GG‘s Number Ones column reviews every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the last 10 years.
Rihanna was stripped of life’s illusions at a young age. Her father was an alcoholic, a violent addict who she once witnessed smoking crack cocaine. Another time he broke her mother’s nose before her very eyes.
Rihanna’s fantasy of becoming a pop star was her escape. And when it came to her dream she didn’t leave anything to chance. She gave everything she had to make it happen.
This was no small feat to accomplish for a 15-year-old in Barbados. Rihanna had no formal musical training, she couldn’t play an instrument or even write a song. Yet after a chance meeting two American music industry executives on vacation, she was given her shot at fame.
The pair immediately recognised her talent. Not just in her vocal delivery but the intensity of her green-eyed stare. Relocating to America she auditioned before Jay-Z. Quickly landing a record deal, she never looked back.
Rihanna Becomes A Star
8 months later Rihanna released No. 2 US single ‘Pon De Replay’. Less than a year later she landed her first No. 1 single ‘S.O.S.‘. At 18 Rihanna was an international superstar. She could easily have coasted through life on these achievements alone. Instead, she decided she no longer wanted to be pigeonholed as The Girl Next Door. In breaking out of her pre-made persona she reinvented herself with ‘Umbrella’, the leading single of 2007 album Good Girl Gone Bad.
After a savage beating by then-boyfriend Chris Brown in 2010, she got personal with Rated R and become the world’s most famous victim of domestic violence. This, of course, was just the beginning. Drake collaboration ‘What’s My Name?’ is what came next. It was more than a simple collaboration. It was love.
How Drake Came to Appear on ‘What’s My Name?’
Before we get to how the pair crossed paths, a little on Drake. Aubrey Drake Graham began his career as an actor on popular teen soap opera Degrassi: The Next Generation. Appearing on the show in 2001, his wheelchair-bound basketball player Jimmy Brooks was a fan favourite. In 2009 Drake ended his 8-year Degrassi run after being given an ultimatum by the show’s producers to choose between acting and his emerging career in music. He chose music.
While his future as an actor seemed secure, Drake’s musical reputation had been growing since he first released Room For Improvement via social networking website Myspace in February 2006. In 2007 he then released the critically acclaimed Comeback Season along with his debut music video ‘Replacement Girl’. The same year, he became the first unsigned Canadian rapper to have a music video featured on the Black Entertainment Television network. In 2009 he released So Far Gone which was available for free download from his blog. The album received 2000 downloads within two hours of its release.
This viral success paved the way for 2009’s chart-topping hit singles ‘Best I Ever Had’ and ‘Every Girl’. With these two singles, Drake became a mainstream success. In fact, he was the second artist in history to have his first two US Top 10 hits in the same week. His debut album Thank Me Later was also critically acclaimed. In a few short years, his reputation as a musician had far outstripped his acting credentials.
Rihanna and Drake’s Romance
Drake first bumped into Rihanna on the set of Rihanna’s ‘Pon De Replay‘ music video in 2005. The relationship which resulted has remained mysterious to fans. Drake has previously described Rihanna as “someone I’ve been in love with since I was 22 years old”. Rihanna tells a different story, noting the pair had always been “just friends”.
After Rihanna’s split from Chris Brown, Drake and Rihanna were spotted at New York’s Lucky Strike bowling alley in 2009. Eyewitnesses claim Rihanna was “making out with him all night”. During this time Drake and Rihanna were also working on new material. In November 2009 Drake revealed to MTV News that Rihanna had asked him to provide vocals on a track intended for the fourth album Rated R. While the song had not appeared on that album Drake hoped would see a later release.
Rihanna and Drake Fall Out
A little over half a year later Drake was less unhappy. Not only had the singe not come out but Rihanna had run off on him. In June 2010 he caused a small scandal, claiming Rihanna had “used him”. “I was a pawn,” he shared with The New York Times. “You know what she was doing to me? She was doing exactly what I’ve done to so many women throughout my life, which is show them quality time, then disappear. I was like, ‘Wow, this feels terrible.’”
The pair patched things up. By late 2010 the release of ‘What’s My Name?’ was back on the agenda. In September both were seen on a film set recording of the song’s music video. News of the two together again sparked rumours they had rekindled their rumoured romance.
On October 26, 2010, ‘What’s My Name?’ was released to the world at large. The pair’s chemistry was undeniable. It was an instant hit. ‘What’s My Name?’ soared to No. 1 on the Billboard Hottest 100 and enjoyed similar chart success the world over.
If Rihanna and Drake did enjoy another period of romance it was one that didn’t last. While the pair appeared together at the 2011 Grammy’s the next time Drake and Rihanna were sighted together was in London in 2014. The two would later collaborate on ‘Work’ and ‘Too Good’ in 2016. Sometime after this, they had another falling out. Rihanna confirmed this in a 2018 interview with Vogue. Her and Drake, she revealed, were no longer friends.
Why Rihanna and Drake Didn’t Work
In hindsight, it is clear Drake and Rihanna’s chemistry was more musical than personal. Both were unapologetic romantics at heart. Perhaps they were more taken with the idea of one another than the reality.
In public, Drake has often played the part of aloof Ladies Man. His steady relationship with former model Sophie Brussaux since 2017 suggests otherwise. The birth of Drake and Sophie’s first child Adonis in October 2017 lends credence to the idea Drake had been looking for a partner to settle down with.
Could you really picture Rihanna as a “happy housewife”? Given the disruption controlling men have caused to her life in past, it seems unlikely Rihanna would be interested in settling down. Furthermore, would she really let the interests of any man stand in the way of her career? Since parting ways with Drake, Rihanna’s fame has soared to new and unprecedented heights. In 2021 Rihanna, now a fashion magnate, worth an estimated $600 million.
Drake and Rihanna After ‘What’s My Name?’
Some of history’s greatest musical moments have come after periods of personal turmoil. Rihanna’s on-again-off-again relationship with Drake, as emotionally tumultuous as it may have been behind the scenes began another creatively fertile period in the Barbados born pop star’s celebrated career. in November 2021 news leaked to the public that the 32-year-old Rihanna is dating hip hop superstar A$ap Rocky while also rumoured to be working on the highly anticipated follow up to 2016’s Anti. It doesn’t seem Rihanna is at any risk of letting up.
‘What’s My Name?’ Peak Chart Positions
US/Billboard: #1 (20 weeks on chart)
Australia/ARIA: #1 (20 weeks on chart)
UK/Official Charts Company: #1 (19 weeks on chart)
Rihanna and Drake 'What's My Name?'6
It didn't work out
We never got the whole story
'Work' was better