From The Vault: Rihanna by Kanye West
This is The Vault, our bi-weekly column in which we revive a conversation from deep in the archives for your viewing pleasure. This time, we honor Rihanna by revisiting her Interview cover story from our December 2010 issue. Below, the creative powerhouse fields questions from Kanye West about gaining control over her fashion choices, auditioning for Jay-Z, and her future plans for world domination. Go ahead, dive in.
KANYE WEST: Whuzup?
RIHANNA: Hey. How are you?
WEST: I’m good. I’m just out here in […] Peter Gabriel’s studio.
RIHANNA: Where? In London?
WEST: Yeah. Like two hours out.
RIHANNA: That’s dope. You all working on the new album?
WEST: Yeah. Well, it’s a me and Jay album. Right now, I’m sitting here going through some Lex Luger beats. This whole album, Watch The Throne, is going to be very dark and sexy—like very couture hip-hop. Because since me and Jay have already had big records and over-the-top joints, we’re just going to make some real dirty, fucked-up, hardcore stuff. But it’s also luxe and definitely high-class. So let’s start with my favorite thing. Rihanna, what’s your take on fashion? How has it evolved since the start of your career?
RIHANNA: Well, I would say that in the beginning of my career, I didn’t have a lot of input in what I wore and stuff, but it was a very, innocent, girly look. Then after we put out Good Girl Gone Bad, it kind of became a darker, edgier look, and then it got even edgier on the last album [Rated R]. And now it’s just… I’m over the whole structured clothing, overly shoulder-padded shit. I like stuff that’s easy without trying too hard. I don’t like stuff that’s too contrived.
WEST: So all the trends with the shoulder pads and that shit is over with for you?
RIHANNA: Yeah. I’m not into trends or trendy style anymore.
WEST: So what’s your next look? Where do you see yourself a year from now?
RIHANNA: In fashion?
RIHANNA: I probably see a lot of menswear, or something extremely, extremely feminine. But I like to play with both. It would have to be so extreme that it’s a look, because I don’t usually like typical ladylike, girly-girly stuff. It would be a look if I were to do it. I always like something that’s a little off, so it’s just not typical or expected.
WEST: When you make songs, do you think about what you’re going to wear when you’re performing them? Does it directly relate to the music in that way?
RIHANNA: I think not so much about what I’m going to wear yet, but when I make songs or make music, I do always think about the video. The video always plays in my head while I’m listening to the song.
WEST: So what inspired you to have that pink tank on your last tour? That was amazing, when you were sitting on top of the army tank.
RIHANNA: I love to combine femininity with a kind of extreme masculine edge, and I felt like the tank is just not a typical thing that you think of when you think of a girl—or in any kind of relation to a girl. Then we made it hot pink. We just added that touch.
WEST: I mean, people really need to see a photograph—the entire tank was pink. That was a great piece of commercial pop art. Was the idea of that to kind of portray an American Dream—like the fantasy of this hot black girl sitting on top of a pink tank?
RIHANNA: [Laughs] I never actually thought of it like that.
WEST: How does it feel to know that you could have any man in the world? Or woman. How does it feel to know that you can turn straight women gay?
RIHANNA: Is that a real question?
RIHANNA: Well … Thank you. I don’t know how to feel about that. [Laughs] I guess that’s flattering.
WEST: But just to have that level of power. How do you deal with it? No one woman should have that much power.
RIHANNA: I try not to depend on it. It’s just a part of what’s happening right now in my life, and I appreciate it. It helps a lot. [Laughs]
WEST: So why did you call your new album Loud?
RIHANNA: Because I feel like it was a really fun, expressive album, and loud was the perfect word to symbolize that. It’s aggressive at times, but in a really fun way—just the overall energy of it. Even the energy when we were making the album was really expressive and rebellious, but fun. We had fun the whole time. And you hear it when you listen to the songs. They feel really good.
WEST: What was your inspiration? Did you have a theme that you wanted to go into when you worked on it? What was your whole motivation and feeling?
RIHANNA: I wanted a mixture of mid-tempo and up-tempo stuff. I wanted a colorful album. I wanted every song to have its own subject, its own story, its own look, its own sound—and I feel like we did a great job of accomplishing that. I just wanted to create something that was timeless, that wasn’t locked into the moment when it was made. And I wanted it to feel really good. I just wanted to make 11 great individual songs that all made sense together.
WEST: Remember when you used to think that you had to put your whole life into one album? It’s like that in the beginning—you feel like you have to pour everything into it. And now you’re working on an album and it’s like, “Okay, cool. Let’s keep moving. Those are 10 songs down.” Because you can only add so many more songs to your set list. But it seems like you’ve been dropping albums year after year. What’s your process of putting together your music. When do you decide that it’s actually ready to go?
