairness, as realizing that Rihanna was at the top of both mine and my wife’s celebrity weekend pass list… just in all candor. And then that slowly evolving into like, “Oh my God, I really like her musically.” I’ve just like consistently liked Rihanna songs over the course of a decade and she’s been prolifically putting out music. And then this album came along, and new people that I’d never seen talk about Rihanna or stuff like it, like moving beyond even the poptimists, right? Like blog culture created this whole thing where it was like, ironically cool to like pop music. This was beyond that. The language around this was different. I just sent you an Instagram from Adam Tanbouz, the guitarist of He Is Legend, who posted about one of the songs from this record. And that was one of the moments when this record came out where I was like, “Oh?! Okay.” Leave the title of this album and its almost like naively stated intentions well enough alone. This is a different type of pop album, which came out in a year of seismic, big, sorta different pop albums, namely Beyonce’s Lemonade.  This is a set aside type of thing where it was hugely commercially successful… in some regards, which we’ll talk about… but also just like a different kind of artistic statement as well.

Cliff: Yeah, for sure.  I think relative to the artistic statement idea, one of the things that I took away from listening a lot to this record and probably going at least two levels deeper than I normally would have, because normally my experience of, of the Rihanna is, uh… “That’s dope.” then I’ll move on. You know, like I don’t think I had taken a lot of time to necessarily collect the litany of tiny individual thoughts that were basically like, “I don’t mind Rihanna the way that I mind most people in pop music.” This kind of made me shove them together and go, “Oh, okay. There’s probably a mass of an opinion in there somewhere.”  I think thinking about this, too, through the lens of that artistic statement idea, one of the things we can talk through is what the context was as this record was coming out, aside from just the delay and the amount of time that led to it being, or maybe more specifically feeling, like a statement from her. Whereas I think like a lot of what we can see and, in a sense, understand about Rihanna here is, like: this album is a little bit less like “I need you to see me making a statement and I need you to understand what I’m saying” and a little bit more like  “I’m going to show you my art, and I honestly, really kind of for the first time, objectively don’t have to care at all what anyone really thinks about this.” But you can’t just go from being somebody who makes a decade worth of hits and being in the kind of top echelon of popular music and just become somebody who would put out a stupid artistic statement on your first try. Like… There’s too much skill involved in it. So to me, like over and over listening, more and more to this record, especially in kind of a dense amount of time, I’m more and more get that impression of yeah, it’s a culmination of a lot of freedom for Rihanna. It gives us like a tour of the things that she’s really good at and doesn’t mind showing us that she’s good at. But she really doesn’t need to put a specific point on it. It doesn’t mean a thing, and honestly, she doesn’t need for you to feel like it needs to mean a thing it’s just there.

and it’s just a little bit more of a mood record than it is like a thing we need to take in like intellectually break down and try to put all the pieces back together.

Kyle: Right. It’s an eye roll to even try to summarize that headspace, y’know? You stumble over all kinds of Behind the Music type of cliches trying to arrive at what you just kind of inherently understand when you listen to the album two or three times through and read one or two articles about it. And I think summarily, you find that when you read a lot of the criticism that came out at the time; it’s like nobody really got it. And it’s annoying now, four years later to talk about how nobody really got it. It’s all just such a cliche, and to your point, none of that shit really matters. It’s turtles all the way down, right? It’s stupid to say that it’s stupid and nothing really matters and you should just listen to the record. I know when we dig into the nuances of the songs and the people involved in the process, that sort of stuff will reveal itself. But I think we’re having a little bit of a meta moment describing kind of the arc of how we arrived at this place where it’s just like, either you get it or you don’t. I almost feel like I’m talking about Can or something way more far out. “You just need to get into it, man.” which is a cool…

Cliff: “Just let go, man. Just receive it, man.”

Kyle: …which is a cool-as-shit thing to say about an artist as enormous as Rihanna, and I think, I hope, bodes well for the pop music of the future. You know, now being four years on, which is a lifetime, practically a generation in musical style cycles. But I do think that’s a good place to start grounding ourselves, you know,  you would, I think you were the one that put it into perspective for me, just how huge Rihanna was in the lead up to this thing. So if you don’t mind sharing some of that…

Cliff: I don’t mind sharing, Kyle. I would be happy to fact you. We’ll give it the slightest tinge of controversy, okay? Just for everyone listening, take a moment. Think about who’s kind of on the same level as Rihanna to you? Who else do you think of when you think of Rihanna? Objectively, she belongs in the category of like, definitely less than 10 people in the world, if not, maybe less than five, right? She is on the level of the Beatles, Madonna, and Michael Jackson. Artists who not only were worldwide phenomenons, but were worldwide phenomenons way prior to all the music that’s ever been invented being available for people to listen to at any time. So she kind of hits the mark on a curve in the opposite direction. And just to give some numbers to back this thing up… ’cause God, 2020 needs numbers to back some shit up… she has sold over a quarter of a billion records across the world. She’s had 14 number one and 31 top 10 U.S. singles, which for the record, is more than Michael Jackson. And that was done within the span of a decade. And that decade started when she was something like 17 years old. So just objectively placing her, even narratively, alongside all the other people who have gone on to impact music, because they were so good, so early, and they became so prolific, they were relentlessly impacting culture. They were always there. And on top of that, right, you know, 9 Grammys, 13 AMA Awards, 12 Billboard Music Awards, all that stuff. And so all those numbers, just to make one quick argument: that, when we do decide to eat the rich, then maybe we should spare the world’s wealthiest female musician, uh, who is also Rihanna. Like, we just have to put together the enormity, not only for a musical career, but also her ability to build out an individual persona that’s… it’s not the same thing we see when we talk about basic celebrity and someone, being very well known, but at the same time, like they’re down, like, leasing a Charger off the used lot, like down the block that they can barely pay for, you know? Like, no, like Rihanna’s worth like $600 million or whatever. She’s a huge entrepreneur and on top of it, I’m musically a Rihanna apologist at this point. Um, I don’t know enough to dig into like, is her philanthropic efforts, uh, of the right caliber and all that? But like, it sure seems to. Uh, at a quick glance, like she seems like she really cares. And on top of it, I mean, she’s, she’s very honored. She’s basically a hero in Barbados where she came from, uh, and continues to like give back to them as well. All that to say, like, she’s this enormous persona, but it’s a little hard to take in, because when you think of the Beatles and Madonna and Michael Jackson, and kind of like the vibe that they were getting across culturally is pretty different from the way that Rihanna presents herself. And so it’s real easy to just place her into a different category, as opposed to really reconciling the fact that she’s become a cultural phenomenon that’s bigger– and not only that, maybe faster than anyone ever has– in modern times. And so it’s just, it’s a wild thing culturally, to begin with.

Kyle: Also, I know Billboard is charted differently than it used to be, I know the metrics are sort of different, but as of mid June, fully 4.5 years after this record came out, it was still on the Billboard Top 200. It’s the longest charting album by a Black female artist in Billboard history. 224 weeks as of June. I don’t know if it’s still on the charts now, but that’s unbelievable… just… talking about Rihanna’s numbers… Normally, we’re not guys that care to talk about the numbers, but they’re so staggering here. It’s like when you first see the infographic about the difference between a million dollars and a billion dollars. Rihanna is a huge international global phenomenon. She’s literally as big as it gets in the known musical world.

Cliff: And just to reinforce, like, as we inevitably like, bring it back to music, cause that’s all we really care about. We just needed to zoom out for a minute to just like remind ourselves that, like we can’t always see into the pop world very well from like our “sub-genres of sub-genres” that we love to live in instead…

Kyle: And I think if we saw any of this stuff on paper, we’d be like, “I don’t want anything to do with whatever the music associated with that is.” Right? And yet! This is like kind of a game changer for me. Like, I, I love, love, love this record. And it’s a real departure from the normal stuff that I’ll pull up on a given day on Spotify, but it’s, there’s a little something for anything on this record. So I think part of what we’re trying to rectify is we don’t normally like stuff that’s this huge in the zeitgeist. And I, I dunno, I guess it just kinda like, feels good to like the song that’s on at the party, as opposed to being like, “God, I wish I could put my own iPod on.”

Cliff: Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it. Usually the number of people who like it thing is inversely proportional to how fucking cool it is, so…

Kyle: And I don’t want to be one of those people, but, I think that’s why I just want to enjoy being in the sweet spot, the very large sweet spot with everyone else.

