Special Interview (2005): Rihanna Tells How She Got Started, Getting Her Label Deal, And Her First Album


It was just 18 months ago (in Feb. 2004) that new hit sensation, Rihanna, was an unknown schoolgirl in St. Michael, Barbados. At that time, winning her high school’s beauty/talent competition was a big achievement. Now in late summer of 2005, Rihanna is the hottest, new female artist on the charts, with her reggae/dancehall worldwide hit, “Pon De Replay.” This single peaked recently at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, and only Mariah Carey’s longstanding hit “We Belong Together” kept it from reaching #1.

Still just 17, Rihanna has seen her music career skyrocket in the past year. In a short period, she was (1) discovered in Barbados by the hit, writing/producing team of Evan Rogers & Carl Sturken; (2) auditioned for Def Jam President/rap superstar Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and signed with the label; (3) had a smash hit with “Pon De Replay;” and (4) released (on Aug. 30) her debut CD, Music Of The Sun.

In a new interview, Rihanna talked about her amazing, success story. She spoke about her pop and reggae music influences, growing up in Barbados, getting discovered and signing with a label, and writing and recording songs for her first album.

Growing up in her home island of Barbados in the Caribbean, Rihanna started singing around age 7. “I loved listening to Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce and other great singers,” she recalled. “I would sing in the shower, and neighbors complained that I was too loud! I also loved reggae music. When I was little, my mom used to run a reggae club, and I got to hear a lot of great music and artists. Some of my favorite reggae artists are Sizzla, Spice Cartel, Bob Marley and Damian Marley.”

Rihanna with Jay-Z.
Rihanna with Jay-Z.

Rihanna also developed her songwriting skills early on. “I began writing poetry first, and I would save my poems. Then later on, I began writing lyrics.” Rihanna co-wrote many of the songs on Music Of The Sun, mostly collaborating with her producers, Evan Rogers & Carl Sturken (who have co-written and/or produced hits for Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and *NSYNC).

It was in early 2004 that Rogers first heard about Rihanna during a vacation trip to Barbados (his wife Jackie is from Barbados). “A friend of mine knew Evan and Jackie,” she explained. “We got together and I sang for him, and he was impressed. Evan invited me to record and write with him and Carl (Sturken) at their studio in New York. I then traveled to New York whenever I could. It did take a year for me to record all the demos, because I was going to school, and I could only record during summer and Christmas school breaks.”

Rihanna worked with Rogers & Sturken to complete a four-song demo CD, which included “Pon De Replay,” the ballad “Last Time,” and a cover of Whitney Houston’s hit, “For The Love Of You.” This demo CD impressed Def Jam President Jay-Z, and he invited her to audition for him at Def Jam’s office in New York City.

“I was in the lobby shaking!” remembered Rihanna, right before her audition (which was held in Feb. 2005). “I saw just a little bit of Jay’s face down the hall and I was just like, ‘Oh My God!’ I had never met a celebrity, and to meet a celebrity who’s also the president of the label, that was crazy!”

Rihanna performed in front of Jay-Z, and Def Jam CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid. The audition went so well, that the Def Jam execs immediately (that same day) signed her to a recording contract. Rihanna recalled, “We were there until 4:30 in the morning closing the deal. Every time I signed my name (in the contract) I was just smiling.”

After signing with Def Jam, Rihanna (with Rogers & Sturken) spent the next three months recording and completing Music Of The Sun. Everyone involved was pleased with how the album turned out. “We agreed that there were several songs which could be the first single,” she said. “But ‘Pon De Replay’ was selected, because it seemed liked the song that would be best suited for a summer release.”

Now that “Pon De Replay” has become a worldwide hit, Rihanna is ready to build upon her breakthrough success. Another strong song on the album, “It’s Lovin’ That You Want,” has just been released as the follow-up single.

“It’s such an incredible feeling to have this hit success – I’m so excited,” said Rihanna. “During the next few months, I will be doing promo tours, and then jumping on a few concert tours. I would also love to get into acting and movies, but right now I am concentrating on my music.”

When asked what her advice would be, to aspiring singers and artists, she said, “Never give up on your dreams. Keep holding onto them, and keep working to make it happen.”