How Rihanna Stayed True To Her Caribbean Roots

The singer and entrepreneur’s Caribbean influences have shone through for the duration of her career.

Rihanna was a vision from the first time we laid eyes on her. It wasn’t her physical beauty that set her apart, either. It was her essence that made us adore her immediately.

She was born to Caribbean parents in Saint Michael, Barbados on this day in 1988, and was participating in talent contests by the time she was in her early teens.

“I only realize now just how lucky I was to grow up in Barbados. I loved it,” Rihanna said to the Conde Nast Traveller in 2017. “I have the best memories of spending long days at the beach with my two younger brothers. I knew I had to leave to further my career – but it will always be home.”

When Rihanna travelled to the United States to pursue music full-time at age 16, her experiences growing up in Barbados stuck with her, and she entered the mainstream with “Pon de Replay.” “Replay” is a dancehall song through and through, and was the perfect introduction to the Caribbean pop star who would soon dominate the global music industry.

Since then, Rihanna has delivered a bountiful amount of dancehall and reggae inspired cuts, such as “If It’s Lovin That You Want,” “Say It,” “No Love Allowed,” and of course, “Work.” But, you may be surprised to discover that Rihanna’s label didn’t initially want to pursue “Work.”

“Her label didn’t care for Caribbean music at the time,” songwriter PartyNextDoor said to the New York Times in 2016. But the track resonated with Rihanna, and she found it impossible to get out of her head. “[I]t was all that she could sing around the house,” he said. The track went on to top the U.S. Billboard Hot in early 2016.

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Rihanna began sharing her elaborate Carnival costumes online in early 2013. She has kept up the tradition nearly every year since then. Longtime non-Caribbean fans were inspired to explore what Carnival entails, while others reveled in the joy of what the culture is all about.

Later that year, the singer and entrepreneur was granted the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, and used the opportunity to bring her culture to the forefront. Donning traditional, yet modernized, bad gyal and rude boy gear, Rihanna and her team of skilled dancers whined their waists for all to admire.

For her role in Ocean’s 8, director Gary Ross took inspiration from Rihanna’s own upbringing. Her character, a hacker with waist-length locs named Nine Ball, is a direct reflection of the singer. “Rihanna is so bravely authentic,” Ross said to Vogue in 2018. “She doesn’t care what people think of her; she’s fully invested in being herself,” Ross shared.

Rihanna is also reportedly working on a dancehall album, as well as a reggae album. Grammy-winning Jamaican singer/songwriter Koffee has been confirmed to be a writer for the at least one of the projects. After 15 years in music, it’s nice to see Rihanna sharing her platform with young, talented Caribbean artists.

Rihanna has established a strong musical legacy that is incapable of being divorced from her Caribbean roots. Watching her navigate is a reminder to all that it’s wholly okay to be your authentic self.

Happy Birthday, Rih!

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