Rihanna was never in a rush to settle down.
She wasn't too busy to date or have fun, but the "Diamonds" singer always had a full plate, whether she was recording eight platinum-selling albums, winning awards, touring, being a style icon, designing clothes or launching her instantly revered Fenty Beauty brand.
None of that has changed. Rihanna, who's turning 36 on Feb. 20, is still as in demand as ever—but after going 'round and around with guys who weren't her Mr. Right, she wants A$AP Rocky to stay.
"Listen, I'm down for whatever," Rihanna told British Vogue ahead of her bump reveal last year. "My wish would be I would like to have more kids but whatever God wants for me, I'm here."
Though, as she told E! News in December, she does have her "fingers crossed" for a girl, basically confirming that she and A$AP Rocky aren't done growing their family.
Meanwhile, her literally lofty Super Bowl performance pulled double duty as a pregnancy announcement as she strategically camouflaged and then accented her bump in a Loewe jumpsuit, bra plate and custom Alaïa coat.
Having proclaimed himself "more excited than anybody else" to see RiRi perform live for the first time in five years, A$AP was right there cheering along with the rest of the crowd, recording the moment for posterity with his phone.
First her friend for the better part of a decade, the 35-year-old rapper born Rakim Athelaston Mayers confirmed one of the more shabbily-kept secrets among the celebrity set when he called Rihanna "the love of my life" in an interview with GQ for its June/July 2021 issue.
She's "my lady," he declared happily.
But as 2021 drew to a close, eagle-eyed fans who are treated to daily accounts of Rihanna's comings-and-goings thanks to her ubiquitous paparazzi escort started to wonder...
"It was harder for me to keep it from my posse, because they're around me, they know my habits," she told E!'s Justin Sylvester at a Feb. 11, 2022, Fenty Beauty/Fenty Skin event. "They're like, 'You don't want something to drink? You're not smoking?' And I'm eating all the things I'm not used to eating. They know I hate sweets and I'm all of a sudden asking for cookies and donuts. But finally, I just had to let it all out, and they were all shocked, of course, as the world was shocked as well."
Shocked and awwwwed, if you will.
But new yen for sugar aside, it was only so much of a surprise, Rihanna having been pretty clear for years about her desire to have children one day (while also admittedly being alarmed by the birthing part).
She told Kanye "Ye" West for Interview magazine in 2010 that she ideally wanted the whole traditional package, though as a daughter of divorced parents, she was perfectly aware that saying "I do" didn't necessarily mean everything.
"I definitely think a child deserves both parents," the Barbados-born singer said. "It would be selfish of me, because of my pride and independence to say, 'Oh, I just want a sperm donor, because I can do it myself.' I can do it myself, but that's not fair. I don't know if I'll be married or anything. But however the father is in the child's life, he's going to be in the child's entire life."
Also noting that life "never works out according to the book," she added, "I'm just saying that whatever comes my way I'll be able to handle it. But in a perfect book, there would be marriage and kids."
Also only 22 then, she told West, "I have a lot of other stuff to accomplish before I get to kids so... whenever the time is right, I'll just know. I don't really plan on the age. It could be a year from now. It could be 10 years from now. Whenever is right."
In the wake of the turbulence of dating Chris Brown (in 2010 the "Run It" singer was still on probation for his 2009 assault on her after a pre-Grammys party), Rihanna was seeing then-L.A. Dodgers star Matt Kemp. They amicably parted ways in 2011 and soon she found her way back to Brown, telling Rolling Stone in early 2013 that she knew public opinion wasn't on their side, but "I decided it was more important for me to be happy."
"Even if it's a mistake, it's my mistake," she concluded.
Well, she kinda did, she just didn't know it yet.
A$AP Rocky had joined forces with Rihanna to record a remix of her song "Cockiness (Love It)" in 2012, which they then performed together at the MTV Video Music Awards that September—part of her medley with, ahem, "We Found Love."
The audience would've been forgiven for thinking something was up between them.
"I didn't mean for the ass grab to be the thing," A$AP told Complex in November 2012 about giving her bum a squeeze as he leaned in to kiss her on the cheek after spitting out his verse. "I don't fiend for fake publicity s--t."