Cliff: Yeah, and just to kind of narrow it down, too, so we can take it from a bit of like a musically analytical perspective: Jason Green wrote an article at Pitchfork that I think also describes kind of this different way that Rihanna is able to approach being a singular artist while at the same time, as we’ll see,  you know, continuing to basically like license songs from other people. Her “Rihanna-ness” that comes out on ANTI is not from her ability to write songs from scratch. It’s something different. So like, what is that in the pop world? So Jason Green describes it as “Rihanna Voice,” and he like capitalizes the words and he says like, ” Rihanna Voice has become an industry wide idea, a creative property, like a Korg synth or LinnDrum. Uh, we crave the thrill that you can only get when a dozen or so good ideas manifest themselves in one single voice. And for the past decade, that voice has more or less been Rihanna’s. And now that she’s gleefully shredding it apart on ANTI, she’ll probably generate a whole new comet trail of Rihanna bees”– which is a cool word; props to you, dude– and like, “inevitably none of them will carry the charge, the glassy cool, and subterranean heat of the real thing.” Even though it maybe over-indexes on like lamenting, not everyone is going to exactly be like Rihanna, ’cause that’s like how things work… At the same time, like just to have an identifiable trait that you can use to transcend individual pop songs written in totally different contexts by different people is the feat. That’s the hugeness of this cultural icon manifesting their hugeness in the music industry itself. She is, uh, an indescribable thing that people use to describe things and try to recreate.

Kyle: Speaking of the real thing: one of my favorite quotes that came out of this whole thing was there’s a feature in The Undefeated where they called it the best project of her career and the best album of 2016. But there was one really small quote in that article and it was really telling. She said, “I’ve made a lot of songs that are really, really big songs. From the jump they just blow up.” And that was in March, 2015. So a little, just a little bit before this record came out. ” I wanted to kind of get back to… not that they weren’t real music, but I just wanted to focus on things that felt real, that felt soulful, that felt forever.” I think it’s really astute that there’s a difference in even the cadence or like where she sits on the beat, so to speak, in her like song writing and song selection approach, where normally, in the previous 10 to 15 years of Rihanna, it would be all about ” let’s do the thing that’s going to get in your veins in the first four beats.” And there’s maybe not really any of that on this record? BPM wise, it’s a lot slower on the whole than a lot of her stuff, but I think there’s something so interesting the way that she chose to like, go for space and depth and not going in with the mentality that like, I need anything that’s going to grab anyone and I am just going to do it for me. So we’re not reading into that. That’s a thing that she was really consciously feeling and trying to be selective about. That’s part of the reason that it took a, a “long time,” hard air quotes, to get here from her 2012 record to this one.

Cliff: And that span of time, too– so 2005 to 2012– so that was all done under Def Jam. I couldn’t say that Rihanna would be the only artist that we’ve seen from Def Jam that just gets kind of like squeezed to maximum capacity, especially when it’s working. 

Kyle: Thumbs up for uncle Russ, who, by the way, was the first person I think I ever saw get blackballed from Clubhouse. Somebody invited him to Clubhouse, and within a matter of 24 hours, there was an uproar, and I haven’t seen him on the app since then. Maybe we’re finally turning a corner as a society.

Cliff: Never invite that guy to the party that comes drinks all your booze you know? 

Kyle: Man. Def Jam is its own rabbit hole. It gave us Uncle Russ and Uncle Rick and I just don’t, I don’t know what to make of, of any of it. Did that one Slayer record… did… was Slayer on Def Jam at one point? Was that a thing? Or just Rick Rubin produced that record?

Cliff: I don’t know. Well, Rick Rubin helped him with the, uh, the semi questionable logo treatment as well. There’s all that mythology in there.

Kyle: So anyway, what’s the timestamp and we made a Slayer… we name checked Slayer in the Rihanna episode? Welcome to TuneDig.

Cliff: I mean mood wise, not too far apart. So both like pyrotechnics, 

Kyle: Damn, Rihanna is probably the Slayer of, like, pop R&B just, I don’t want to flesh out that analogy, but there’s something tight about that. The other metal connection is, I sent you that picture of her the other day on Instagram, where she was wearing a sleeveless Pantera shirt with just the weed leaf on it, and then like big weed leaf pants looking like she was going to a Phish concert. It was great.

Cliff: Or had a super weekend in Gatlinburg. 

Kyle: Yeah.

Cliff: “I bought a knife at the bazaar, honey.”

Kyle: ” Oh man. They, they recognize me in Panama City, so I had to go in the Panama City Walmart and buy some clothes.”

Cliff: ” My airbrushed shirt is under this one.” So yeah. So…

Kyle: “My other, my other airbrushed shirt is your mom.”

Cliff: Sweet Jesus. So who knows whether the idea of her being on Def Jam for that whole time is like itself worth talking about. I more just wanted to mention it because it could be. Who knows? And let’s turn and face the future from there. Like she cranks stuff out for Def Jam, they figured out how to make her into, basically, she was called like a “perfectly oiled pop machine.” She’s dropping record after record, just Grammys, nomination, sales, everything. And so she became absolutely prolific. And then a few things happened between that last record Unapologetic and ANTI, which again, may, you know, may be a chicken and egg situation. Who knows how long it would’ve taken her to make this record if she’d stayed on Def Jam and had the artistic freedom, she would eventually have …

Kyle: This record never would have come out on Def Jam, straight up. They would have reworked it and reworked it to death.

Cliff: So she gets, she gets her own imprint on Roc Nation. That’s itself a whole shift, right? Let’s give Rihanna a whole imprint to figure out kind of how she wants to own this thing. And then on top of it, another really key part, and like, we can’t not mention this because no matter how much we try to focus on music, to me, like one of the many lessons that music teaches us as it relates to history is like, when something is just an objectively good idea, that always plays out really well. When an artist buys their masters, it always works out well for the artists 100% of the time, right? And so she bought back her masters. Oh, all of those records, which is, pretty wild to conceive that there’s an amount of money that could have bought a decade worth of Rihanna hits, but apparently she, there was, and she had it available.

Kyle: She’s the $600 million man, you know?

Cliff: She’s just another level entirely. So those two things happen. And I think that those are really important context because the lead-up to ANTI had this confluence of all these different aspects of artistic freedom that don’t usually come for someone all at once. It’s usually a slow roll, right? You get your own imprint or maybe you get a little bit of a stretch to make some songs on a record, and you eventually evolve into like your fully formed, more artistic human being who wears all black, and is pretentious or whatever. And instead like her evolution happens basically between one record and the next, So all of those things combined to create what would end up being ANTI, and the main thing that we know that she said directly about this period of time, that gave her some vision for the songs that would be part of ANTI and the singles that were before them was that she said that uh, that she wanted songs she could perform in 15 years and an album that she could perform in 15 years and not just songs that were burnt out, which in and of that statement itself, you can hear a little bit of how she feels about those songs, right? Just making that contrast is enough to let you know that like… e’erbody gets super excited about “Diamonds”, but like, it might not be fun to sing that all the time every night forever. I don’t know. I haven’t tried. She says that when she gets on stage, now that she doesn’t want to perform a lot of those songs. Cause like they don’t feel like her anymore. that

Kyle: That’s so …that’s so real, dude.

Cliff: It’s kind of hard to describe it. Like it’s so important to sit with that little moment of someone both being able to say ” the legacy that I’m leaving doesn’t feel like me yet” and “I have the means to go get my legacy so far and actually just fix it intentionally.” And so not many times do we have somebody who’s not only at a specific inflection point, trying to create a new part of their legacy, which is what she’s doing here. But at the same time we remember is still Rihanna and doesn’t really care that much. It just didn’t feel right so far, and she wanted to do something that felt more right. But she’s not tied to it. That confluence of like real objective kind of facts in context, combined with what she is consistently saying her mood is, that’s the kind of Rihanna that we meet on ANTI. And to me, like just knowing that that’s where the record sits is what makes it so much more interesting to listen to.

Kyle: And by the way, she was like 24 or 25 when she is going through all this in 2012. So I think it’s worth calling out explicitly that one of the things that makes her special is that she had that level of clarity and demanded that level of control over her artistry at such a young age, That is a typically longer, harder fought battle, especially when you start so young and young artists so often gets such a raw deal. You contrast a Rihanna with somebody like a Justin Bieber, or even like a Taylor Swift, who’s going through what she’s going through with Scooter Braun right now, right? It’s a testament to who Ri is as an artist that she pulled all that under her own imprint and did all that stuff when she did

Cliff: So we sort of arrive at ANTI then, after you know, a four-ish year wait. Which for the record, I’m still impressed by the now meta information that she managed to completely avoid the Trump era entirely by releasing ANTI before it really became a thing and has not released any music since. So we’ll be, um, we’ll probably be a little while into Uncle Joe before we get R9, and that’s just like a smart move, right? We get Rihanna on the peak and Run the Jewels on the troughs of society. 