RIHANNA: From the beginning, when we started making music, it was kind of always back to back—even with the second album that came, I would say, eight months after the first album was released, and then the third album came a year after that. So I’ve just never stopped making music. I love making music. That’s what I love to do. So I don’t feel like there’s any need to take a break unless I want to. But it’s not like we have a rule about putting out an album a year. I mean, every time we put out music, the whole process reflects whatever mood I’m in at that time. Whatever I’m feeling, whatever I’m going through, whatever mood I’m in. If I’m feeling like dancing or clubbing, then it will be reflected in the music. If I’m feeling dark and vulnerable, then it will reflect in the music, too. So that’s how we start. I guess it’s a more organic process. We don’t really want to sound out and just say, “Oh, this is what we’re doing this time.” It just comes naturally.
WEST: Do you have a vulnerable side? Because in a lot of the singles that come out, you’re like, “What’s my name, muthafucka?” or “I’m a murderer.”
RIHANNA: Yes, I do have a vulnerable side. I think a lot of people have a misperception of me. They only see the tough, defensive, aggressive side. But every woman is vulnerable. They have vulnerability. So of course I’m going to have that side. It’s not a major part of who I am, but it’s definitely there. I just don’t like people to see me cry. I don’t like to let them know when I’m bothered. You know? I just prefer it to be all about business, and then whatever I’m dealing with, let me deal with that alone, because I don’t want it to affect anything in my professional life.
WEST: I could probably learn something from that. [Rihanna laughs] But what’s it like when you have to tap into that part of yourself? You’ve started to do some acting, with this movie, Battleship [directed by Peter Berg and due out next year]. What’s it like acting and going into film and working on movies? Is that something you want to do in the future? Maybe you want to just stop doing music altogether like Justin Timberlake did and just start acting?
RIHANNA: Well, I don’t think that would ever happen. This is the first time I actually ever have been in a real movie and I’m really enjoying the experience actually.
WEST: Have you been in fake movies before? You said this is the first real movie.
RIHANNA: I did a cameo playing myself in Bring It On: All Or Nothing , but I never really had to act. I was just basically being myself. This is the first time I’ve had a role. I actually had to do something that I had to get prepared for. I didn’t know if I was going to like it or hate it or love it. But I actually enjoy it and it’s something that I’m looking forward to in the future. But I’ll never shut off from music and just do film. I love music too much.
WEST: What do you do in between all the shots when you’re on set and you’re bored as hell? Do you just, like, chill on Skype?
RIHANNA: No. Actually, I’m usually watching all the other actors or drinking Red Bull.
WEST: Why you drink so much Red Bull?
RIHANNA: Usually because of the hours. It’s really weird. On movies, you usually start your days early, like at around 5 A.M., and then you finish around 5 P.M. or 6 P.M., and then, on Battleship, which we shot in Hawaii, the time difference was just… I was really jet-lagged. I just wanted to keep my energy up during the day. I didn’t want to be lazy or feel groggy, so I just kept drinking Red Bull.
WEST: What was it like growing up in Barbados? Has anyone ever asked you that before? [Laughs]
RIHANNA: Yeah. I get asked that a lot. [Laughs] I’ll answer it anyway. It was perfect, really. We really took it for granted, but we basically spent the entire day on the beach with summer all year round. It wasn’t special to us because that was just normal for Barbados, but after I moved to America and I experienced all these different seasons—and not only the seasons, but you don’t get to see the ocean, where it’s clear or it’s baby blue. Whenever I’ve gone back to Barbados, I’ve really appreciated that a lot.
WEST: Were you the coolest kid in high school?
RIHANNA: I didn’t get along with people very well. I got along with guys, but I hated the girls and the teachers.
WEST: Is that where you got your swag?
RIHANNA: Yeah. I mean, all my friends, even if they weren’t in my school, were always guys. My mother didn’t understand that for a long time. There were all these different guys calling the house, and she probably had a totally different idea of what was happening. [Laughs] But then I met my friend Melissa [Forde], and my mom trusted Melissa, because she was older than me, so she became my best friend. Then I started being able to go out and hang out, and it was fun after that.
WEST: How old were you when you moved to America?
RIHANNA: I was 16, turning 17.
WEST: How old were you when you got your record deal?
RIHANNA: Sixteen. It was right away—like a week after I moved.
WEST: How did you get signed?
RIHANNA: Well, I met Evan [Rogers] and Carl [Sturken], these two producers who live here in New York. They are both married to Barbadian women, so they go there to vacation all the time. My friend introduced me to them, and I sang for them, and we talked, and they had me and my mom come back a couple of days later. After that, we started traveling to New York, working on a demo. Within a year, it was done, and we sent it out. Def Jam was the first label to call back. We got other calls, but they were the most enthusiastic. It was so nerve-wracking, though, the whole experience.
RIHANNA: I mean, I was 16. From Barbados. The chances of ever meeting somebody famous or ever being signed—that was just a deadly combination. Like, I had to meet Jay-Z and audition for him at the same time.
WEST: Do you know any famous people now?
RIHANNA: Huh? [Laughs]
WEST: How did it feel to win Grammys for “Run This Town” and “Umbrella”?
