Rihanna

Music of the Sun

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Given the proliferation of young and beautiful urban dance-pop divas dominating the radio and music video airwaves in 2005, it initially was tempting to discount Rihanna as yet another Beyoncé-Ciara-Ashanti cash-in. But like her Def Jam labelmate Teairra Mari -- another young and beautiful urban dance-pop diva who emerged out of nowhere in 2005 -- Rihanna is winsome rather than wannabe, thanks in no small part to her producers. Just as Teairra Mari benefited greatly from irresistibly shrewd beat-making on her debut album, Rihanna benefits from the knowing production work of Syndicated Rhythm Productions, aka Evan Rogers and Carl Sturken, who together produced a laundry list of contemporary teen pop sensations during the prior decade. What these guys do that's so irresistibly shrewd is synthesize Caribbean rhythms and beats with standard-issue urban dance-pop: Caribbean-inflected urban, if you will. So while a song like "Pon de Replay" -- to pick the most obvious exhibit -- is driven by booming dancehall-lite beats and a reggae vocal cadence (and title spelling), it's a simple dance-pop song at its core, with standard English-language singing as well as a can't-miss singalong hook (and a glitzy, urban-style MTV video to boot). The best songs on Music of the Sun follow this appealing template, including the similarly catchy few songs that follow the aforementioned album-opening smash hit: "Here I Go Again," "If It's Lovin' That You Want," and "You Don't Love Me (No, No, No)." As with most albums of this ilk, Music of the Sun descends into faceless slow jams after a while, overall consistency not being among its attributes, but thankfully it picks up the pace toward the end of its 13-song run and concludes on a fun note, with a remix of "Pon de Replay" featuring Elephant Man. The result is one of the more engaging urban dance-pop albums of the year (and one of the most infectious summer jams, for sure), as well as a nice Caribbean primer for those not ready or willing to jump on the increasingly trendy dancehall and reggaeton bandwagons concurrently sweeping through America's more fashionable cities.

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