Kyle: That’s a Faustian bargain I can live with, I guess.

Cliff: Well, we kind of arrive at it. And I think, like to our discussion earlier, instead of viewing the whole record of some sort of coherent statement of independence, I think of it more as an exploration of what independence means, because when you are truly free, you’re also free of needing to think about what other people think about your freedom, right? Which becomes this whole like meta thing. But like, we tend to watch people at this stage just basically reflect narcissism back in our general direction. And they really want you to know how much they don’t care about… It’s really clear that they do, right? I don’t even know how to break that down, right? Whereas like this, I think not only this album, but also I would argue the singles that came directly before it should also kind of be considered part of this phase in the sense that here’s where she starts giving that tour of like, “and also here’s a genre I can do, and also here’s a genre I can do, and also I just literally did karaoke over a Tame Impala song, and it’s better. Deal with it.”

Kyle: It’s totally better. Holy shit.

Cliff: And, and so she’s not only doing this entire exploration, but I think one, one quote, because it’s, it just says it so succinctly: ” the kind of immediate bulletproof pop smash on which Rihanna’s career has rested to date is conspicuous by its absence, as are the kind of writers who provided them.” And so, like, I think you and I have discussed Kyle, like, one of the many ways to let this thing spiderweb out and get lost in it is thinking about the types of people who contributed to all these individual songs, which kind of comprised this big exploration phase for Rihanna. Cause like basically everything about this album, both as a whole and its individual songs, are unconventional in comparison to everything that came before them.

Kyle: I have a note for literally every single track on this record, because when I was looking through the credits, I had a mouth agape moment just like, “Oh, wow. Okay. All right.” And if not something explicitly in the credits, then something it evoked for me. what I took away from the songs as a whole is every pop album should be this open-minded, this kind of terrestrial. I know we’ve cited it a handful of times since we covered Björk, but the ” emotional landscapes” idea that a good piece of art covers lots of terrain without too much regard for linearity or whatever. You just trust that if you do your own thing and follow your muse, then people will know that they can walk around in the open world with you. And they’ll just either get it or they won’t. And it’s fine. But I also think this record coming out at the beginning of 2016, but really starting in earnest the work on this record in 2012, what I heard is a lot of the best of what’s somewhat derogatorily called the blog era. I think you get a lot of the best of all of that, like, ’09 to 2012 stuff that completely changes the trajectory of pop music and was really where you started to see like late Millennial, early Gen Z genre mashing, just general disregard for boundaries between things. So I think contextually a lot of the fluidity of this record is kind of a product of its time. But much in the way, Kanye West has made trying to capture the zeitgeist of the moment, and do the best version of the zeitgeist, and productize and package it with any given album cycle… I think that’s what you see on ANTI here. I definitely want to talk about lots of different stuff with this.

Cliff: I kind of want to start with the singles. I do just want to mention though, because it’s worth mentioning, just to add to the ” I don’t care” mystique-ness of this whole thing. Also just because I’ll take every opportunity I can to dunk on, on Jay Z, because he’s done a lot in his life. I would love to take an opportunity just to kind of make fun of the things he may not have done so well. And one of them is like totally botching the rollout of this album… 

Kyle: God bless it. 

Cliff: …Tidal. Watching the Jay Z and Tidal thing was a uniquely interesting time for me. The way that people have started doing politics in 2020, where it was like, you know, four years ago, it was just sort of like, “I don’t know, I think I voted for president” into like now this year, “I know like what everyone eats at lunch at 3:00 PM on Tuesday before they certify the election.” In that kind of same way, like the Tidal and Jay Z stuff, I was fascinated by, because it was, it was really an artist who’s a cultural icon, though, trying to do something that was…

Kyle: and an incredible businessman, successful on lots of different fronts.

Cliff: … but doing this unique emerging, what does digital licensing look like in the real world and how do we actually equitably distribute art out to people? That’s a lot of stuff converging on one moment. Uh, so to be honest, it was a little funny to watch Tidal accidentally… ostensibly accidentally… release the record by publishing it on title, but then Rihanna herself links directly to a free download as soon as it leaks. Because everyone was waiting on it. People definitely caught it. They immediately like rip the whole thing down and then just that whole response.

Like you can compare that response to virtually anyone else’s, especially at that time, it’s become a little bit more normal to go like full In Rainbows about the whole thing now because everyone makes fun of you if you seem to have your ass all wound up about people downloading your music too early. But like she just kinda casually passed out a download link for the whole thing. And so it was more just like “Nah, get the music out.” I think that’s, again, just kind of helpful context to the whole feel of it. Cause it only adds to the mystique of the record in general. But I think, like I mentioned, I think the singles that came before it, even though they aren’t on the album, should be considered part of the phase. And those are, uh, “FourFiveSeconds”, which is objectively a terrible song. And you’re a terrible person for liking

Kyle: Oh my God. Everything about it. Hold, just pause. Google “FourFiveSeconds cover” on Google Images. Just even the… even the cover alone, you should be like, Oh God, why is this a thing? Who did this? Is this a Gap commercial? Who paid for this in the retail industry lobby? Nothing about this is right.

Cliff: it’s like people think adding Paul McCartney to a thing is just like adding a little bit of salt to a dish, like, well, this’ll, this will improve it.

Kyle: You’re right. You’re right. It’s definitely not good or ample seasoning, that’s for sure.

Cliff: No, but it does preserve it way longer than it should naturally be around for. So there’s “FourFiveSeconds”. There was “American Oxygen”. And then there was the song that I both like and also hate the way that people talked about, uh, “Bitch Better Have My Money”, which…

Kyle: By the way, the first thing that I think of when I hear that song is your wife doing finger guns in the air. Like that’s the most April Seal club song I can… that’s like April standing on a booth just being like, “Yeah, wassup bitches!” Ma’am, this is actually a Wendy’s.

Cliff: I don’t know how she feels about this description, but I’m guessing it probably pretty good. And I agree

Kyle: It’s extremely Aries energy, that song. Chaotic good.

Cliff: So for all those reasons, I like that song, for the purposes of having people like really trip over themselves to be like, “it’s a trap song!” It’s just, like, okay, can we just like, maybe just not describe the song for a little while so that I don’t have to hear anyone else say Rihanna did a trap song. Okay. I mean, yeah, sure. 

Kyle: Atlanta influences everything.

Cliff: But like enough so that you don’t have to go adding it where it doesn’t belong. Okay? You can just… Okay. And I think the reason that it’s worth, including those singles too, is just they also represent total departures from any sense of an overall sound in the phase. So for that reason, like for their contrast, they belong. So then you get to ANTI, which includes none of them songs.

Kyle: Now I’m thinking about those three songs would have made a crazy seven inch. If she just like put out a little EP before ANTI and put those three songs on it, you’d be like, “What the fuck is this?” 

Cliff: So ANTI is like the beginning of that exploration, uh, but kind of includes all of that stuff. I think one of the things I took away from it was we’ve got those singles, and all kind of taken together, we’re kind of opening up this new sphere of musical influence. Like, the previous bounds of pop don’t really apply. So we’re not only getting like individual different kind of slight mutations on a genre from song to song, um, but we’re also getting places where she’s pushing harder into influences that she’s hinted at before. Obviously the Caribbean influence being from Barbados, and like pretty specifically Trojan horsing, like dance hall and club music into the American popular zeitgeist over the last decade anyway, so we’re kind of seeing a lot of that stuff. One of the places I wanted to start before, hopefully you just take the momentum from here on these songs is like, I really think that people over-index on the starts, not only the very first song because of how long they’ve waited on it, but especially like the very beginning of like “James Joint”, for instance, like, um, It seemed like when we started reading all the reviews, it was like, all of the reviews were written within 30 seconds of the album finally dropping and people just like unloading four years’ worth of expectation on it. And so you get a lot of Hey, Rihanna wants to do things her own way now. Hey, Rihanna is just interested in smoking a joint and not hanging out with you because she said it first in that second song.” And it’s like, I mean, yeah, these are all like…

Kyle: It was, it was almost more like peop– people looked at Rihanna’s Instagram for four years and that was the review instead of listening to the record, just like, “She’s having such a good time without me!” 

Cliff: But, I mean, we start on, we start on a song that she essentially bought from SZA.  And we will later find out that, I don’t necessarily know how this played out. This seems like another interesting, tiny rabbit hole. But like apparently SZA had kind of centered her entire album around the song, expecting it to be hers. Like shot a music video for 

Kyle: it. 

Did not know that. That’s awesome.

