Rihanna - Biography
By Joanna Ricco
Rihanna broke into the US pop scene in the middle of 2005 with a style that merged her Caribbean roots with the popular R&B-meets-pop sound associated with American vocalists such as Beyoncé and Gwen Stefani. “Pon de Replay,” Rihanna’s second single from her debut album Music of the Sun (2005 Def Jam), launched the Saint Michael, Barbados native into American pop cultural relevance.
Rihanna was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty on February 20, 1988 to Monica and Ronald Fenty. She has two younger brothers, Rorry and Rajad Fenty, with whom she shares her mother’s Afro-Guyanese and father’s mixed Afro-Barbadian and Caucasian heritage. Growing up, Rihanna was no stranger to both hard work and the spotlight – two factors that have helped in her professional life, which has been remarkably prolific in the space of less than five years. The singer spent time as both an army cadet in a sub-military program (training with the military of Barbados) and as a beauty queen, winning the title of Miss Combermere in 2004.
Rihanna formed a girl group with two of her classmates and in 2003, they met record producer Evan Rogers while he was spending time in Barbados. Impressed primarily with Rihanna, Rogers invited her to stay with him and his wife in Connecticut while he worked with his business partner Carl Sturken to get Rihanna’s demo tape into the right hands. Little time passed before the demo made its way to Def Jam, wherein Rihanna was invited to audition for then-president Jay-Z. Once under Jay-Z’s wing, Rihanna’s US debut was plotted.
Music of the Sun, Rihanna’s first solo full-length album, debuted in the US on August 30, 2005 to great acclaim. It reached number ten on the Billboard 200 and went on to become gold certified. Less than a year passed before Rihanna released her second full-length album, 2006’s A Girl Like Me (Def Jam), which featured the number one hit single “SOS.” The album reached number five on the Billboard 200 and achieved platinum certification.
Proving to be more than just a pop princess, Rihanna secured an endorsement deal with Clinique in 2006 for which she also recorded the song “Just Be Happy,” written by Ne-Yo, as part of the campaign for the company’s fragrance, Happy. Diversifying her talent even more, Rihanna made her big screen debut in the summer of 2006 in the campy cheerleading movie Bring It On: All or Nothing and also signed on as the face of cosmetic giant Cover Girl that same year.
Rihanna’s third album, Good Girl Gone Bad (Def Jam), was released in June of 2007 and is filled with radio and club hits, including “Umbrella,” “Shut Up and Drive,” and “Don’t Stop the Music.” “Umbrella” was awarded at MTV’s Video Music Awards for Video of the Year and Monster Single of the Year. So good, in fact, was Good Girl Gone Bad, that it was certified triple platinum and then re-issued a year later as Good Girl Gone Bad: Reloaded (2008 Def Jam). Reloaded features Rihanna’s move into a darker pop sound with the single “Diturbia,” which peaked at number one on Billboard Top 100.
Early 2009 saw turmoil for the singer as her appearance at the Grammy Awards was canceled due to a domestic dispute with her boyfriend, R&B/Hip-Hop singer Chris Brown. On March 5, 2009, Brown was charged with assault and making criminal threats to Rihanna. A leaked photograph of her injuries made its way from the Los Angeles Police Department to celebrity gossip mill TMZ.com, showing a severely battered young woman. The release of the photograph has been highly criticized, citing the necessity for privacy on the behalf of victims of abuse. STOParazzi, an organization whose mission is to eradicate paparazzi interference, has lobbied for a law that would deter employees of law enforcement agencies from releasing photos and information that exploits victims.
Even more controversial has been Rihanna’s acceptance of Chris Brown back into her life, prompting concern from celebrity friends of influence, including Jay-Z and Oprah. Producer, artist, and mogul P. Diddy offered his home as the setting for which Brown and Rihanna had their first meeting following the assault. Diddy has been condemned for the role he played in bringing the young couple back together, but he has stood by his decision.
Late in 2009, the 21-year-old Rihanna released her fourth album, Rated R (Def Jam), which features an edgier, angrier singer. Rated R also happens to be the first of Rihanna’s albums with a with a Parental Advisory warning sticker.
Aside from her pop music career, Rihanna has made a point to deeply involve herself in charity work. In 2006, she formed her own charity organization called Believe Foundation, which provides aid to children battling terminal illness. In 2008, Rihanna was a LOVECHARITY Bracelet Ambassador for the jeweler Cartier as well as a performer at a benefit for Raising Malawi, a non-profit co-founded by Madonna in collaboration with the Kabbalah Centre Charitable Foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to bring assistance and attention to the dire situations and hardships suffered by over one million orphans in Malawi, the country from which Madonna’s son David Banda was adopted. Stand Up to Cancer also became a cause for Rihanna in 2008 when she joined with other female pop, rock, R&B, and country singers to record “Just Stand Up!” – a sort of 21st century “We Are the World.” Fashion Against AIDS has also received considerable support from Rihanna when she teamed up with clothing store H&M for the campaign to bring awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Most recently, Rihanna has teamed up with fashion house Gucci for their UNICEF campaign. She was selected alongside Madonna to light the UNICEF Christmas snowflake in the winter of 2008 and was featured in a print ad campaign for the cause. The Tattoo Heart campaign features Rihanna with the limited edition Gucci Tattoo Heart bags, the sales from which help to raise funds for children in Africa.