Some Amer­i­cans are not at all hap­py with Rihanna’s new sin­gle Work. The futur­is­tic Caribbean song has got­ten gen­er­al­ly great reviews, but some have blast­ed the singer for speak­ing “gib­ber­ish.” Here is a sam­pling of reviews:

From The Giz­zle Review;

“Either way, her singing voice isn’t doing much work on this new sin­gle, the lat­est to be tak­en from her high­ly antic­i­pat­ed new album ‘Anti’. What begins as slur­ring soon just devolves into gib­ber­ish, “work work work work work” becom­ing “wor wer waa wah­h­h­hh wa”. Repeat­ed lis­ten­ing is gen­uine­ly hilar­i­ous.

Try­ing to deci­pher exact­ly what the song is about, then, is a futile effort. But if Max Mar­tin has taught us any­thing, it’s that great pop music doesn’t have to have great lyrics – often a melod­ic hook is enough. And after only one lis­ten, that nag­ging “wor wer waa wah­h­h­hh wa” hook is thor­ough­ly cement­ed in the mind.” 

From Music Times;

“And “Work” just works, in all its gib­ber­ish filled mad­ness.”

From Mish­Mash

““Work” has already got­ten a lot of atten­tion, not because it came out of the blue or the fact that it fea­tures Drake or even the fact that it was the most-heard song on the more than 1,200 radio sta­tions on its first day, but because it is lit­er­al gib­ber­ish.

I thought there must be some hid­den mean­ing in there some­where, so I looked it up online, and appar­ent­ly it’s “a lust filled nar­ra­tive of two lovers.” What I heard, how­ev­er, was some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent.”

Twit­ter feed­back wasn’t so diplo­mat­ic.





Rihan­na is not speak­ing gib­ber­ish, but Jamaican patois.

“Jamaican Patois… is an Eng­lish-based cre­ole lan­guage with West African influ­ences (a major­i­ty of loan words of Akan ori­gin) spo­ken pri­mar­i­ly in Jamaica and the Jamaican dias­po­ra. The lan­guage devel­oped in the 17th cen­tu­ry, when slaves from West and Cen­tral Africa were exposed to, learned and nativized the ver­nac­u­lar and dialec­tal forms of Eng­lish spo­ken by their mas­ters: British Eng­lish, Scots and Hiber­no-Eng­lish.”

And this is not the first time Jamaican patois has been fea­tured on a hit Amer­i­can song. You can hear it on Kendrick Lamar’s Black­er the Berry (spo­ken by Jamaican Dance­hall DJ Agent Sas­co), on Kanye West and GOOD Music’s Mer­cy (in a sam­ple from Super Beagle’s ‘Dust a Sound Boy’) and on Dami­an Marley’s Road to Zion which fea­tures rap­per Nas. Rihan­na is per­haps the high­est pro­file musi­cian to bring patois to the Amer­i­can main­stream since Bob Mar­ley. Although Shag­gy, Bee­nie Man and Sean Paul had respectable runs in the 90s and 2000s. 

Rihan­na hails from the island of Bar­ba­dos, but has incor­po­rat­ed patois heav­i­ly into many of her hits, includ­ing Rude Boy and Man Down.

For those curi­ous, here is a break down of the song’s lyrics from Genius.com. I’ve includ­ed a loose trans­la­tion in ital­ics and paren­the­ses.

[Hook: Rihan­na]
Work, work, work, work, work, work
He said me haf­fi (He said I have to)
Work, work, work, work, work, work!
He see me do mi (He saw me do my)
Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!
So me put in (So I put in)
Work, work, work, work, work, work
When you ah guh (When are you going to)
Learn, learn, learn, learn, learn
Meh nuh cyar if him (I don’t care if he’s)
Hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt, hurt­ing

[Verse 1: Rihan­na]
Dry! …Me a desert him (Dry, I’m going to desert him)
Nuh time to have you lurk­ing (No time to have you lurk­ing)
Him ah go act like he nuh like it (He will act like he doesn’t like it)
You know I dealt with you the nicest (I dealt with you nice­ly)
Nuh body touch me you nuh right­eous (Don’t touch me, you’re not right­eous)
Nuh bad­da, text me in a cri­sis (Don’t both­er to text me in a cri­sis)
I believed all of your dreams, ado­ra­tion
You took my heart and my keys and my patience
You took my heart on my sleeve for dec­o­ra­tion
You mis­tak­en my love I brought for you for foun­da­tion
All that I want­ed from you was to give me
Some­thing that I nev­er had
Some­thing that you’ve nev­er seen
Some­thing that you’ve nev­er been!
But I wake up and act like nothing’s wrong
Just get ready fi…

[Hook: Rihan­na]
Work, work, work, work, work, work
He said me haf­fi
Work, work, work, work, work, work!
He see me do mi
Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt!
So me put in
Work, work, work, work, work, work
Ner ner ner ner ner ner!
When yuh ago learn learn learn learn learn learn! (When will you learn)
Before the tables turn turn turn turn turn turn!

Ladies, what are your thoughts?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­liste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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359 Comments on "Unaware of Jamaican Patois, Critics Blast Rihanna For Speaking “Gibberish” On Her New Single ‘Work’"

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I appre­ci­ate this and all, but Rihan­na is not Jamaican and there­fore wouldn’t be speak­ing Jamaican patois. They speak sim­i­lar­ly in Bar­ba­dos, where she’s actu­al­ly from.

Claudette UK

Bajan patois is very dif­fer­ent to Jamaican.


and Nic­ki Minaj who is Trinida­di­an and not Jamaican would­nt either right.… lol

Paul Nefer

Please Google. No, Bajans do not speak ‘sim­i­lar­ly’ to Jamaicans. We Jamaicans have a cre­ole lan­guage, and Bar­ba­dos just has anoth­er accent. Their ver­nac­u­lar is not dis­tinc­tive enough to be anoth­er lan­guage.

Doug M

Okay I’ve suf­fi­cient­ly edu­cat­ed every­one on this post to date, but I’ll do it one more time here… Dance­hall = Jamaican music. “Work” = Dance­hall song. In order to make it real­ly feel like dance­hall, she changed her voice and sang in JAMAICAN PATOIS. Bajan sounds absolute­ly NOTHING like patois. Like, not even close. Com­menters down here are only slight­ly less une­d­u­cat­ed about this than the folks who called it “gib­ber­ish”.

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