Cliff: Yeah. And so it’s kind of an interesting dialogue reading, a little bit of the interviews of, kind of like, she sort of laments missing that song. So I don’t really know how that played out, necessarily. but kind of a good example, again, of like what we were trying to identify earlier with like Rihanna is sort of occupying these middle spaces. And so one of them is like, how was it that someone can listen to a song that she literally purchased from another artist in which the song is about being yourself. And then other people go, “Listen to Rihanna talking about being herself. Girl, go off.” You know?

Kyle: Here’s my… here’s my review. Yas queen send it from Kyle Stapleton of Atlanta, Georgia. 

Cliff: Uh, I try not to cackle and ugly laugh on the podcast, but I did that time.

Kyle: So that being SZA’s song casts it in a new light for me. Your point about the way these songs start is a killer one. You know, if you’re doing the “I can name that tune in two notes,” you hear the drums come in and I’m like, Oh my God, this sounds like “Yonkers”. This sounds one like a Tyler, the Creator production because of the off kilter, not quantized, weird drum pattern. And. the drum sound sounds a lot like Yonkers. And when I’m talking about best of the blog era, like Odd Future was it, and SZA comes from TDE, from Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q and, and those guys’ crew. And they were also a blog, YouTube, internet sensation. So it’s clear right away within the first kicks that, Oh, oh, okay. This is not “Umbrella”. This is not “Pon De Replay”. This is a very different thing. And sequencing, I think is, is a killer aspect of this record, for sure. Starting with that, and then “James Joint” is… just putting that second on this record, I think is one of the coolest things about this record. A one minute James Fauntleroy cut that a lot of the criticism of this record, of like, “it feels unfinished. It feels all over the place. It feels whatever.” I think so much of it is embedded in just that curve ball. First song comes out super hard, very abrasive. The subject matter of the song is very much a finger in your face. I am very good; I can do whatever I want. She literally says, “Let me cover your shit in glitter; I can make it gold.” Couldn’t come out any stronger than she does. And then the next thing is like an ephemeral James Fauntleroy thing, and she literally calls it “James Joint”. And it just throws you so hard, but it, it works. I can’t explain exactly how, but it does. And it also is kind of Thundercat-y to me. James Fauntleroy, we talked about on the Frank Ocean episode, Channel Orange, cause he, he co-wrote “Fertilizer”. James Fauntleroy is absolutely somebody that you should look up cause he has written and produced for body and has featured on a number of songs. Saw a video a while back that secret weapon,” but also Shea Taylor co-wrote on that song. He co-wrote “Thinkin Bout You”, one of Frank’s big hits, and he co-wrote or produced eight tracks on Beyonce’s 4. There’s just so much about it, evoking a Frank or a Thundercat with the like sketchbook minute 12 kind of like punk throw away unfinished thought. It’s very of the era and somebody that is like older than all of these people. That was a thing that I just had to get used to. That’s… I didn’t like a lot of Frank Ocean’s Blond when I first listened to it, because so much of it just kinda like comes and goes without regard for structure or sequencing or whatever. But the more things I hear that take on that form and structure, the more it’s like, Oh, this is a good move. This is a way to differentiate and not sound like older records. So I think a lot of it is you just gotta reframe your expectation around what an album is supposed to be and sound like and all that. And that all adds up to this album goes a lot of places and feels like a really long record, I think ostensibly, because of it, but it’s 13 songs at 43 minutes, like it clocks in perfectly, doesn’t overstay its welcome. That it’s under 45 minutes is crazy in an era when you contrast it with like Drake who in 2016 put out Views. And the year before that put out If You’re Reading This 15, 17, 18, 19, 21 song jams that go on for more minutes than would have fit on a CD. So very, I think it’s subversive to do a record that’s a little shorter. Obviously the deluxe version is longer with the bonus tracks, but, just in the three to four minutes that are the first two songs of the record, I think you get a lot.  get everything you need to understand about what kind of experience it’s going to be. And so if the first two things don’t grip you, there’s plenty for you to like shuffle around and find, but this is a play through record. I hope we can encourage that strongly and explicitly enough that this record is a grower, for sure, if you just like, let it ride for a few hours.

Cliff: Confirmed by the last several weeks, man. Fully expecting, like I mentioned to you, fully expecting to get really tired of listening to this record and…

Kyle: Only wound up liking it more.

Cliff: Yup. Against my ego, did not hate it. Speaking of against my ego, uh, you mentioned Drake and here he is. On a song, uh, ironically titled “Work” in which he does, as usual, the absolute minimum, uh, on a song about someone wanting more from him, literally as a person and him being unwilling to put forth the effort. I like the song in spite of Drake though, uh, as any song, I like with Drake on it, specifically, because like again, reading, like reading really early energetic reviews of things is like such a gift for, for thinking about music again later. So like everyone was so like, “Okay, this song is less cool than I expected it to be. Rihanna either ironically or unironically, like devolves into just like “mush talk” by the end of it, and like, we don’t really know what’s going on.” Well like, well, um, okay. That’s part of it. She’s also like speaking in Jamaican patois. She’s literally introducing cultural linguistics from Jamaica into a song and maybe it’s possible that all the people writing the review immediately after listening to it, maybe didn’t have the cultural context as the people that they are, me and you possibly included, to know necessarily that that’s what’s happening in it. But like, there’s, there’s a lot of that Caribbean influence that comes into play here, including with the Jamaican Canadian folks that she worked with on the track. And so like actually going back through and looking up. Jamaican Patois and like some of the stuff she’s saying, like when she shouts “dry” or whatever, like it actually will help you understand the song and think a little bit less that it’s just like her out words in versus, I don’t know, like she’s not Cedric from the Mars Volta. Like there’s probably a reason that she wrote it this way.

Kyle: Few things on that song. One, it was the first of three top 10 singles from this record. Enormous. And it’s a great song, and I think a timeless pop song, because it works on a couple of levels. It works on the, I’m extremely drunk in public and I like can only muster understanding barely the contours of what a song is. And it works in that you can just be like, well, uh, you know, just, and she plays into that a little, it’s got a very like dance hall vibe, the video for the song, which I want to talk about, captures the energy of it perfectly like here’s how best to enjoy this song. So structurally it’s got the earworm thing, but it also goes a lot of different places, and works on a lot of different levels in that way. t the personnel on the song are crazy. So Partynextdoor, Boy-1Da, and 40, Drake’s producer, all co-produced on this thing also featuring as a co-producer is Montay Moore, the keyboardist from The Time as in Morris Day and The Time on a Caribbean style, like dance hall type song, which is, imagine the meeting, just, how did this cross section of people get in a studio together? That’s the power of Rihanna. Third, if you haven’t ever seen the video or you haven’t seen it in a long time, worth checking out. There are two versions of the video. There’s one that was obviously scrapped. Watch it on YouTube, it plays I think good version, the right version that they arrived at, and then the demo version where they were obviously just trying something out. They’re in like a little Hotline Bling looking room together. the main video is extremely uncomfortable to watch because Drake is so aggressively in love with Rihanna in real life. And it’s so evident that he’s like, Holy shit. I’m two millimeters from Rihanna’s face. He’s like nerdy Canadian, 2009, So Far Gone Drake in that whole video. He’s the guy that got onstage at an award ceremony and professed his love for this woman. I mean, it’s hard to be an adult man in your mid thirties and watch a dude lay it all on the line like that. And I mean, if there’s one person in the known universe, that that makes sense with, it’s Robin Fenty, but it’s incredible because he’s a seismic soup we’re starting his own right. And there are hundreds of thousands of women and men who throw themselves at Drake at a moment’s notice. The whole thing is a pop culture phenomenon. it’s an artifact that absolutely blew my mind to rewatch. Cause I never really paid attention to it when it was just like, on the screen at the barbershop when they were just playing YouTube playlist. But it was like, Holy shit, dude, he is going for it.

Cliff: I want to put a pin in that little feeling of, of cringe and regret and sadness so that we can come back to it for “Needed Me”, in which it feels like she really takes the knife that just like barely begun to scratch the surface and just like really makes eye contact with you and just like shoves it real deep into your rib cage. I really glad that you brought that up specifically because that feeling of yeah, I’m aware of your wants, and just like literally as much as possible, I don’t care about them is just like such an art form. that’s hard to kind of talk about, but it’s, it’s a thread if there is one.

Kyle: and. What’s even better is you don’t know who that’s about one. It could be about no, but like it’s the year. So vain thing on steroids. Could it be about Drake? Could it be about Travis Scott, who she was rumored to be dating? Could it be about another person entirely? Could it be about nobody when all those dudes definitely think it’s about them? That’s Ooh, that’s so good. It’s so good. And that’s why men are scared shitless of women because we don’t have that power or.

