Rihanna Might Never Drop ‘R9’ & We Need to Be OK With That

For fans having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that Rihanna has retired from making music, it’s time to rip that band-aid off.

RiRi has kept music on the back burner for several years now, and she’s only returned to the stage when presented with prime (and, at times, high-paying) opportunities that no major artist would want to refuse. She headlined the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show last year, where she also revealed she was pregnant with her and A$AP Rocky’s second child. And earlier this month, the internet devoured guerrilla footage of her first full concert in eight years — during the pre-wedding celebration for Anant Ambani, the son of Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, and Radhika Merchant in Jamnagar, India. Rihanna was reportedly paid anywhere from $6 to $9 million for her set, which included performances of her Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hits “Work,” “Umbrella,” “We Found Love,” “Diamonds” and more.

Shortly before her Indian pre-wedding concert, she had hinted at a collaboration with Rocky – but it was about a lip balm. And earlier this week, she starred on the cover of Vogue China to celebrate the expansion of Fenty Beauty, one of Rihanna’s many business ventures that’s transformed the superstar with nine Grammys into a mogul with nine zeroes in her net worth. But fans are still holding out for her ninth studio album.

Rather than continuing to hope for R9’s uncertain arrival, it would be easier to accept that the album might never materialize. And although she’s never officially announced her retirement, her career moves over the last few years have strongly suggested that no new music is on the horizon.


Rihanna hasn’t dropped a full-length project since 2016’s ANTI, and it’s arguably her best album – even Rihanna agrees. “In hindsight, it really is my most brilliant album,” she said in her 2023 British Vogue cover story. “It always felt like the most cohesive album I’ve ever made.” It produced the nine-week Hot 100 No. 1 “Work,” featuring Drake, and two additional top 10 hits with “Needed Me” and “Love on the Brain.” “Work,” “Needed Me” and fellow single “Kiss It Better” all earned Grammy nominations, while ANTI was up for best urban contemporary album and best recording package in 2017.

The LP debuted at No. 27 on the Billboard 200 following its surprise release on Tidal (with a little more than a day left in the chart’s tracking week); after it became widely available to digital retailers and streaming services, ANTI reached No. 1 in its second-charting week, marking her second chart-topping album after 2012’s Unapologetic. And at 412 weeks (and counting), ANTI is the fourth-longest-charting album on the Billboard 200 by a woman artist, after Adele’s 21, Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die and Taylor Swift’s 1989. The songs from ANTI collectively have 7.2 billion official on-demand U.S. streams, according to Luminate. Rihanna really doesn’t need to drop another body of work, because she’s already delivered a classic.

And while ANTI set the bar very high, that doesn’t mean Rihanna couldn’t outdo herself. Artists like SZA and Frank Ocean have proven they can follow up their universally acclaimed sets with equally excellent or even better albums. But Rihanna has opened up about the pressure that comes with the prospect of dropping the highly anticipated follow-up to ANTI.

“There’s this pressure that I put on myself. That if it’s not better than that then it is not even worth it,” she told British Vogue last year, explaining how her perfectionism has gotten in the way of her creative process. “I realized that if I keep waiting until this feels right and perfect and better, maybe it’s going to keep taking forever and maybe it’ll never come out and no, I’m not down for that.” RiRi also told the publication that it would be “ridiculous” if she didn’t drop the album in 2023. Now that we’re quickly approaching Q2 of 2024, it’s hard to determine how Rihanna has since readjusted her timetable for R9.

She’s made comments about R9 in previous interviews that have indicated it isn’t completely a myth. In her 2018 Vogue cover story, she said she wanted to make it a reggae album. When she covered the magazine the following year, she doubled down on her statement. “I like to look at it as a reggae-inspired or reggae-infused album,” she told Vogue in 2019. But otherwise, Rihanna has not publicly disclosed any concrete details about or plan to release the album we’ve all been waiting for.

She told Entertainment Tonight in February 2022 that her fans “would kill me if they waited this long for a lullaby.” And what did she do? She released a lullaby seven months later with “Lift Me Up,” her first solo single in six years and the lead single from the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. While the tribute to late actor Chadwick Boseman wasn’t the kind of song fans were expecting (and the kind of song Rihanna joked she wouldn’t deliver), it proved she still had the juice, commercially and artistically: “Lift Me Up” debuted at No. 2 on the Hot 100 and became the best-starting radio single of Rihanna’s career, debuting at No. 6 on Radio Songs. It also earned best original song nominations at the 80th annual Golden Globe Awards and 95th annual Academy Awards and a best song written for visual media nod at the 66th annual Grammy Awards.

But one hit soundtrack single – that stayed two weeks in the Hot 100 top 10, which isn’t a remarkable feat for a Rihanna single – is no indication of her hypothetical new album era. Most people seemed to forget that she recorded two songs for the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack, with “Born Again” closing out the project. The song didn’t earn the same impressive chart stats or rave reviews as “Lift Me Up,” which spurred multiple “Rihanna Returns to Music” headlines. Yet her momentary reappearance, which has been followed by other mini-resurfacings like her Super Bowl and pre-wedding performances, hasn’t officially signaled the end of her eight-year musical hiatus.

And a large reason why the “Don’t Stop the Music” hitmaker stopped putting out music is because Rihanna has been preoccupied checking off everything else from her bucket list. A few years back, a snippet of her 2008 InStyle cover interview resurfaced on X (formerly known as Twitter) where then-20-year-old singer listed what she wanted to accomplish in the next 10 years: “I want to have already started my family and have some businesses of my own. A fashion line, a makeup line, and I still want to be doing what I’m doing at a much bigger capacity – by the grace of God!” Rihanna, now 36, has accomplished everything she’s set out to do: In the eight years following ANTI, Rihanna welcomed two sons with Rocky; launched her $1 billion-worth Savage x Fenty lingerie brand and historic Fenty fashion line with LVHM Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (which was put on hold in 2021); and opened her Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin lines, with the success of the former helping her reach billionaire status in 2022.

While fans’ original entry point to Rihanna was her music, she has wielded her musical career as an entry point to starting other successful businesses. And fans can get frustrated if it seems like artists are neglecting the thing that made them popular in the first place, but what they might not realize or even respect is that artists have other big dreams they want to pursue – and music might’ve provided an avenue for them to achieve them. Saweetie, another business-savvy artist who has noticeably taken her sweet time to release an album and recently explained the pressure surrounding it, has also opened up about wanting to create a legacy for herself beyond music. Whether artists completely stop making music to pursue their other passions or drop singles here and there before disappearing again, fans’ hopes for their musical careers don’t always align with the direction artists take them in.

Maybe RiRi will pull a Kendrick and deliver the news we’ve all been waiting for when she sees discussions about her retirement. Or maybe ANTI really is her swan song. Either way, Rihanna’s career trajectory has been nothing short of exceptional – and for better or for worse, another album isn’t going to dramatically affect it.  

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