By Rami Abou-Sabe
Ten years ago today Rihanna‘s GRAMMY-winning single “Umbrella” first topped the Billboard Hot 100, holding the number one spot for seven weeks and turning the rising Barbadian pop star into a full-fledged sex symbol. While the global smash is now ubiquitous in the pop lexicon, it would have never existed if not for a stock loop included in Apple’s proprietary GarageBand software.
The making of “Umbrella” began when songwriter Terius “The Dream” Nash walked into Triangle Studios and came across his partner, Christopher “Tricky” Stewart, flipping through drum loops on the entry-level music production program.
Upon hearing the distinct hi-hat riff of “Vintage Funk Kit #03,” Nash knew the duo had a hit on their hands. “Oh, my God, what is that beat?!’” Nash told Blender, recalling the first time he heard the loop. “Then Tricky starts putting some chords over it, and immediately the word popped into my head: ‘Umbrella.’ I ran over to the vocal booth and started singing.”
Working at breakneck speed, the pair fleshed out the song in a matter of minutes. “The first verse was written in 60 seconds,” Nash says. “Then we had to grow it to the hook. Tricky would put the next chord on there, and I was singing it out: ‘When the sun shines, we’ll shine together.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is crazy.’ I was getting goosebumps.”
Originally written with Britney Spears in mind, the songwriting duo promised “Umbrella” to Mary J. Blige when Spears’ camp passed, citing personal issues. In the meantime, Rihanna and her team heard the song, and they desperately wanted to record it, in hopes of maturing the pop star’s image. Ultimately, at the pleading of Def Jam executives, Nash and Stewart gave the song to RiRi, and the rest is history.
“I’m so thankful for it,” she told Rolling Stone. “I prayed for this song.”
“When she recorded the ‘ellas,’ you knew it was about to be the jump-off,” Nash said about hearing Rihanna sing the hook for the first time. “Your life was about to change if you had anything to do with that record.”