R&B singer Ne-Yo found working with Rihanna on her 4th studio album as a growth for both himself and her as artists. He recalls the writing of the first single, Russian Roulette, as Rihanna requesting a different vibe: “She wanted to be dark, but not just dark for the sake of being dark. Dark with kind of a meaning, dark with some kind of thing to it.” But it’s not just that one song, Rated R as a whole has been characterized as “rough, raw and brutal”. The album was the first one released after the mediatized Chris Brown incident and while it doesn’t specifically refer to their fight in any of the lyrics, it was seen as more of an exploration of darker themes than Rihanna’s previous work.
Despite being released as only the 4th single from Rated R, Rude Boy was the only one to go all the way to the top of the charts. Well-known names in Rihanna’s collaboration history are behind it: the StarGate team (Diamonds, Only Girl (In the World)) is responsible for the production, while Ester Dean (What’s My Name?, S&M) is one of the song-writers. Musically, the song features Jamaican influences and even the adjective “rude” in the title is said to have been used as a Jamaican slang meaning ‘cool’ and ‘hip’. Rihanna described the protagonist that the song is directed to as “the kind of street, bad boy that girls sometimes like.”
The video of Rude Boy is well known for its cultural references – works of artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Salt-n-Pepa, M.I.A. and Jean-Michel Basquiat are imitated. It was directed by Melina Matsoukas, who had previously won a Grammy Award for another Rihanna video, We Found Love.
Rude Boy spent 5 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by B.o.B’s Nothin’ on You (featuring Bruno Mars).