Rihanna needs to build that empire.
There are select musicians in 2019 who are creating, or have created, a significant cultural legacy on multiple fronts: music, fashion, business, societal activism and film. Rihanna sits high among those few. After immigrating to the country in 2005, the Baijan singer took the music industry by storm-- becoming the international boundary-breaking pop star whose catalogue we all know and love. However, as of recently, the public has been able to witness her lay the foundation and groundwork of becoming one of the music industry’s largest business tycoons. In fact, just recently, it was reported that Rihanna was officially named the world’s wealthiest female musician-- coming in at a staggering $600 million and surpassing a long list of male counterparts, from Drake to Justin Bieber. With a large amount of her wealth occurring from her ventures outside of music, Rihanna has significantly helped in shaping representation and opening up worlds of opportunity for black women in business across the globe. Outside of representation, she has shown that sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and hone in on your craft in order to elevate to the next level.
While fans have been (not so patiently) waiting for the release of new music from Bad Girl RiRi, she has been busy carving out her legacy and entrepreneurial footprint, with the establishment of three major brands and fashion houses under her name. Despite her recent historic accomplishments, she has received a significant amount of prodding on social media for her to hurry up and release music. However, Rihanna’s decision to temporarily step away from music is one that should be met with the same applause as her male counterparts who've also taken time away from the music industry to flesh out their business developments. If we look at the history of rappers and musicians-turned-mogul-- a common denominator seems to be time-away from music to focus on development. Diddy, for example, has a history of relegating music to his side-piece as he works on business-- from the development of Ciroc in 2007 to the digital cable television network, Revolt TV, in 2013. Likewise, in the mid 2000’s, while Jay-Z was establishing himself as a business goliath, investing in his Rocawear clothing company, 40/40 Club, and more, his press and media appearances were heavily centered around establishing himself as a mogul and promoting his business ventures as concern for music dwindled in his later years. It takes time to build the portfolio of a mogul (let alone become one), and it's almost a natural progression for an artist of Rihanna's stature to steer towards moguldom. Just as her male counterparts matured artistically and tapped into outlier sources of business, so too, is Rihanna.
Rihanna at the FENTY x Webster Pop-up Cocktail in New York City, June 2019 - Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
It is far too common for black women to be tied solely to their respective fields. We’ve seen it happen periodically-- from Serena Williams, to Beyonce and Nicki Minaj-- black women are often told to pick a lane and stick to it, whether that be acting, music, writing or sports. When women venture out of this constructed lane, they are often labeled as “doing too much.” Some of today’s biggest stars have felt the tinge of "doing too much." Beyonce's hit country song “Daddy Lessons” was rejected by the Grammys country category, and received intense backlash from country music fans who believed that she didn’t deserve to perform at the CMAS. This cultural phenomenon, as Moses Sumeny best puts it, causes creative stifling: “When we put black artists in these boxes, we strip their ability to morph—which is something white artists don’t have to deal with.”
However, Rihanna’s recent business efforts, have slowly helped at unraveling this effect. Her latest “Fenty” launch is historically the first major fashion brand that LVMH has founded from scratch as well as the first LVMH brand to be headed up by a woman of color. Prior to this, her release and development of Fenty Beauty broke down boundaries as the first makeup line to offer the most diverse range of products for people of all skin tones, while her Savage X Fenty brand became the first lingerie line to feature models from all walks of life. Rihanna being able to accomplish this feat has aided in giving other young black girls, like myself, hope that they too can conquer more than one avenue of business and establish ownership in multiple lanes.
In a time when there are so few black luxury designers, and many luxury brands and fashion houses, such as Gucci and Moncler, profiting off of racist designs and the appropriation of black culture, a move like Rihanna’s emphasizes the power of ownership and reclamation. Though Black America makes up a small portion of the US population, the power of the black dollar is approximately $1 trillion with estimates placing it close to $2 trillion by 2020. Black America is perhaps one of the largest economies in the world however we often have little money going back into our own communities. Even fewer, are the black designers and entrepreneurs who are able to get the right networking opportunities that in turn, enable them, or at least, give them a chance, to have their brands surpass those profiteering off the culture. Having a black woman as the head of her own luxury fashion house sends a strong message to the world, that our culture is still very much in our own hands, and not a tool for big business to monetize from underneath us.
Rihanna at the Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Anniversary Event in Sydney, Australia, October 2018 - Caroline McCredie/Getty Images
Outside of her strides in fashion, her overall success represents something much more significant on a larger scale. Given her background as a first generation immigrant who came to the United States by herself, Rihanna’s success embodies the American dream. It shows you that possibilities can be limitless. In an age where Trump’s immigration reform has oppressed and targeted so many men, women, and children, the world can seem like it is becoming increasingly xenophobia and hate filled. However, seeing a woman who came to the United States with very little in her pocket, create a dynasty and legacy on her own while speaking up and fighting for the rights of immigrants, reminds us that there is still hope and good in the world for those who come from similar backgrounds.
Although much of the Navy sees Rihanna’s time off as a hindrance to her long awaited R9 project, her time away from music has actually been a much-needed step toward shaping herself as a business mogul and putting her among the ranks of greats such as Jay-Z and Diddy. Although most of her ventures are fairly recent and still developing, one thing is for certain, Rihanna’s reign will remain undefeated.