RIHANNA: Incredible. I mean, really incredible. When I won the first Grammy, there was no other feeling like that feeling. It just made me feel like I came so far, like that was just a dream a few years before that, and then it was happening right then. I went to the Grammies that year just to watch. I didn’t even think we’d win. So that surprised me. That was another overwhelming experience. It was exciting.
WEST: So when you have kids, where do you want to live? Where do you want to bring them up?
RIHANNA: Ah… That’s difficult to think about. Because where I’d want to live and where it would be possible for me to live are two different places. I would love to bring them up in Barbados. But with the career that I have, I definitely can’t do that. I can’t live that far away from everything now, without kids, so I certainly couldn’t raise kids and do that with the demanding schedule that I have.
WEST: When do you think you’ll want to have kids?
RIHANNA: Mmm… I don’t know actually. That depends on a lot of other shit. [Laughs]
WEST: Like what? What are the deciding factors?
RIHANNA: I mean, I have a lot of other stuff to accomplish before I get to kids. Whenever the time is right, I’ll just know. I don’t really plan on the age. It could be a year from now. It could be 10 years from now. Whenever is right.
WEST: So a year from now, Rihanna could have a little shorty with little high-tops? [Rihanna laughs] What will Rihanna’s kids be like?
RIHANNA: If I had a girl, she’d probably be really rebellious. She would be like a bundle of karma.
WEST: A bundle of karma?
RIHANNA: Yeah. Because I know god will probably want me to have a daughter just so I could see what I put my mother through. But on the other hand, I really love little boys. So it would just be fly either way.
WEST: This is an interesting question, especially with women, and the different women who I talk to in different places, like inner cities. When you picture having a child, do you picture having the father as a major piece in their life or having a husband for the entire span of their childhood? Because so many women I talk to say they want kids, but they no longer feel dependent on the concept of having a man there the entire time.
RIHANNA: I definitely think a child deserves both parents. It would be selfish of me, because of my pride and independence to say, “Oh, I just want a sperm donor, because I can do it myself.” I can do it myself, but that’s not fair. I don’t know if I’ll be married or anything. But however the father is in the child’s life, he’s going to be in the child’s entire life.
WEST: See, that’s interesting what you said. There are so many women, like black women who say, “I don’t have to be married.” Or they’ll go further and they’ll say, “I just want a child.”
RIHANNA: That’s because everybody plans their life like a routine. You have a job, then get married, then have kids, and then live happily ever after. But life never works out according to the book. You get hit with stuff out of nowhere, and then you’ve got to readjust. I’m just saying that whatever comes my way I’ll be able to handle it. But in a perfect book, there would be marriage and kids.
WEST: What’s your concept of a perfect marriage?
RIHANNA: I think marriage in general… I think people put a lot of pressure on the title of marriage and the actual wedding. But I think you should already feel married before you get married. I think a wedding should just be a celebration of the marriage, and you should already feel like husband and wife. You should feel like your love is completely unconditional to this person, that it doesn’t matter what—that vou will be down with this person forever. I’d have to have that—and I’d know when I had it. If you’re second-guessing it, then it’s not there. You would know it. You wouldn’t even have to think twice about it.
WEST: You don’t even have to get married at all.
RIHANNA: No. I mean, we could definitely get… If it’s right, I’m getting married.
WEST: Hold on. You just said “we.” Is that like a slip or something?
RIHANNA: What? I said, if it’s right, I would get married because I want to get married. But who knows what life has in store?
WEST: Where do you see your career by the time you’re 30? Or do you just take it as it comes?
RIHANNA: I have really, really big goals, and I always try to put a time limit on stuff, between me and god, and just hope that he favors me and that I’m deserving of it. Because if I am, then I’ll get what I’m working for. If shit doesn’t work out according to what you want, it’s always for a reason. But, I want to evolve my career into different things. I want to also be able to do fashion. I want to do makeup. I want to have different entities. Because I don’t want to have to tour ever year. I want to be able to say, “I don’t feel like doing music this year. I want to focus on fashion.”
WEST: So those are your main things, music and fashion?
RIHANNA: Music. Fashion. Beauty. Books. Magazines. I would love to. I would love to have my own magazine, have it be like a teenage to early 20s fashion magazine. But my magazine would have regular girls on the cover. Just somebody with a story and a
lot of swagger of their own. They could be Gothic. They could be hip-hop. They could have any kind of style they want, but it would have to have some flyness to it. I’ve started my own company so we can explore some of these things.
WEST: What’s your company?
RIHANNA: Rihanna Entertainment. It’s a company that’s merging all my different entities, whether they be fashion, books, music, movies—anything.
WEST: So is world domination and being able to have any person in the world what you want?
RIHANNA: Actually, I always try to challenge myself with everything I do. So it always has to be better than the time before. It always has to be bigger, and it always has to grow. That’s with anything, whether it’s fashion or music or image, performances, tours. I always try to at least get another step. It doesn’t have to be 10 steps up, but at least if I get one step up, then I know that I’m moving forward.