Cliff: Nope, I certainly don’t. It’s never happened to me.

Kyle: Before ” feels like it could have been on Purple Rain. Maybe it’s definitely a 1984 to 86 thing me on lasers or in the background of the song for sure. It also has a little bit of maybe a blood orange type of thing. Like if you want to contextualize it with like a, blog era contemporary, maybe that’s one of the closer things for me anyway.

Jeff Bhasker, co-produce that song, he produced uptown funk. He produced, we are young by fun. He produced all the huge songs on my beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Uh, which I think helps contextualize it sonically. So he did power runaway monster, all the lights. another co-writer on that was an Italian Kilz, who. I don’t really know how to describe her, but opened up for a lot of these people. So huge and huge under the radar type of folks. Uh, but then also the guitar on this song, the really schlocky eighties guitar is played by Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, who you may know for the ballad More Than Words, but they also had crazy hair metal songs, like Play With Me, just… That was one of those that, uh, took my breath away a little, when I saw the credits, I was like, where do I know that name for him? And it was like, Oh my God, he’s from Extreme.

Cliff: Casting director, you know, deserves a raise for that 

Kyle: What is the combination of events? Uh, what’s the butterfly effect of, Oh, I know this guy that could play guitar on this thing. Like how did that happen. I couldn’t find out, but I, really genuinely want to know. So that’s four songs on the record. Then you get into Desperado, which is my favorite song on this record. ostensibly the fifth single that came out on it just cause record’s still charting still gotta like put stuff out. What helped me understand the sound of the, this record, is learning that Mick Schultz produced and he i s a longtime producer for Jeremiah. so songs like Birthday Sex that heavy yeah. Low end is one of the Sonic qualities that gets commented on a lot in the write ups about this record. it’s on the fullest display here. And really mixed opinion. This is where shit starts to get really divided in the way people are talking about the record, which is great. I don’t think it’s a good statement of artistic intent, so to speak until there’s a song where there are camps around it and I’m squarely in the, like, this is one of the dopest songs on this record to me. it’s adapted from a called Waiting Game. And you put that song on and you hear immediately like, Oh yep, that’s the progression. But this song resolves it differently and arguably better, like the way the chord progression solves in this one is different front darker, maybe more minor. I’m going to try to talk like you and not be able to do it. But it just, I don’t know, works and I think it’s so cool. I don’t know if she found it herself or somebody found it and brought it to her, but just like, Oh, here’s here. It could be maybe a thing. Here’s a nugget of a thing. And she was like, hell yeah, that’s my jam. There’s so much mood board, mixed tape type stuff. You kind of got to stretch your mind to envision it all. but that’s one of those moments where it’s like, great. Somebody sent me a Tumblr link of this Banks song and I want to do this other thing with it. And I love that.

Cliff: We can be more sure of the main influence on the following song though, because if you don’t know, uh, Travis Scott is involved in Woo, up until about the last fourth of it, uh, you’re going to be real sure as time, inevitably slows down, and someone with a morph deep male voice, uh, soothes you into ending this hip hop song that doesn’t have a legitimate ending so far. I thought one of my favorite bits about Woo was out of the review from The Guardian about this record. and I’m just going to read it because wow this touched my heart: ” this genuinely unbelievable that it took eight people to write this track. It’s even more unbelievable that one of those writers is The Weekend. A man who’s no stranger to a compelling R and B hook,” which is the type of shade that I do like throwing when I can, especially when I can identify that this is mostly Travis Scott.

Kyle: mean, I love that this is basically a Travis Scott song again, let me take the thing that you do and make it better. Also, this song goes nowhere. Like it just, it’s kinda like a steam engine that just the wheels turn over again and again. And the closest it gets to do in anything is the little bit of a chorus where she distorts her own vocals like Travis, Scott, uh, but it just vibes. It’s like a, it’s like a psychedelic outer space club banger. I also think I have a little bit of a point of contention with, uh, it took eight people to write this, to screw in this light bulb. I think the way that I interpret the credits, of which there are a lot on this record, I think she was really generous with the credits. It seems like people contributed anything then they got some sort of production or writer credit. They’re a lot more extensive than I think most records of their stature tend to be, um, where they try to like obfuscate or group or play into the myth of the lone genius.  kind of, I kind of pictured that like all of eight of them were just hanging out. And if somebody said, what, if you move this thing up 30 seconds, like, all right, you get a credit. just handed them out like Oprah. but that list of eight people is also pretty rad. Travis Scott, The Weekend, Jeremiah, who we referenced on the last one, but he was actually directly involved with this one, uh, Hit Boy, The Dream who. Again, a huge powerhouse in songwriting popular music of the past 20 years. and Jean-Baptiste who goes by free school, and is lesser known, but has also done a ton of stuff. So, I mean, this was a hell of a writer’s room. 

Cliff: I think it’s just like late nineties Texas Ranger stuff, where you see the lineup on paper and you’re like, baseball is canceled now because the scene’s going to win every game. And then it turns out they hate each other too much to do anything well or like complete any season. And so you’re just kinda like, well, it’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that I thought it was going to be great. And

Kyle: it, I think, I think it’s more that it’s, pales in comparison to the power of some of the other songs  just basically re once you flatten all the layers, it just basically reads like Rihanna, just vibe and over a Travis Scott thing. Like You don’t hear a lot of the, what you would hope to hear from a lot of those other names on paper, but it’s fine. It’s still good. It’s just maybe the mid period dip on this record, if there is one. If you don’t like Travis Scott, you probably won’t like the song, but if you like any of that 

Cliff: hip hop for

Kyle: right. That’s that’s. But if you like it, you’re like, Oh dope. And it’s one of those where you, when you hear Rihanna, like actually sing out on it, you’re like, Oh, this is a, this is a better use of this type of beat than any Travis Scott singing or just him being like, yeah. Yeah.

Cliff: So rolling out of that though, I’m eager to get to probably what’s in the running for my favorite song on this record. if for no other reason than I most directly connect with what Rihanna is doing on purpose in this song and in the way that she is, we’ve already tried to like really split hairs on what song writing means here, but she’s taking lyrics and doing real things with them that can only be done by someone who is literally an expert vocalist. To me, the way that she draws out needed. It says what the entire song is trying to say. Like, I mean, she is dragging you by your mouth down the road. It just like you needed me. 

And like the way that she sings, it leaves absolutely no doubt about like the power structure and the relationship, in, think the best description of it that I saw, which, summarizes it in a more tourist way than I probably would at this point. But I agree with nonetheless is like, Talking about Needed Me. She, they say such a flip off, which is among multitudes on anti seems to acknowledge the point of a good Rihanna song, many of them anyway, which is the find a myriad ways to say, fuck you creating a status arsenal for vexed millennials. See Rihanna as a receptacle for bad bitches items and clap back inspiration. And like that’s a heck of a sentence. So again, kudos for the general writing of the review on that one, but like it really stacks together. it’s almost like a lot of us are like drafting off of the power that she’s giving across on this song in particular. And like the, raw confidence of it that’s devoid of like, egotistical blindness is so clear and direct to me that like, there’s one place where she’s exploring independence and I can understand where she’s standing, it’s this one, it feels like we’re getting a really clear like beacon from wherever she is in it.

Kyle: It’s peak Rihanna, for sure. it’s definitely got a YouTube video or like cell phone video of Michael Jordan. whooping ass on somebody one-on-one at some vacation spot,   just, I will pull up anywhere with a blown out knee and just dropped 30 on somebody. that’s the energy of the thing. some of the best synth work I think on this record too, uh, it was the second single. It was the second of three, top 10 singles was very surprised to learn that it was a DJ mustard beat.  I mean, it kind of does when you really listen, but th but this is definitely stretching him out of his normal, like West coast, rubber band type of thing. I was also very surprised to learn about somebody I’d never heard of who was also involved in the production. Frank Dukes, who produced, uh, BADBADNOTGOOD’ s Three and Sour Soul, the record they did with Ghostface. so that is tight. Frank Dukes is also a producer on some of what I think are the best Drake song. So think she pulls in a lot of collaborators who have been involved with people for better for where she’s been involved with like Drake or Chris Brown. You see those names come up a lot in the credits of some of these people, but she, she picks like super prolific and interesting people. Frank Dukes was the producer on… Uh, he did zero to 100. He did 10 bands and no talent on if you’re reading this. he also did diamonds dancing, the Drake and future song on what, a time to be alive. so lots to like in there. again like spacious big scent, the syrupy dark, This is for me other than one other song that we’ll get to probably the highlight of the record for me also… quickly when I acknowledge, just quick one, two hop, the next song is called. Yeah. I said it just want to hit real quick. The people involved in that song, Timberland. So there’s a Timberland production. one of the biggest producers of the past 20 years, like one of the first super producers in hip hop, Bibi Bourelly, who was a co-writer and bitch, but I have my money and then. Daniel Jones of Savage garden, amaz and John Paul. Borelli a Haitian American jazz fusion guitarists for a toss off two minute song. just kind of a loose expression of confidence from Rihanna clocks in at two minutes. And I think, Pair that with James joint it comes in the sequence in a way where it’s like, Oh, here’s that unfinished thing again? Here’s that Rihanna is all over the place thing. Again, if you’re just, half listening as you’re cranking out your review for Pitchfork or whatever, it’s just a solid, not at all a filler track, like you would be on at this point in most pop records.

