This year, for the most part has been a year where many new contemporary R&B artists have made their debuts and they have been overall very well put together. There have also been some strong returns (aka Amerie's excellent "TOUCH"). Rihanna's debut is no different from excellent offerings from Teairra Mari (ROC-A-FELLA PRESENTS...) and Keyshia Cole (THE WAY IT IS, which is ultimately a combination between contemporary R&B, Urban, and neo-soul). Rihanna, again separates herself from other contemporary artists because she chooses to include tropical influences (Carribbean) mixed with R&B/Dance-Club type music. For the most part, Rihanna pulls this off very well.
Production for the most part throughout this album is very strong. Most notably, it is strongest on the dance tunes as opposed to the balladry. Where the balladry is concerned, the production feels as if it is to spare to serve as an effective backdrop for Rihanna's vocals. With that said, ballads like "The Last Time" and "Willing To Wait" are pretty, but they feel like they're missing a little heart, soul, and emotion. Furthermore, "Now I Know" is pretty as well, but it is too slow and makes the album lose momentum towards the end. Luckily, "Pon De Replay Remix" feat. Elephant Man revives the album and ends it on a high not. Despite the mishaps of the included ballads, Rihanna does show off her vocals, which are well developed for her young age of 17, but still have to achieve more maturity (Keyshia Cole & Fantasia, who are slightly older than Rihanna are more mature vocally).
The true highlights of MUSIC OF THE SUN are the dance tunes. The ubiquitous "Pon De Replay" is definitely a catchy, well produced single. While it is a great first single, great summer single, and probably the strongest album track, it may not quite the caliber of say Ciara's "Goodies", Amerie's "1 Thing", J.Lo's "Get Right", or Beyonce's "Crazy in Love", yet it does give each of those singles a run for their money.
"Here I Go Again" is personally my favorite. It has the reggae production going for it and it is a nice mid-tempo lazy feel to it. I think that it would be a wonderful choice for a single at some point for Rihanna. The third selection from the album, "If It's Loving That You Want" is another great selection. "You Don't Love Me" isn't bad, but it isn't in my top 3 of best tracks. "That La, La, La" is an infections, well,yet simply produced number that would also be a credible single choice. The other selections don't evoke as much excitement as the best. "Let Me" is a decent track and I could see it being used as a single, However the title track, "Music of The Sun" comes over as filler material, which is a shame considering the fact that it is the title track. "Rush" and "There's A Thug in My Life" are merely average filler tracks and don't add any real "oomph" to MUSIC OF THE SUN".
Overall, Rihanna is off to a good start, but she stills has some things to improve on. Some things are just maturity factorsl; like Teairra Mari, she has a great voice, but she is just 17--she needs a few more years to truly mature into a "powerhouse" vocalist. Furthermore, the producers should make Rihanna's next album a bit more consistent. If you look at say Kanye West's THE COLLEGE DROPOUT, you see a consistent album where every track is great. Same with Anthony Hamilton's COMING FROM WHERE I'M FROM, to use an R&B example. Rihanna's debut is a bit scattered, but it is also a welcome addition to the music industry's summer catalogue, especially for the simple fact that Rihanna includes Caribbean influence into her songs. For me, I would rate this either 3 or 3.5 stars. Overall, not a bad debut Rihanna.