An Open Letter to Everybody Involved in the Creation of Rihanna’s ‘Higher’

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

Dear Love Haters:

I recently took the time to check out Rihanna’s newest album, Anti, which was a much different sound from her than I expected. I’d heard many people talk about the album’s direction not being the typical paint-by-numbers Rihanna album, but waited to check it out.


It’s quite a good album, or at least, I enjoyed it upon my first listen. It’s all pleasant surprise and s—t. Also, the Tame Impala song that she “covered”? Kudos on not destroying an already good song.

But alas, you motherf—kers have some ’splaining to do. See, while I was listening, I came across the song “Higher,” which is where Rihanna is drunkenly singing to her lover and apologizing for her antics from a few days ago and really just wants that old thang back. It’s the song where you let Rihanna “go.” You know the one. The one where the whiskey has her feeling pretty. Please inform me what type of whiskey she was drinking, since I hope never to drink it in my life if it forces me into this type of nonsense.

Look, Rihanna cannot sing. Rihanna’s talent in life is being Rihanna. Her social media game is vicious. Her face game is bananas. She seems like a total hoot to hang around with, and even though we’ve all seen her naked before, any nudes that come out always seem like the first time.

She’s pretty magical, if you ask me. I’m willing to bet all the money Donald Trump has in his wallet that you who work with Rihanna know this. So letting her sing sans vocal manipulation was just f—king cruel. I get it; she’s drunk and singing to her boo. But f—k that. This is an album. That wasn’t art. That was aural violence. You let Rihanna scream into a microphone for the better part of two minutes to achieve what goal?

Pain? Done.

I’ve read the comments on YouTube from people who are claiming that the emotion in her voice is really what’s shining through. I had to look up “emotion” because what I hear is a got-damn torture tactic. Somebody call Guantanamo Bay—they’ve got a replacement for the Eminem albums they’ve been playing for detainees.


I remember when I listened to Destiny’s Child’s final album, Destiny Fulfilled, and the song “Is She the Reason?” played. Kelly Rowland and ’Yoncé handle the lion’s share of singing until the bridge, when Michelle Williams’ struggle vocals take over. Her singing: horrible and rude.

Well, that’s what Rihanna sounds like to me: struggle. In fact, if Michelle Williams, Rihanna and Ameriie decided to start a group with Mary J. Blige as the lead and spirit animal, the only appropriate name for this group would be Struggle.


Again, anybody working in music would know this, which makes me wonder exactly why you bastards let her think this was the move. S—t, I listened to this song on my Beats Pill+, which has remarkable sound, but it’s a consumer-driven speaker system. I can’t imagine listening to this on some KRK Rokit monitors, an industry standard that is intended to highlight flaws in sound for mixing purposes. Those monitors might have blown a few times and then started cursing.

All of those vocals are flawed. All of them. They don’t sound like performance art. They sound like pain. Do you remember when Ja Rule said, “Pain is love” or something? That’s what I thought immediately upon hearing that song. And it made me think that you people associated with “Higher” are just f—king sadists.


According to the industry leader in facts, Wikipedia, No I.D. produced this along with Kuk Harrell, who I imagine was the songwriter. No I.D., you’re kind of off the hook here; you provided the sound bed. Kuk, on the other hand, you probably also handled vocal-arrangement duties, which means that there are probably a thousand takes of this song sitting on a hard drive somewhere.

My guess is that originally, you asked her to sing this song and hit Auto-Tune, as you have to do with 90 percent of Rihanna songs. But something happened. Stop me if I’m wrong: You were using an old Pro Tools plug-in, so the function didn’t work, leaving you with raw Rihanna vocals, and you had a moment of artistry where you felt like the subject matter fit a raw, real emotional output.


This only works­—and by “works” I mean was able to be sold to the execs—because it’s Rihanna. If somebody showed up in the office and sang a song like that, that person would be escorted out of the building by police and told never to step foot on the premises again. That’s how bad she sounded.

In fact, for every motherf—ker who thinks that Rihanna was singing with so much emotion and that’s why it was a great song, if you heard ANY OTHER PERSON ON EARTH singing like this in public, you’d tell them not to quit their day job; and if they didn’t have a day job, you’d fill out applications for them because you knew they had no shot in hell of ever making it as a singer.


But noooooooo, it’s Rihanna, so people are like, f—k it, this is dope. Rihanna is an artist in the loosest sense of the word. She’s a vocalist. But “artist” is a stretch, so trying to take a song and make it art, even on an album where the reaches of her feigned artistry were achieved, was just too f—king far.

I think you all are terrible people for endeavoring to place this horridly sung song on an otherwise pretty-good album and forcing people to say stupid s—t like, “Wow, listen to Rihanna sing with so much emotion. If you think she doesn’t sound good, you just don’t get it.”


You’re making people fool themselves into thinking that Rihanna is just emoting like a motherf—ker. She is not. She is screaming and yelling into the microphone. She must have clipped the entire time. For those who don’t know what clipping is, it’s the result of your output (in this case, vocals) distorting because it outpaces the maximum capability of the amplifier (in this case, the microphone). The entire song is one big-ass distortion.

Look, you creators made a great album. It sparkles and s—t and shows a range to Rihanna that wasn’t expected. You can revel in that. There was no need to add the shenanigans with “Higher.” There just wasn’t. We already know she can’t sing; we didn’t need further proof.


So stop it. You are bad people. Stop being bad people. It’s too late now, but don’t do that s—t again.


Thank you.

Panama Jackson is the co-founder and senior editor of He lives in Washington, D.C., and believes the children are our future.