He continued, in a more gentlemanly fashion, "Rihanna is what I want to be, as far as having a big core following. She's very successful. She's been doing it for years. Think about it. 'Pon de Replay'....So '05, '06, '07, '08, '09, '10, '11, '12.... She's got seven years in this s--t. Shout-outs to that young lady, and hopefully, with the grace of God, seven years from now, I can say the same."
Rihanna coolly disentangled herself in the blink of an eye at the VMAs, but everyone wanted to ask A$AP about that moment, wanting to know whether it was planned or spontaneous—and whether she was OK with it. "I got like this cocky holy ghost that came into me," he explained to Hot 97's Angie Martinez. "We had fun, we had a great time and I thank her for that. I doubt I could get that close if she didn't want me to do something like that."
"He grabbed my ass on stage. That was not part of the rehearsal!" Rihanna told Vogue last spring. "I was like, What are you doing?!" But she remembered her manager quipping that she must like him at least a little, because she didn't give him hell for his impertinence.
Their professional chemistry, at least, was off the charts, as he then spent three months in early 2013 as the opening act on Rihanna's Diamonds World Tour.
"That was a special request," A$AP said on Power 106 when asked how that coveted call to join her about (before the interview descended into jokes about grabbing butts).
Before the tour even started, though, the "L$D" artist started dating Chanel Iman, and they were reportedly engaged for a couple of months before breaking up in 2014. "I got really depressed because I knew that she deserves better than me," A$AP told MTV the following March. "That's the truth and everybody knows it. And I don't wanna be the guy to Lauryn Hill her, if you know what I'm saying."
Was he talking about "that thing"?
"I'm just saying, just to be mature about things in life—I do know where I am in life—I'm still having fun and I'm young and I need to focus on my career," he explained. "I still have her [as a friend]. She's still in my life. It's a win/win situation."
The Grammy-nominated "F--kin' Problems" artist and Rihanna stayed friends and occasional collaborators all the while, A$AP returning for a few later dates on the Diamonds tour while she starred in his November 2013 video for "Fashion Killa."
They dated other people in the meantime, but their paths kept crossing. And A$AP wasn't shy about letting it be known that he was admiring her from afar.
(And really afar sometimes, the rapper spending a month in a Swedish jail in the summer of 2019 on an assault charge for his role in a street fight. Less than two weeks after A$AP was released and hightailed it back to the U.S., maintaining throughout that he acted in self-defense, a court found him guilty but determined the crime didn't require an additional prison sentence. In August he pleaded not guilty to felony assault charges stemming from his April 20 arrest for allegedly firing a shot that grazed a man's hand. "Rocky didn't shoot him by any stretch," his attorney told Rolling Stone.)
In December 2019 he and Rihanna elegantly posed for a red carpet pic together at the British Fashion Awards. Then days after E! News confirmed in January 2020 that Rihanna and Hassan Jameel were no longer a couple, she was spotted looking chummy with A$AP backstage at the Yams Day Benefit Concert.
But again, longtime friends, right? "They have a long history and she's just having fun," a source told E! News at the time, describing the singer as "single."
That being said, Rihanna also told British Vogue in early 2020, when asked where she pictured herself after another decade, "Ten years? I'll be 42! I'll be ancient. I'll have kids—three or four of 'em."
And would she be up for starting a family herself if Mr. Right didn't come along?
"Hell, yeah," she replied. "I feel like society makes me want to feel like, 'Oh, you got it wrong…' They diminish you as a mother if there's not a dad in your kids' lives. But the only thing that matters is happiness, that's the only healthy relationship between a parent and a child. That's the only thing that can raise a child truly, is love."
So over the previous 10 years, she'd changed her tune a bit from what she told West, but the endgame was still the same: RiRi wanted to be a mom.
"Since I turned 32, I'm realizing life is really short," she said. "You don't have a lot of time to tolerate s--t, you know? You put so much on your plate. When you're overwhelmed, you need to start cutting things out. And I'm overwhelmed too much. What's happening now is that I'm going back to black and white. My gray area is shutting down."
Ultimately, she concluded, "I've always searched for what I can hold on to in terms of sanity and loyalty. I've always searched for what's real."
Well, speaking of...
Not long after she gave that interview, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and the world as she knew it—live music, in-person events, meetings, etc.—shut down. Paparazzi were reduced to snapping celebs jogging and walking their dogs.
