Rihanna has become a household name for reasons that include feverishly posting risque selfies on her Instagram account, her tumultuous personal life, and her fashion-design side projects, but when it comes down to it, she’s first and foremost a singer—and an excellent one at that.
After all, it wasn’t just her looks and sense of style that skyrocketed the 25-year-old Barbadian to meteoric levels of superstardom since bursting onto the music scene in 2005. Granted, her early stuff was catchy but pretty generic, and it wasn’t until she recorded the hit song “Umbrella” in 2007 that she really became a unique artist to watch. (Fun fact: that song was first offered to Britney Spears, who turned it down.)
Rihanna caught the eye of Jay-Z in 2010—who signed her to his Roc Nation label—and was largely responsible for RiRi becoming the de facto “hook queen” she is today. Meaning, what helped deliver her to her current stratospheric place in pop music aren’t just her own parade of hits, but the one-off verses she’s provided for other artists. From Kanye West and Eminem, to her just-released collaboration with D.C. rapper Wale, Rihanna’s cemented her place as one of the most coveted female voices in the music industry.
That said, we decided to take a little trip down memory lane to honor some of Rihanna’s coolest, catchiest, twangiest, and just plain best hooks ever. See our 10 favorites below!
10. Fabolous’ “First Time”
One of Rihanna’s first collaborations with a major rapper, 2007’s “First Time” is an island-tinged track helmed by Fabolous, and a very young-sounding RiRi (she was 19 when this song was released!) cooing about “the first time he kissed her.” It’s a little-known gem.
9. Memphis Bleek’s “The One”
Way back at the beginning of RiRi’s career, she partnered up with a rapper from New York called Memphis Bleek. She lent her fresh-off-the-boat voice to his 2005 track “The One,” and we think the song’s stood the test of time thus far; it’s groove-worthy even today.
8. T.I.’s “Live Your Life” Remix
The automatic summer jam of 2009, Rihanna provided the swinging, catchy background vocals to Atlanta rapper T.I.’s baller anthem “Live Your Life.” Sometimes we still find ourselves singing her lines, “Fancy cars, fancy caaaaars!” for no reason whatsoever.
7. Lonely Island’s “Shy Ronnie”
Proving she’s not always just a brooding ultra-sexy pop star, RiRi joined funny guys Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg, otherwise known as Lonely Island, for an “SNL” skit about a shy kid who can’t quite articulate his words. Rihanna provided encouragement in her unique Barbadian twang, singing, “Use your outside voice! No one in the back can hear you.” All to a very, very funny (and catchy!) effect.
6. Coldplay’s “Princess of China”
RiRi appeared on Coldplay’s 2011 electronica-infused track “Princess of China,” which is especially interesting considering that her on-again, off-again boyfriend Chris Brown’s current single is called “Fine China.” Do we smell a subliminal connection?
5. Jay-Z’s “Run This Town”
The man largely responsible for Rihanna’s success—he originally signed her to Roc Nation and helped produce her first mega-hit, “Umbrella,”—Jay-Z featured her on his 2009 album “The Blueprint 3.” The pair almost single-handedly created the male rapper-female singer collaboration that has since become an integral part of pop music.
4. Eminem’s “Love The Way You Lie”
Eminem is one of the best-known rappers around, and for his pain-filled song detailing his experience with domestic violence, he reached out to Rihanna to contribute. At the time, it was barely a year after she had been the victim of domestic violence herself, at the hands of then-boyfriend Chris Brown. As such, she lent an eerily genuine air to the track, and it’s one of her most honest efforts to date.
3. Wale’s “Bad” Remix
RiRi made the ultimate diva move in terms of musical features when she teamed up with rapper Wale on his song “Bad,” replacing Tiara Thomas, who provided the original vocals on the song. Not only does Rihanna completely kill it, but Wale shouts out her fashion line: “Rihanna got these women in that River’s Island, I’m just tryin’ to take a dip.” Clever! It all just makes Thomas’ oust sting that much more. Ouch.
2. Drake’s “Take Care”
Frequent collaborator/rumored ex-boyfriend Drake corralled RiRi to contribute to the title track from his 2011 album “Take Care,” which samples producer Jamie XX’s remix of a Gil-Scott Heron song. The effect is strong, with Rihanna’s deliver of “I’ve loved and I’ve lost” as the song’s particularly poignant high point.
1. Kanye West’s “All Of The Lights”
For his epic 2010 opus “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Kanye West collaborated with more artists than you can count on your hands and feet, but Rihanna’s feature on “All Of The Lights” is one of the record’s strongest by far. Her strong, clear vocal serves as the foil to Kanye’s angry, almost frenetic verses, and both mingle to paint a vivid picture of Yeezy’s fast-paced life in the spotlight.