Rihanna shows off her hot body in a racy spread for Elle -- but it's what she's saying about Chris Brown in the magazine that's really got our attention. 

Despite a physically abusive relationship, Rihanna surprised everyone by recording new music with Brown earlier this year ... and now, she's defending keeping him in her life.

“The bottom line is that everyone thinks differently," she tells Elle. "It’s very hard for me to accept, but I get it. People end up wasting their time on the blogs or whatever, ranting away, and that’s all right. Because tomorrow I’m still going to be the same person. I’m still going to do what I want to do.”

As for the breakup from Chris and the intense media attention over their violent relationship, Rihanna says "It gave me guns."

She adds, "They know more about me than I want them to know. It’s embarrassing. But that was my opening. That was my liberation, my moment of bring it. […] Now you know that, so you can say what you want about it. I don’t have anything to hide.”

In the issue she also talks kids ("It could be tomorrow. It could be 20 years from now") and finding a man ("There’s just a major drought out there").

Read more when the issue hits newsstands April 17.

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