Cliff: yep. pattern here is you tried not to mention a song, and it’s going to bite you in the ass. You’re you’re going to find out there was something cool you didn’t talk about. We get to say, well, mistakes from there, which as I jokes, but also truthfully conveyed is just a karaoke version of a Tame Impala song, where they’re using the actual track. Uh, it sounds like they may have tweaked a little bit of the balance or the mastering of it. but overall, I mean, she’s just almost literally doing a karaoke version of a tame Impala track. feel like it’s worth saying kudos to tame, Impala and Kevin Parker specifically for being willing to let this happen. Because inevitably, if you know, Rihanna is telling you, I like your song a lot heads up, I’m pretty much just going to replace the vocal track. You immediately know that the replacement of you alone will make this song an order of magnitude better.

Kyle: By the way that song 

Cliff: And it’s a good

Kyle: That song was brand new, too. Currents was less than six months old when ANTI came out. That was a mid to late 2015 record. the ink was not dry on that track. That was kind of an Otis Redding rolling stone satisfaction situation where it’s like, wait, who did the original now? Hold on, hold on. It would have been weird and kind of awesome if Kevin Parker had done Rihanna karaoke, but it starts to feel that way. it’s fine. And I, I think if you, if you live to the record on the whole, I think spiritually, there is kind of a, an influence of tame Impala, so many people in hip hop and R and B have embraced Kevin Parker. And Mark Ronson is like the cool white guys at the party. Cause they’re into like funk and 

Cliff: they’re the new black keys. Cause we got tired of them. Yeah.

Kyle: fuck those guys. Um, but Oh, now you made me lose my train of thought. Thinking about thinking about the black keys, black, 

Cliff: it was an alley for Black Keys. I couldn’t not dunk it, dude. I’m sorry. 

Kyle: But yeah, I think it’s a, it’s an interesting cultural confluence moment where, a lot of artists really like tame Impala, and she liked it enough to just not even cover the song, but, uh, it’s just a fun thing. And it’s, it’s like mid record. it’s so recognizable as one different from all the other stuff on the record to a tame Impala song.

it stuck out to me at first, before I started listening to the record a lot, but then it was like, it makes more sense in the context of this record to me now than it does on current, which is really interesting thing. And I think part of the Rihanna, like power vortex effect.

Cliff: So after that a song that gladly interrelates, uh, Dido hit just exciting, definitely the next thing you would expect following a karaoke version of a team of policy song on a Rihanna record that hasn’t come out in four

Kyle: it was like a Madlibs. There’s a couple of things for me on that one, one Dido in the co-writer guy. What’s his name?

Cliff: Paul Herman.

Kyle: Yeah. Dido and Paul Herman get a credit for basically just covering for the sake of legality level of interpolation. just kind of half a melodic turn from. Thank you. which is a song that was also sampled on Stan by Eminem, where you’re most likely to recognize it. but co-written by Chad sevo or Sabo of a band called the cold sees from Asbury New Jersey to self-describe as indie psychedelic. Most recently the cold seas were set in 2020 to open for armor for sleep. Um, so just, just that there’s an Armor for Sleep/ Rihanna connection is yeah. It’s kind of a mind melter,

Cliff: You just activated a very dormant part of my brain going to need to shut this thing back down.

Kyle: so, so again, we have covered pretty much everyone good and prolific and interesting and different in the realms of hip hop and R&B and pop music that has now started to lean into sounding like, air quotes, “urban music.” Now that hip hop has become like the de facto mode, right? You have all of the big and interesting names who aren’t doing like super hard trap stuff. And then you have the keyboardist from The Time, the dude from Savage Garden, a jazz fusion guitarist, a Dido credit, and a dude in a band who opened for Armor For Sleep. And we still have three more songs to go.

Cliff: Yeah. Love on the Brain is a another one that I initially hated, and also expected to hate for awhile. And now I just, I can’t stop singing it. it’s really good. it even bothers me on a really deep level, which is kind of hard to convey, which is like, being, and I mean, just say it, cause he still deserves it, but like, remember when the whole Rihanna Chris Brown thing happened, even as like a relative child at that point, I was like, cool, no, Chris Brown forever

Kyle: yep. yep. Still on, still on that train. Super hard. Fuck 

Cliff: re it’s. Okay. He still deserves it and I’m still fine holding onto it. And I am enough of an adult to understand that Rihanna can make her own decision and separate from my opinions about, uh, who I would exclude from my parties if I could,

Kyle: But if I see Chris Brown in public it’s on sight.

Cliff: Get out of here, dude. Never okay. so the reason I bring that whole thing up, right, this is sort of like a, loosely touched on topic kind of in this song, uh, was that whole thing. And so, again, for me, that just really layers in, like, don’t want to be like such a Libra white guy here, but like the idea of physical violence is like, absolutely nothing about it excites any part of me at all. So, it was even kind of hard to hear the words of this song. But it’s so good. to the point that we’ve been making over and over again so far, it’s another immediate departure. It’s easy to call this doo-wop, but at the end of the day, like it’s of a style that none of the other songs, are you know, it’s another song that was pretty obviously dropped in her lap one way or another, that she makes into something really good. And you can tell from the vocals alone that she’s like enjoying it. And she’s like, she’s just crushing the delivery of the whole thing.

Kyle: This is the best Rihanna vocal performance there is. Period. the first place you go, line item number one with Rihanna is just, pop sensation just sounds good. It sounds cool. Whatever, Rihanna can mother fucking sing. And this is the song that you want to skip straight to if you want to be blown away by her as a vocalist on par with just about any singer you can think of as amazing, like, but I’m not even gonna lie, man. This song regularly brings tears to my eyes. this hits me right in the jejunum. has that same pain thing that Amy Winehouse did really well, um, that I think like newer soul touches on, in a different way than older stuff ever did. Going back to that older reference point to head on a timeless, like deep, longing feeling, every time she hits a falsetto and that song, she’s as impressed as I am, or it hits her in as deep a place. Cause she goes woo. Like three times reacting to her own shit. Like she’s surprising herself. the pre-chorus melody is amazing that she taps into a real sixties, Ronnie Spector thing around this kind of like classic soul thing. And the best lyric for my money. My favorite lyric for sure, on this whole record is  “I’m tired of being played like a violin. What do I got to do to get in your motherfucking heart?” I used to keep a little note of, uh, lines I wish I’d written, anytime I heard a lyric that was like, that’s better than anything I’ve ever written in my life, and I fancy myself a good writer, but I… every time I hear that lyric, it stops me in my tracks and I’m just like, there’s something about it that so perfectly summarizes that whole song. That shit is good. I wanted it on every waffle house jukebox in the known world. also want to touch on really quickly that that was co-written by Fred ball, who, His first Grammy nomination, I think, was for a record called Islander by this cat named Bern Hoffman who’s Norwegian. And I, when I first listened to that record Islander, it sounds like Norwegian st. Paul, it’s like more disco East st. Paul or, very Scandinavian seals and Crofts type shit. so a little bit of a departure, but you can hear where he would bring some of that, classic, older, vintage type sensibility to the proceedings, but a perfectly picked collaborator for her. Just gimme something different, dude. Give me something different than Boi-1Da and Hit Boy are going to give me.

Cliff: And I think I like the fact that Higher follows Love on the Brain because of how much it really pushes you up to that edge of everything we’ve been talking about so far, which is the kind of at this point, the combination of Rihanna is kind of an undeniable vocal talent in practically every context. And then the I’m going to try something now. And it’s probably not going to make everybody happy. Reviews are very mixed on Higher, but what’s clear is that she is really intentionally using her voice to do something really familiar feeling to all of us. Whether you like the song or not is almost entirely separate from like, is she capturing what it feels like to be in that mood? Real specifically. I experienced myself alcohol kind of so differently, I feel like, from other people that sometimes I wonder if I’m kind of having a different experience than other people are. And like, this is one of the first artistic expressions of that mush feeling. That’s also somehow combined with a very sloppy, passionate love for the people that you want around you. And when you hit the right combination of like, yeah, I’m a little sloppy in a way that I’m not proud of, but I love everyone that I want to talk to you so much that I’m willing to ignore it. that to me is what I hear in her voice in like the rest Venus and the, the reach, like the desperation of it. Like, it just feels familiar. That’s such a triumph in and of itself.

