After the success of Grammy-nominated Loud, Rihanna and Def Jam’s VP of A&R, Bu Thiam, were faced with a dilemma. Namely, how to top that record on the pop star’s sixth go at a full-length album, Talk That Talk.
To understand how passionate Thiam is about that first collabo with Ms. Fenty, know that when MTV News caught up with him last week, he half-jokingly threatened to “pull a Kanye” if the Bajan superstar doesn’t take home the coveted Album of the Year in February. The follow-up (Rih and Bu’s second walk down the studio aisle) to Loud needed to do no less than “change music.”
“My job as an A&R is to always bring her different records that are hit records but doesn’t sound like anything she’s done in the past,” Thiam explained.
The stylish VP (and brother of hip-hop star Akon) was sporting some extra scruff and a full head of hair thanks to coming out on the losing end of a bet with Young Jeezy, whose highly anticipated TM 103 Thiam also helped steer to its December 20 drop date. We were eager to hear about how Rih’s team strategized early on for her latest LP. The exec recalled the initial meeting he and Rihanna had when Talk That Talk was still just chatter.
“Her whole thing is, ‘How can we be different? How can we change music? How can we go from having a great album like Loud and still come with a better album and keep pushing and keep hitting the bar?’ The good thing about Rihanna,” he said, “is that she doesn’t want to be in the same realm as anybody else. She wants to be in a zone where when you think of Rihanna, you think of new, you think of different.”
“Different” (Thiam uses the word like a mantra) meant bringing EDM wunderkind Calvin Harris into the fold. The Scotsman happens to share a management home with Rihanna in Roc Nation, where Jay Brown made the introductions.
Songwriter/producer Harris not only injected Talk That Talk with a pair of hypnotic dance numbers, “Where Have You Been” and “We Found Love,” but his latter contribution gave Rihanna the 11th #1 single of her career.
Still, even as “We Found Love” tops Billboard’s Hot 100 for the fifth consecutive week, Thiam said it wasn’t a sure shot: a melancholy track that essentially consists of a hook looping around a single verse. “With the Calvin Harris record, it’s a different-sounding pop record … it’s not the usual dance-floor 808,” he conceded.
The growing predominance of DJ culture in pop music may have helped usher Harris to the project, but the 23-year-old singer’s desire to strike her own chord was the ultimate green light. “It’s a different sound and that’s what she wanted to go with,” Bu added. “She wanted to change music. I have to salute her for taking a chance ’cause most artists wouldn’t have done that.”