Barbadian singer Rihanna embraces her island roots on this reggae-tinged track. She told Spin magazine: "The vibe is Jamaican and West Indian. That's something that's close to me."
The song features siren noises and violent lyrics about shooting a man, however Rihanna told Spin magazine they shouldn't be taken literally. "The song is about breaking a man's heart," she explained. "It's a very cleverly written song and what I love about it is that it's not a lyric you'd normally hear a female singing."
Rihanna's fellow Barbadian Shontelle wrote this song. The Impossible
singer told Sound Savvy that she hopes their collaboration will put a stop to the talk that the two Bajan stars don't get on. Said Shontelle: "I just hope it's finally going to squash all the rumors because I know that there were a lot of rumors out there with people trying to sort of make it like there was some beef with me and Rih but we were just like, huh? We totally support each other and we've been trying for a minute to work together but we just finally found the time to make our schedules work."
The Barbadian singer told MTV News how delving into reggae culture on this song was a natural fit for her. "'Man Down' is gangsta! It comes from me trying to achieve that [vibe]," Rihanna said. "I'm super inspired by reggae music [and it] has been a part of me since I was born, and I grew up listening to it. I grew up loving it. My favorite artists are all reggae artists."
"I live that culture," she added. "I never get tired of it. I can listen to reggae music all day long, and it was exciting for me to take this on as my own and do a song like this, especially with the lyrics being like that."
Rihanna explained to Q magazine: "I shot a man down. Why did I pull the trigger and end a ni--er's life so soon? It's an analogy. It's about breaking a certain man's heart. It's about ending his hopes and causing pain, which is like a gun shot."
The song's music video was shot in Jamaica in April 2011, and directed by Anthony Mandler, who has worked with Rihanna on most of her visuals. The Bajun singer encountered criticism from various groups for the graphic opening scene in which she literally shoots down a man to avenge a suggested sexual assault. The Parents Television Council, who are a non-profit organization that advocates responsible entertainment, criticized the singer for "cold, calculated execution of murder" in the video. Rihanna responded with the claim that the video was "art with a message." She said: "We just wanted to hone in on a very serious matter that people are afraid to address, especially if you've been victimized in this scenario."
The other songwriters apart from Shontelle were US-based Caribbean R&B singing, rapping, and songwriting duo Rock City, who are composed of brothers Theron and Timothy "Don't Talk Much" Thomas and producer Shama "Sham" Joseph (a.k.a. Sak Pase). The trio served up the narrative track specifically to let Rihanna tap her island origins in a way that sounded authentic. "When we wrote the song, me and my brother was trying to re-create in the best way possible, you know, like, Bob Marley 'I Shot the Sherriff,' " Timothy explained to MTV News. "The female version of what that would be." Theron added that critics of the video's violent beginning are forgetting that the dancehall-flavoured song, like so much Caribbean music, is about telling tales. "It's like somebody wrote a script for a movie and she delivered it perfectly," he argued. "I just think sometimes people need something to talk about, and this is a thing to talk about. ... 'Cause when you listen to the song word-for-word-for-word, if she shot it theatrically how [the lyrics are], it probably would have been a little [more graphic], if you ask me."
Though the song failed to crack Top 40 of the US and US singles charts it fared better elsewhere, especially in France where it remained at #1 for five weeks.