That summer Rihanna tapped A$AP to be a face of Fenty Skin and they both had a bit of a glow while teaming up to promote the brand (albeit not in the same room, due to the pandemic). She quizzed him in a "Face to Face" video for GQ while he tossed 15 questions her way for Vogue. Asked what the hardest part of working with her was, A$AP replied that it was "not goofing off and laughing the whole time...The hardest part is not having too much fun."
They also drove from Los Angeles to New York together (on a luxury tour bus, naturally), taking in the sights at a few national parks and soaking up the vibes in culturally rich cities like Memphis along the way.
"I met myself," A$AP told GQ last spring when asked who he met on the road trip. "Being able to drive and do a tour without feeling like it was an occupation or an obligated job agreement, I feel like that experience is like none other. I never experienced nothing like it."
He also took the opportunity to record over that summer, and said in December that his fourth album, Don't Be Dumb, was finished. (As for reports that it was going to be called All Smiles, A$AP told Hypebeast that name was for "more of a concept project, it's music and more.")
He had told GQ that his new music was "absolutely" influenced by his relationship, saying, "I think it's important to have somebody that you can bounce those creative juices and ideas off of."
Rihanna reflected to Vogue about their intimate journey, "He became my family in that time. I cooked our food on this little janky grill I bought from Walmart. I still have it, too. It works like nobody's business. I love the simple things but also the grand adventures. There's no pretentious my-brand-your-brand bulls--t, it's just us living. I just feel like I can do any part of life by his side."
A$AP didn't go to a club for almost a year due to the pandemic, but when he did finally venture out again—to West Hollywood nightspot Delilah—it was with Rihanna in early 2021. They had already been in Barbados together over Christmas, but still trying to not be too obvious about it, they arrived in different cars, a few minutes apart. They also left separately, but went home in the same car.
Asked what it was like being in a committed relationship after years of being a proud ladies' man, A$AP told GQ, "So much better. So much better when you got the One. She amounts to probably, like, a million of the other ones. I think when you know, you know. She's the One."
After he mentioned his dad, who emigrated from Barbados to the U.S. and settled in New York, where A$AP was born, GQ asked him if he was ready for fatherhood.
"If that's in my destiny, absolutely," he said, adding, "I think I'd be an incredible, remarkably, overall amazing dad. I would have a very fly child. Very."
Hard to disagree with that, especially now.
"How the gang pulled up to black history month," Rihanna captioned a Feb. 2, 2022, post, a series of photos revealing her bare pregnant belly, her first Instagram acknowledgment of her expectant status.
"When I first found out, it's not real, you know? I was like, 'This is not for real, right?'" she told E! 10 days later. "And then, it's almost like you don't want to get too excited too soon because it's great news, but you want to see that it's going to see its way through. And I'm so glad that we're this far along and now I can celebrate with everyone."
Rihanna continued to be a one-woman runway show when it came to au courant pregnancy style, telling Vogue, "I'm hoping that we were able to redefine what's considered 'decent' for pregnant women. "My body is doing incredible things right now, and I'm not going to be ashamed of that. This time should feel celebratory." And, while she skipped the 2022 Met Gala, a marble statue inspired by the silhouette she showed off on her May Vogue cover was installed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. No big deal.
She admitted to the magazine that being friends with A&AP for so long worked both for and against him—though ultimately the chips fell in his favor. "People don't get out of the friend zone very easily with me," she explained. "And I certainly took a while to get over how much I know him and how much he knows me, because we also know how much trouble we can land each other in."
Then mom Monica gave her seal of approval.
"My mother has a really good read on people," Rihanna shared. "She observes first and then she'll move slowly. I guess I'm like that too. There are some guys that I've dated that she won't even look at to this day. But she was charmed by him from the jump."
And now there's a certain 9-month-old in A$AP's thrall, too.
"I'm just sitting on the sidelines when they're together," Rihanna told British Vogue, whose March 2023 cover story featured the first photos of the family of three. "I'm literally the girl trying to get into the boys club, waiting for my turn. He is obsessed with his father. And I'm like: 'Didn't I give birth to you? What is going on?'"
But overall, sharing a baby with A$AP has only strengthened their bond. "We're best friends, with a baby," she said. "We have to be on the same page, but we've always kind of had that in our relationship. Everything changes when you have a baby but I wouldn't say it's done anything but made us closer."
Read on to see how Rihanna and A$AP Rocky found love in photos:
(Originally published Feb. 20, 2022, at 5 a.m. PT)