Kyle: It feels like a scratch track, the vocal. You reach a certain point in your life where you understand the difference between sounding like you’re yelling and actually yelling. Actually really yelling or using the top of your voice is scary. It’s too powerful. And that’s why we have that mitigated, performative yell. She’s there, real yelling that whole song, uh, which is so real. And so raw. And think it’s one of those, like looking directly at the sun moments for people who don’t like it. cause it’s, it’s just kind of tapping into the main vein. It’s super dope. And it’s produced by No ID, which is awesome.

Cliff: And just like a really fun kind of penultimate track, right? You’re, you’re next to the end of the, the non deluxe version of the whole thing. But like she she’s digging in, in a very like Rihanna specific way, right at the end of the record, to end up at Close To You.

Kyle: Agreed on all that.

Cliff: It’s my personal goal to make sure that we mentioned the bonus tracks. So I don’t know if you have something to talk about here that’s more exciting than me trying to make you skip directly to the bonus tracks. So here’s your opportunity. No? Great, cause Goodnight Gotham, which is the first bonus track is like maybe my favorite song on this record. And I know that it actually doesn’t have any Rihanna on it, but like I love the feel and the sound of just that type of song period. Uh, and I’ve run out of ways to describe it now that the tentacles of this mood has really spread itself out in music. This used to be hard to find, and now it’s everywhere. Uh, and to me, like, it’s awesome to hear Florence Welch as part of this song, because of how much I kind of equate Florence and the Machine with being the most pristine version of this very dark and dramatic mood that. It’s still for the most part, captures your attention, uh, at least more, most Florence songs do to me. so like to hear this kind of all mashed together, right on the other side of the end of a Rihanna album that’s like this… is just gold. 

Kyle: Right after a piano ballad where it… there’s kind of a clear denouement. I was so confused by this when I first listened to the deluxe, cause I was like, was this a tie in for a Batman movie? Why is it called that? By anything I can tell, and maybe I miss the moment and they got buried, it doesn’t appear that it was like a crossover, a tie in or anything. So something about the title confuses me. And then it is like, sort of an interlude, but produced by Paul Epworth who produced not only Rolling in the Deep by Adele, but also produced Kate Nash and two Bloc Party records very different tentacles than anything came before it. but has that huge orchestral, classical pop sound… takes the Florence thing and amps it up is almost like a Florence dub song. Kind of a wild thing. Would have been weird if it were on the main record. it is super rad though.

Cliff: and then continuing with the, whatever I feel like: Pose is just like, let’s try grime now and see how this works. won’t say it’s necessarily my favorite or one that I love, but it’s another example of the way that Rihanna can shift a song and its whole idea just by the way that she chooses to attack vocals. It’s not just that she’s singing it’s that, like we discussed on higher and all that. Like she’s making choices about how to use her voice more on this record. and so the way that she’s singing makes Pose to me feel more like I would describe it as angular, in a positive way, as opposed to like a lot of grime type stuff just feels disjointed and errant to me, this seemed to have something particular to it. Uh, and the fact that she was apparently doing it on the Anti tour, sort of reinforces this idea that it must’ve been a pretty good fit for everything else. 

Kyle: it’s a great example. Yeah. It’s a great example of, you hear it, and you’re like, Oh, I would take five or six of those from Rihanna. Like she could do a whole maybe a record of really Londony grime type stuff. Oh, I take a whole record of light in the psychedelic Tame Impala style songs from Rihanna. I think the genius of Anti is nothing overstays its welcome. It’s a super punk record in that it’s like, “I could do anything, but I’ve chosen to do everything and you’re welcome.”

Cliff: And then we end at the song that makes me truly deeply uncomfortable in a way that reminds me that pop is still not for me, writ large, no matter how much I like the Rihanna songs, because I get to the song like Sex With Me. And I… I am holding at once the feelings in my body of hearing very on the nose lyrics with on the other hand, like really reading how many people were like, this is a very empowering song to me. hold that there’s something in the space between what I’m feeling and what you’re saying, but I have no idea what constitutes that space at all, or how we got from here to there. Uh, so if it makes you happy, that’s great. For me, if Anti was filled with Sex With Me type songs, we would be out of here. We, I couldn’t be talking about this thing because I’m just like, I don’t okay. Sex was sex with me is so amazing. Like, 

Kyle: I mean, I think there’s a lot to be taken away away from, from what songs she chose to leave off the record and that this could have easily been, uh, 16 track song, the, whole running time of the deluxe, which includes those three songs. It’s still 50 minutes. It’s still very short. So again, you see that there’s a clear artist statement to be made in the fact that it is a leaner and some of the more fun stuff was left off and gives you more to go out and discover and play with and have fun. I think the Sex With Me was probably left off not because it makes dad types like you cringe. Um, but because it’s the kind of lightest bounciest sentiment. Like I think just the headspace of that song is so different than the rest of the record. Like there’s, there’s really a cohesive headspace on the record, even as sonically, it goes so many different places. I don’t know. I’m glad that it’s out in the atmosphere, but I think the thing that I love and appreciate the most coming away from really trying to study ANTI  is that it moved against the current in so many ways, but namely that it’s, it is such a cohesive thing. I’m still kind of astounded so many people miss that. But it’s a remarkably cohesive piece of pop.

Cliff: I agree. No matter how much we ended up surprised by that reality. It’s true. I still think one of the first kind of images that came to me, uh, and frankly, you’re one of the only people who really, uh, inject this back into my psyche, but the idea of just like drawing a bath for yourself and lighting a joint and then just disconnecting from everything else for a minute. And just sitting with you alone in a room, and just honestly, the way that you feel about yourself when you’re feeling good and you feel like it’s enough and you don’t have to worry about a lot, letting the mood fill that room that has a little bit of that warmth and steam. And then you can just like light a joint for no purpose other than to smoke that joint by yourself. No one else is coming into the bathroom. Just that visual image over and over again ends up helping me think of Anti, like, because no matter how many different sonic directions we go, like you mentioned, that headspace still feels consistent throughout. It’s not self-confidence on display. It’s self-confidence at rest. And, and I think that that really kind of embedded itself in me, the more that I listened to it. And there’s a little bit of that mood that I should probably be taking away a little bit more from my every day, honestly. I can approach many things in life as a Rihanna would and maybe do them a little better.

Kyle: But it’s not just you. I think it’s super timely that we’re investigating this record now, coming off of a… a hell year where so many people purportedly were anti something else, right? There’s a whole camp of others out there who you are against. It’s an interesting record for a divisive time… that came out before, this ostensibly visibly divisive time happened. One of the reviews said– or maybe she said this– uh, “by continuing to follow her own instincts, her work strives to make an impact by doing the very antithesis of what the public expects.” So it’s I’m not “anti you,” I’m just anti whatever thing is supposed to happen. I just don’t want to have to walk a pre-cut path. And I think to your point, there’s a lot to appreciate about that as a mantra in a time like this, right? So in 2021, just do the antithesis of what you think is the thing that you’re supposed to do. Not for the sake of flogging somebody’s expectations, but just because it’s a good time to do something different and to really be free. Take that away from Robin: just live free in 2021.


We’ve curated an entire year’s worth of albums to spin, one for every single day.

If you’ve listened to TuneDig, you already know these 366 picks span history, genres, and cultures. Each day presents an album that’s fundamentally different than the one that came before it, and the one that comes after.

Original "Bitches Brew" Art

To celebrate the endless creativity of Bitches Brew—and especially its famous album artwork—TuneDig partnered with two incredible Atlanta-based artists to create one-of-a-kind, handpainted gatefolds.

With the spirit of the original art in mind, each artist brought their own vision to life. These pieces will spark conversation for any jazz fan.

Each piece includes a new vinyl copy of Bitches Brew. 100% of the purchase price goes directly to the artist, so take this opportunity to support the arts in the raddest possible way.

Seriously. There’s literally only one of each. Make it yours. 😎

TuneDig Episode 52: Alain Goraguer’s “La Planète Sauvage”

Gather ’round, sommeliers of the strange and crate-digging boogie children, for something “Strange! Frightening! Fascinating!” awaits. The soundtrack to Cannes 1973’s Jury Prize-winning film is a dazzling, surreal, avant-garde hymn to cosmic knowledge and compassion and a secret handshake among real heads. If you’re after a trip to a new dimension, here’s your one small step for man.

