Jay-Z said he's not sure if he'll be putting out any more albums, but he's definitely done promoting his latest LP, Kingdom Come. Now he wants to focus on helping Def Jam artists Rihanna and Ne-Yo continue their success.
"It's a fortunate position for [all] of us," the label boss said recently on the L.A. set of Rihanna's "Umbrella" video. "They benefit from my years of experience in the music business, and I benefit from their new, fresh energy and their talent. It's a two-way street."
Jay — who also appears on the song "Crazy," from Ne-Yo's new LP, Because of You — was filming his part for the Chris Applebaum-directed clip. "Umbrella" is the first single from Rihanna's new LP, Good Girl Gone Bad, due June 5.
Rihanna was shocked by Jay's cameo — in the video and in the song. "They just said, 'We have a surprise for you,' " remembered Rihanna, who wears nothing but silver paint in one part of the video. "I couldn't imagine it would be Jay-Z getting on the song. They played it for me, and I got goose bumps everywhere. I still can't believe that I'm shooting a video with Jay-Z and I have a song with Jay on it. It takes everything to another level for me in my career as far as experience goes."
" 'Umbrella' was a song that the minute you heard it, you know what it was gonna be — it was a smash," Hov said of why he wanted to be a part of it. "It was a hit without me. I'm happy it came out great. It reminded me of summertime.
"That's my family right there," he added of his recording artist. "We've all been on this journey of her growth. We was right there. It's a different type of situation. It's not just lending my vocals to a project. It's a project and person I believe in. The album is another chapter in her growth — her third album in 18 months. We've seen her come from being the 'Pon De Replay' girl to having a album be successful to 'S.O.S.' and 'Unfaithful' being #1 hits. It's the growth of an artist that's going to keep on growing."
Rihanna said her evolution since 2006's A Girl Like Me consisted of everything from getting a haircut to finding her own identity to doing what so many of the greats before her such as Janet, Mariah and Beyoncé did: take more control of her projects.
"They just put me in the studio and I started recording and recording, and it showed the direction of who I became as an artist," she explained. "We figured Good Girl Gone Bad was the perfect title because it showed people I'm my own [person] now. Not doing what anyone wants me to do. I'm not the innocent Rihanna anymore. I'm taking a lot more risks and chances. I felt when I cut my hair, it shows people I'm not trying to look or be anybody else. The album is very edgy. We have some urban records, some really pop records."
Ne-Yo penned the album's title track (see "Rihanna Gets Voice Lessons From Ne-Yo For 'Fresh, Uptempo' New Tracks"). "Ne-Yo, he's my boy," the 19-year-old songstress said. "He also did one called 'Hate That I Love You,' which is a duet between us, and 'Question Existing.' That song, when it first starts off, you think it's a sexy song, but you have to listen to the lyrics. It's a really deep song."
Justin Timberlake and Timbaland also checked in on the LP. "I had so much fun in the studio with Timbaland and Justin," she beamed. "It's a bunch of guys, all crazy, all creative. It's interesting to watch their process. I worked with Timbaland on three songs, one of them is called 'Rehab' and Justin wrote it. It's one of my personal favorites. We worked on this other one called 'Let Me Get That.' It's kinda fun. It's so not me, but it's kinda me going into a character and playing a character. It's one of my favorites too."
Rihanna says for the "Umbrella" video, she didn't want to get too in-depth with a plot or story line. Instead, she vied for dancing and beauty shots.
"I wanted it to be a performance video, because I feel performance videos show people most who you are and who you've become," she said. "I felt it was important for the first single since it's a new direction and a new look."