Rihanna – Higher is a song about the desire for late-night sex and companionship so urgent that it actually feels like a song about how much it hurts to have a Humvee back over your leg. And that is because Rihanna gives so much of herself in the vocal booth that it feels like she might pass out.
“I hope I ain’t calling you too late, too late/ You light my fire/ Let’s stay up late and smoke a J,” she sings, hitting throat-shredding notes at the top of her range. It might have escaped people’s notice that Rihanna is one of the best character actors in pop, because for a few years she played a chilly cypher, but “Higher” is pitched high enough to startle any remaining doubters into belief. “This whiskey got me feeling pretty” she slurs on the opening, a line that feels almost as instantly meme-able as Beyoncé’s “Driver, roll up the partition, please,” but it’s a joyful howl of abandon instead of a cool purr of control.
The song is yet another masterful piece of work from No I.D., whose late-career résumé at Def Jam is threatening to eclipse his golden-age rap bona fides at this point. He builds a track that sounds like a soul revue sliding off a collapsing stage, a wandering violin doodling random shit in the background. This song is two minutes long, but it is a complete transmission from someplace more louche and heartbroken and painful than our world.