Though she hasn’t released an album in 2017, Rihanna has occupied herself (and fans) with a number of memorable guest appearances — N.E.R.D.’s “Lemon” serving as her most recent endeavor. But instead of sprinkling the track with her signature honeyed vocals, Riri switches gears and strings together a flavorful rap verse packed with swagger.
Riri’s feature is another reminder that she possesses the ability to ebb and flow between rapping and singing, succeeding in bringing her Bad Gal persona to life every time. Her bars always come at her most braggadocios moments, sometimes carrying the flagrant fire of Lil’ Kim or Future. Inspired by her mentor and idol JAY-Z, Rihanna has had an extensive history of rapping on her songs since Good Girl Gone Bad and subsequent acknowledgements as the Princess of Hip-Hop and R&B.
Here are 14 examples of her wearing that crown:
“Lemme Get That” (2007)
After releasing softer dancehall and pop with R&B uptempos and ballads on her first two studio albums, “Lemme Get That” became the first example of Rihanna spitting on wax like a true emcee. On Good Girl Gone Bad, the singer manages to drop bars about gold-digging (“I bought me a Benz, you buy me the yacht/ A girl need a lot, the girl need some stocks/ Bonds is what I got, bonds is what I got”). Backed by a snare-powered and trumpet-enhanced beat, the singer received help from hip-hop’s biggest pop playmakers — Timbaland, Jay Z and the song’s hypeman, The-Dream — to pen the lines. Their creation could have worked very well as an answer to Kanye West‘s “Gold Digger.”
“Wait Your Turn” (2009)
Marketed as a promotional single for her darkest studio album to date, Rated R, the football alluding “Wait Your Turn” infuses Rihanna’s rapping with a dubstep instrumental. The singer opens her first verse boasting about her greatness (“there’s so much power in my name/ if you pop off and you say it/ stadium gon’ do the wave”), before making one of her most notorious claims: “I’m such a fucking lady.”
Backed by trap royalty Jeezy, Rihanna punches harder with Rated R‘s track successor to “Wait Your Turn.” With bars such as “never lying, truth-teller/ that Rihanna reign just won’t let up,” the singer earned an edgier street cred on radio. She blazes her second verse with a quadruplet rhyme scheme attacking her nemesis (“All up on it, know you want to clone it/ Ain’t like me, that chick too phony/ Ride this beat, beat, beat like a pony/ Meet me at the top, top, top, getting lonely”). Alongside Beyoncé‘s “Diva,” this song became one of the premier examples of early trap&B ruling radio stations.
“Raining Men” (2010)
Rihanna has even dabbled in hip-pop with some help from the scene’s leading enforcer, Nicki Minaj. On the Weather Girls-inspired track from the cheery LP Loud, Rihanna and Minaj rap about their dime (perfect ten) appeal and men being disposable. The lead artist takes shots at men’s intelligence with the lines “All you need to know that I’m a 2 times 5/ load it, cock it, aim it baby, boom bye bye/ set your standards lower baby you’re aiming too high/ matter of fact your friend looks better, so goodbye.”
“Who’s That Chick” (2010)
The superstar has also brought rapping to her Euro-dancepop side. We can’t forget how Rihanna switches her flow in this David Guetta-produced electro club banger. Her flow goes from Ke$ha-style pop-rap to Cockney vernacular to American southern grit in a matter of seconds. Although the song was a moderate success on the Billboard Hot 100 (a peak of No. 51), Rihanna’s spitting about being an international magnet for attention helped the song reach the top 10 overseas.
“Cockiness (Love It)” (2011)
As one of the standouts on the sexually-charged Talk That Talk, “Cockiness” started a period where Rihanna as an occasional rapper started to become second nature for radio. The song’s overtly sexual rap-singing (“I want you to be my sex slave/ anything that I desire/ be one with my femin-ay/ set my whole body on fire”) and punny innuendos (“suck my cockiness, lick my persuasion”) — over a Greg Kinnear sampling beat — worked as one of the singer’s edgiest sounds to grace the airwaves.
