American pop listeners have a tumultuous relationship with Caribbean music, and particularly dancehall. Our interest runs on an unpredictable cycle that spins from obsession to complete disinterest in the span of a few singles. Look at Sean Paul, who was everywhere on American radio in the early aughts until he suddenly wasn't. If Rihanna had stuck with making stuff like "Pon De Replay" there probably wouldn't be millions of people holding their breath for the release of her upcoming album Anti, since she'd only be getting airtime during odd hours on Hot 97.
There have been some hopeful signs recently that things might be coming back around. Thanks to Justin Bieber's recent singles, Felix Jaehn's remix of OMI's "Cheerleader," and the wildly popular phenomenon that is Kygo, we've have become entranced with tropical house, which is built not only on breezy vibes, but also quintessentially Caribbean rhythmic patterns.
Rihanna's new single "Work" finds the Barbadian singer dipping back into island music. The track, produced by Boi-1da, Vinylz, and SEVN Thomas, is an icy, futuristic reimagining of a dancehall beat that for all its clean-lined minimalism still seems capable of getting bodies wining when it inevitably takes over clubs this weekend. Riri even slides into her Barbadian accent for parts of it. It's no surprise that Drake pops up on the track: he's been on something of a crusade to get North American listeners interested in beats that break away from the steady thump that's defined not only hip-hop but all the pop styles that derive from it.
"Work" isn't just a one-and-done track either. Rumor has it that there's already been a video shot for it, apparently involving horses decked out in Louis Vuitton prints. Rihanna and her team are betting that pop listeners are ready to reconnect with dancehall, and considering how on-point their trend forecasting has been in the past, it wouldn't be reckless to speculate that we're in for at least a couple of seasons of Caribbean beats on the radio. If other artists follow her lead (*cough* Kanye *cough*) maybe it'll stick.
BY: MILES RAYMER