During a few weeks of travel in Trinidad and Guyana in late 2011, one song came on the radio again and again. It was soulful with a reggae beat. It was violent, tragic, and had an edge. It was the ballad of a murder occurring in Central station, sung with a West Caribbean accent. I thought I had discovered some great new reggae artist that no one would have heard of. I googled some of the lyrics (Rum pa pa pum Rum pa pa pum Rum pa pa pum Man down) and it turns out it was by Rihanna, the Barbados born singer that has become a major pop star in the last few years. I assumed the song must be blowing up back in the states too, but when I came back that wasn’t the case. No one had ever heard of it and Man Down wasn’t getting play anywhere. It barely cracked the Billboard Top 100.
Here’s what Rihanna had to say about the song in an interview with MTV News:
“Man Down is gangsta mixed with reggae. It comes from me trying to achieve that [vibe]. I’m super inspired by reggae music [and it] has been a part of me since I was born, and I grew up listening to it. I grew up loving it. My favorite artists are all reggae artists. The special thing in that song is the fact that it’s a female singing those lyrics, then you have that reggae thing and the chant; the overall energy in that song is so gangsta. It’s got a lot of swagger. I really enjoy it.”
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Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.