From GarageBand Loop to Grammy Award: A Look Back at Rihanna’s “Umbrella”

Gino Sorcinelli
Oct 20, 2016 · 3 min read

“Umbrella” won a Grammy, sold millions of copies, reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, earned a spot on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and made Rihanna a household name. And it all started with the royalty-free, “Vintage Funk Kit 03” GarageBand drum loop.

The making of “Umbrella” began when R & B singer and famed songwriter The Dream walked into the studio while collaborator Christopher “Tricky” Stewart was playing with the now famous drum loop. Dream knew it had hit potential right away. “I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, what is that beat?’” Dream told Blender in a 2007 interview.

Once Stewart laid some chords over the sparse drums, the title of the song came to Dream and he sprang into action. “Tricky starts putting some chords over it and immediately the word popped into my head: umbrella,” he told Blender. “I ran over to the vocal booth and started singing.”

With Dream in the booth singing, it didn’t take long for the creative process to start moving at breakneck speak. “The first verse was written in 60 seconds,” he told Blender. “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 goose bumps.”

Further adding to the legend of “Umbrella” is the fact that it was first written with Britney Spears in mind. According to MTV News, her management declined to use it because she was unfocused and distracted with personal difficulties at the time. “Her current state was a little bizarre, you know?” Stewart told MTV News in a 2008 interview. “It wasn’t meant to be.” The next target was Mary J. Blige, who didn’t end up hearing the track in time because of Grammy obligations.

After the song made its way to Rihanna, Stewart had some doubts about how well she fit the song. Those doubts were laid to rest when he heard her sing “ella, ella, eh, eh, eh” portion of the chorus. “When she recorded the ‘ellas,’ you knew it was about to be the jump-off and your life was about to change if you had anything to do with that record,” Stewart told MTV News.

Almost a decade after its initial release, the creation of “Umbrella” reads like one giant sequence of fortunate coincidences. A chance encounter with a stock GarageBand drum track spawned the biggest iTunes debut of all time and introduced the world to an iconic and transcendent musician. For Rihanna, the song felt like a gift from a higher power. “I’m so thankful for it,” she told Rolling Stone. “I prayed for this song.”

You can connect with The Dream on Instagram and on Twitter @TheKingDream. You can connect with Tricky Stewart on Instagram and Twitter @TrickyStewart.

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Dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping…

Gino Sorcinelli

Written by

Freelance journalist @Ableton, ‏@HipHopDX, @okayplayer, @Passionweiss, @RBMA, @ughhdotcom + @wearestillcrew. Creator of and @bookshelfbeats.


Dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling.

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