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TuneDig Episode 51: Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”

Marvin Gaye’s well of soul power ran mighty deep, and deep into his career, he pulled up a bucket of ice-cold, silky smooth champagne called “I Want You.” Come for the lush instrumentation, vocal harmonies, and Leon Ware clinic; stay for the stories. For our return from hiatus, we observe a titan in his element, reflect on the pain that built him into one, and consider how to reconcile our feelings when complicated messengers deliver beauty to our door.

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TuneDig Episode 50: Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”

Before uniting one nation under a groove, the lysergic lords of chaos in Funkadelic harnessed wild lightning into an amulet called Maggot Brain, bestowing the bearer with raw, dark power stronger than any force known to man. Between reaching our 50th episode and coping with the “maggots in the mind” of today’s universe, it felt like the right time to free our minds. We hope y’all’s asses will follow.

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TuneDig Episode 49: Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda”

The story of Alice Coltrane — an accomplished bebop pianist from Detroit who transcended into something far greater before walking away from public life altogether — is a glimpse into what it means to be truly free. Alice’s masterpiece "Journey in Satchidananda" is a cosmic dance that sparked creation from destruction. And in a time when we’re all desperately searching for a spark of meaning and hope, Journey abides abundantly.

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TuneDig Episode 48: Heart’s “Little Queen”

Take a moment to appreciate Ann and Nancy Wilson, who kicked down the doors of rock ‘n’ roll’s boys’ club with their peerless guitar work, soaring soul vocals, and tight songcraft. 1977’s Little Queen — an oft-overlooked gem in the classic rock canon — offers a snapshot of those elements at their most urgent and pure, powered by the Wilsons’ simple motivation (as described by their producer): “It was a war.”

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TuneDig Episode 47: Tangerine Dream’s “Phaedra”

When you think of “electronic music,” what comes to mind may not be a genre you deeply love — hip-hop, house, new wave, or even dub reggae — but all of it owes some debt, scientifically or otherwise, to Tangerine Dream. Dig in with us as we study a prime example of the band’s brand of effortful innovation, where they patiently and persistently labored at the cutting edge of electronic technology to open a portal to new worlds in our minds.

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TuneDig Episode 46: Olivia Rodrigo’s “SOUR”

Did you catch one of 2021’s biggest albums, or like us, did you almost overlook it? If you have any expectations of pop music, "SOUR" will likely subvert them. Teenage dream this is not; it’s an exquisitely universal portrait of a weird time to be alive.

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TuneDig Episode 45: Fela Kuti’s “Expensive Shit”

The story of Fela Kuti — one of the most famous people on an *entire continent* passionately struggling to liberate power to more people — is absolutely one worth deeply knowing, regardless of whether you find yourself drawn to Afrobeat or (cringe) “world music.” But once you know it, it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with Fela and Afrika 70 as their revolutionary grooves rewire your brain in magical and meaningful ways.

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TuneDig Episode 44: Meshuggah’s “ObZen”

Meshuggah’s ObZen—an artifact of human creativity pushing the limits of what’s possible—will quite literally make you hear music differently. If you’re looking for a new musical adventure, and especially if you don’t think you like “heavy” or “weird” music, consider this your sign to push past your comfort zone.

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TuneDig Episode 43: mewithoutYou’s “Catch For Us the Foxes”

A misunderstood wise man once said “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds.” In our most personal and vulnerable episode yet, we do some seeking through the lens of songs that fill us with the bravery and sincerity to love ourselves and others fully. Dig deep with us as we fish for words about our tiny place in the universe and dance with gratitude for our ability to do so.

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For lifelong headbangers and the musically curious alike, a new podcast from TuneDig is here to push your palette with aggressive, abrasive art. Each short, fast-paced episode offers (1) a new metal, punk, noise, or experimental release we recommend, (2) a related playlist we’ve curated, and (3) a heavy issue to consider and an organization doing something about it. Join us in the void.


TuneDig Episode 41: Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew”

Let’s be clear: "Bitches Brew" is a challenging record, even to some of the best musicians in the world — but all of them say it’s worth the investment. It’s the kind of trip that, even if we *could* draw a map, it wouldn’t take you there. Let go of the need for meaning and enjoy the ride with us. We can promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised where you end up.

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TuneDig Episode 40: Fiona Apple’s “Tidal”

On the heels of one of 2020's most acclaimed albums — Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters — we revisited Apple’s debut Tidal and wound up working to extract ourselves from the mostly male gazes that made its reception … much different. We arrive at a question much like writer Jenn Pelly had: “People would constantly prod Fiona on how an 18-year-old could write songs as mature as these ... Why did they not ask instead how she became a genius?”

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TuneDig Episode 39: Death Grips’s “The Money Store”

The modern world is accelerating beyond our control, shaping our reality in ways we can’t yet perceive or understand. Enter Death Grips, an art project capturing the chaotic energy and illustrating the absurdity of our hubris in trying to harmonize the surreal and extremely real — never more perfectly than on 2012’s prescient "The Money Store".

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TuneDig Episode 38: Augustus Pablo’s “King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown”

Reggae music is easy to take for granted, but its impact is underappreciated and massive — in the case of dub in particular, everyone from Radiohead to Johnny Rotten to Run-DMC owes it a debt. Augustus Pablo and King Tubby together created what’s regarded as “one of the finest examples of dub ever recorded.” Join us as we dive into the culture, history, and unique engineering experiments that made it possible.

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TuneDig Episode 37: Rihanna’s “ANTI”

By every measure — sales, awards, chart-toppers, global name recognition — Rihanna is objectively as big as the Beatles ever were. In fact, ANTI is so big it’s still on the charts, a record five full years later. Take a closer look with us at “the record you make when you don’t need to sell records”, and get a taste of the true freedom that comes from focusing on your inner voice when faced with insurmountable expectations.

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TuneDig Episode 36: Son House’s “Father of Folk Blues”

All American music traces back to the blues, and deep at the root sits Son House. That the recordings on "Father of Folk Blues" even exist is something of a gray area that cuts to the heart of the great American myth, but wherever you land after hearing these stories, you’ll find that what matters most is what the great Muddy Waters once said of House: “That man was the king.”

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TuneDig Episode 35: Melvins’s “Stoner Witch”

The futility of describing the Melvins has stretched critics in the direction of absurd words like “Dadaist” for nearly 40 years now. They’ve belligerently flogged any attempt to pinpoint their essence simply by being themselves, but "Stoner Witch" remains a reliable mall directory for the Melvins’ vast and wild discography. Grab yourself some pretzel bites.

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TuneDig Episode 34: Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”

We should talk about Dolly the way we talk about Prince. Her extraordinary kindness and unique kitsch both make her universally loved, but what gets left out of the conversation is the very thing that made her famous: the music. Join in as we focus attention on the sonics and songwriting of the low-key masterpiece "Jolene".

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Kyle and Cliff

BONUS TRACK: How We Got Here

We got a bunch of interesting listener feedback in our off-season, and it encouraged us to shed some light on why we do things the way we do ‘em. Also, we reflect on our first writeup, which was ... interesting.

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We're Cliff (right) and Kyle (left). We’re two dudes born and raised in ATL with day jobs in tech and sustainability, respectively.

We met in middle school, and in one way or another, music’s been the thing that’s kept us close for the two decades since — whether it’s sharing and talking about new music (like this podcast, except in our texts or over beers), going to shows, or working with our favorite record stores to help them survive and thrive.

We started TuneDig as a little art project that connects us more deeply ourselves and to the world through the infinite gift of music. We hope you’ll join us for the conversations, let us know what you think, and share discoveries of your own.

More About TuneDig

TuneDig began as a little something called MusicGrid.me, which we created after realizing there was no place online to directly exchange music recommendations with your friends. Our aim was simple: to make rating albums simple, useful, and social. We got some love from places like MashableWiredEvolver.fm, and Hypebot. We managed to foster conversation between music lovers, get thousands of reviews, and meet great people.

Along the way, we realized that record stores were an essential part of the music lovers’ community. After many a conversation about how we could helpfully connect them to the people who loved them, we began helping them leverage technology to create new revenue streams and embrace streaming services without giving up what’s unique to them: expertise and curation. (Long live the counter clerk who knows exactly which record will be the right introduction to jazz fusion!)

TuneDig is our vision to connect music lovers with the music they love, because no matter how much has changed in the way we discover and enjoy music, recommendations from people you trust and respect will always be the best way to find new music you’ll dig. With this podcast, we’re channeling the spirit of trusted curation pioneered by record stores, and bringing you something to take you deeper into music you can love.