Rihanna's “Work,” currently spending its second week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, isn’t your typical chart-topper. No, the Drake-assisted song isn’t part of a new genre that many in the mainstream media are calling “tropical house.” And no, it isn't one of the pop anthems we're used to from Rihanna, like her last album's lead single, "Diamonds.” As the first half of her ‘Work” video, filmed in the beloved Caribbean restaurant The Real Jerk in Toronto, makes explicit, Anti’s lead single is undeniably drenched in dancehall -- a genre with deep roots in Jamaica's club scene that spun off from reggae in the 1970s. The track is a proud, powerful reminder of the Barbados-born singer's West Indian roots -- and a milestone for dancehall: The last song in the genre to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was Sean Paul's “Temperature” in 2006. Last year’s ubiquitous “Cheerleader” featured traces of singer Omi’s Jamaican roots, but it was undeniably a dance-pop song at heart. On the other hand, “Work,” is an interpolation of “Sail Away,” a 1998 dancehall riddim by Jamaican singer Richie Stephens and features Rihanna singing in patois.
Of course, the West Indian vibes of “Work” aren't new to Rihanna Inc., nor should it be to a Navy member or casual follower. Her first two albums -- 2005's Music of the Sun and 2006's A Girl Like Me -- were loaded with dancehall vibes that put her on the map, debuting at No. 10 and No. 5 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, respectively, the latter even going platinum. Her debut led with the infectious dancehall-influenced tune “Pon De Replay” -- a title that translates to "upon the replay" from Bajan Creole, the official language of Rihanna's native Barbados -- and was remixed by Elephant Man. Music of the Sun also featured dancehall-leaning tunes like “You Don’t Love Me (No, No, No)” featuring vet Vybz Kartel and “Rush” featuring rapper Kardinal Offishall. Although her sophomore effort began to infuse more pop sounds, it still carried “Break It Off” featuring aforementioned dancehall king Sean Paul.