“Birthday Cake (Remix)” (2012)
Like most commercially successful rappers, Rihanna took a moment of personal chagrin and capitalized on the aftermath (and subsequent forgiveness) to offer a club banger. In the extended remix of Talk That Talk‘s little-over-a minute interlude, the singer enlisted the help of Chris Brown, much to the dismay of the general public. In the last minutes of the song, Brown starts off the third verse rapping about his share of having “cake.” Rihanna takes over with the bridge of a half-rapped, half-sung verse (many interpreted “sweeter than a rice cake, cake” as a dig at Brown’s then on-and-off again girlfriend Karrueche Tran) before dropping bars in a nursery rhyme-ish fourth verse.
“Phresh Out the Runway” (2012)
Rihanna opened her seventh studio album, Unapologetic, by getting trappy with the production and vocals. Later on, it would become a sight to see as the future fashion icon strut on Victoria’s Secret runway spitting the lines “How could you be so hood/ but you so fucking pop/ How could you be so fun/ and sound like you selling rocks.”
“Pour It Up” (2012)
It’d only make sense that Rihanna would rap over the answer song to Juicy J‘s “Bandz a Make Her Dance.” In the feminine take of the strip club anthem, the entertainer gloats about receiving endless money and being self made. Similar to Unapologetic‘s other rap track, “Runway,” “Pour” also plays on trap Mafioso hip-hop vibes.
“Bitch Better Have My Money” (2015)
An interesting takeaway from Kendrick Lamar’s MAD. was the lyrical reference to Rihanna’s former, scamming accountant in “FEAR.” That same accountant would become the inspiration behind the gruesome, killer music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money,” where the singer refers to the individual as “the b—-” who owes her money. Looking back on all the drama, it’s safe to say that Rihanna put out her first proper diss record — albeit, the intended subject probably wouldn’t be able to spit back a competitive response to “shit, your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car/ don’t act like you forgot/ I call the shots, shots, shots.”
If Rihanna were a full time rapper, fashion would be one of her main topics alongside money. ANTI‘s grime and trap&B infused bonus track, “Pose,” hits upon both of those subjects as the singer finesses broken, staggered rapping into a party track that stunts on the haters.
“Nothing Is Promised” (2016)
The industry darling paired with the penmanship of Future and the production of Mike Will Made-It to generate a hit that warns about fame and love. Feeling herself (and her success), Rihanna channels her collaborators’ energies while she discusses balling out and “never put[ting] money above” a love interest.
In her most recent effort, the self-referencing “Bad gyal RiRi” trades between rapping and singing with Kendrick Lamar — harping in on DAMN.‘s motif of reversing. The songstress’ quick mention of “I’m a natural” attests to her rap skills and how far she’s come in the submersion of hip-hop and R&B as a supergenre. It’s fitting that the song interlopes Jay Z’s turn of the millennium Roc-A-Fella Records jaunt “Get Your Mind Right Mami,” as Rihanna has remained loyal to Jay Z since she was signed under him in 2005. “LOYALTY.” also works as a 2017 spin on one of her favorite rapper’s discography, 2Pac, as the song exhibits similar thematic content over an affected West Coast beat.
To ignite N.E.R.D.‘s comeback, the Pharrell Williams-fronted band enlisted the Bajan bombshell for their new track “Lemon.” After Pharrell warms things up with a high-powered verse of his own, the vivacaious singer flips the switch and knifes her way through the verse with gusto. “I get it how I live it, I live it how I get/ Count the mothafuckin’ digits/ I pull up with a lemon, Not ’cause she ain’t livin’/ It’s just your eyes get acidic,” she dished out. With an impeccable swagger in tow, Riri’s delivery is clean and in pocket, making “Lemon,” a ripe track full of promise.