February 26, 2010 / 11:47 PM / 9 years ago

Billboard singles reviews: Rihanna, Ke$ha

SINGLE: RUDE BOY

NEW YORK (Billboard) - With “Rude Boy,” Rihanna delivers her most provocative lyrics and perhaps most authentic-sounding single to date. The singer makes good use of the song’s title — an old Jamaican slang term for lawless males — and relishes her role as antagonist. Steel drums are a welcome presence on the production, which gives a nod to ska and dancehall. Rihanna’s swagger has never been as convincing as on this song, and thanks to an accompanying video that pays tribute to M.I.A.’s global pop culture references, “Rude Boy” is poised for success.

SINGLE: BLAH BLAH BLAH (RCA)

“I don’t really care where you live at/Just turn around, boy, let me hit that!” That line pretty much sums up the message of “Blah Blah Blah,” the follow-up to Ke$ha’s record-breaking hit “TiK ToK.” “Blah” takes post-feminist aim at boys who are inclined to spoil the heat of passion with trivial banter, with Ke$ha chanting over drone-like electronic bleeps and hand claps. The takeaway: Girls like to “cut to the chase,” too. A guest verse by the pop duo 3OH!3 severely slows down the momentum and never quite jells with Ke$ha’s catty, aggressive delivery. If danceability is the criteria, though, this song is another ace in the hole for pop’s new It girl.

SINGLE: WE ARE THE WORLD 25: FOR HAITI

When the original “We Are the World” debuted in 1985, as a call to action against famine in Africa, the notion of cross-genre musicians uniting for an all-star recording in the name of charity was unprecedented, and met with due awe. On a practical level, it’s impossible for “We Are the World 25: For Haiti” to recapture that novelty. But Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie — who created the original with the late Michael Jackson — have certainly updated the song to fit the times. This results in some unfortunate choices, from T-Pain’s Auto-Tune solo to Jamie Foxx’s misguided impersonation of Ray Charles and the absence of a powerhouse rock vocal (Pink aside). Bright spots are to be found, though, in Wyclef Jean’s ululating cries and Jennifer Hudson’s straight-from-the-gut passion. Jackson’s spectral presence, a reminder of the song’s essential magic, is still the most welcome one of all.

ARTIST: GUCCI MANE

SINGLE: LEMONADE (Asylum Records)

Despite a string of cameos on other artists’ hits, Gucci Mane has yet to produce a blockbuster single of his own — one that can elevate him from a fairly known rapper to the star his supporters already figure him for. Surprisingly, the unorthodox “Lemonade” may succeed where more radio-friendly singles like “Wasted” and “Spotlight” did not. Produced by Bangladesh, the beat-maker behind Lil Wayne’s “A Milli,” “Lemonade” showcases Mane’s strongest suit: his flare for colorful metaphors. (The song’s title refers to his fixation on everything yellow.) But like “A Milli,” which was co-opted by countless mixtape rappers, it’s the song’s unique beat that makes “Lemonade” sing. A Hall & Oates-esque piano melody provides satisfying ear candy, while rumbling bass drops give it that Dirty South kick. The hook, sung by what sounds like a demented children’s chorus, adds even more flavor to an already rich stew.

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