Rihanna Music of the Sun

Every summer seems to have that annoying song that gets played to death and I hereby nominate Rihanna’s "Pon De Replay” as this year’s candidate. The Bajan-born newbie brings the watered-down "tropical spicy but not too spicy” dancehall/R&B/pop experience that seems to go over well with North American audiences. Case in point: the cool runnings easiness of "If It's Lovin that U Want” and "Here I Go Again,” a lazy-sounding, mid-tempo joint with a traditional reggae bass groove that goes down easy. It seems like it’s mandatory to cover Dawn Penn’s reggae classic "You Don't Love Me (No No No)” but Rihanna’s off-key version doesn’t quite do it justice. Speaking of off-key, it’s blatantly obvious that Rihanna’s vocal skills are far from mature; the slow-tempo tracks ("Willing to Wait,” "Now I Know”) reveal a bit too much Pro Tools and a need for more vocal training. Overall, Rihanna’s debut is what it is — a light diversion that’s ambitious enough to (hopefully) make Rihanna more than a one-hit wonder. Big-up to Toronto rude boy Kardinal Offishall who makes an appearance on "Rush” and here’s hoping he can slip in though the back door to finally get that U.S. shine. (Def Jam)