Me & Mariah: A Hip-Hop Love Story
I’m going to issue a disclaimer: I love Mariah Carey and this year marks the 20th anniversary of her BEST album, Butterfly (don’t debate me). Something about 20th album anniversaries puts me in the mood to go back and review the artist’s complete body of work, and what better trip to take than one down Mimi Lane?
Mariah Carey will go down in history as one of the most successful vocalists to ever record music. Seventy-nine weeks at #1 on the Billboard Top 100. “Artist of the Millennium”. Over 200M records sold. We can have an extensive conversation just about the awards and accolades she’s received in her almost 30-year career. While some will argue that her light has dimmed a bit, anyone who dares deny that Mariah’s voice, at her peak, was as perfect as any vocalist could hope for is a foolish and blatant liar. After nearly 30 years, I think we can extend her a bit more grace and reverence than many people do these days.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way… Yo, is New Yorrkkkk in the house?
Mariah Carey, the Long Island pop darling-come-soulful vixen with the racial mixin’, should also be recognized for her culture-shaping contributions to Hip-Hop culture — as a game-changer, innovator, and perpetual cheerleader of some of the most authentic Hip-Hop artists we’ve come to know, respect, and love. Collaborating with over 20 Hip-Hop emcees/ groups since the mid-90s, her connection to Hip-Hop culture is undeniable. I decided to examine her legacy a bit deeper and had a thoroughly good time traipsing down memory lane.
“She’s like the female Nate Dogg.”
In a recent conversation about the “Rap/Sung” genre and its hottest songs, I began to think more on how the move toward pairing R&B singers and Hip-Hop emcees originated, which led to a discussion about who is primarily responsible for this particular genre rising to the popularity it did. Though we can go as far back to the early 1990s to see qualifying and popular examples of this pairing, the first Grammy award for “Rap/ Sung Collaboration” wasn’t given until 2002 (to rapper Eve and Gwen Stefani (of No Doubt) for “Let Me Blow Your Mind”). Fifteen years later, it is now the “Rap/Sung Performance”, acknowledging a shift from a novelty blend to an all-out permanent genre.
We considered Sean “Puff Daddy Puffy Diddy” Combs, the music mogul who started from the bottom interning with Uptown Records in 1990 and now he’s here celebrating 20 years of Bad Boy Records. In 1992, Father MC was one of Uptown’s premiere artists and his collaborations with Mary J. Blige and Jodeci kept people Diddy-bopping at all the clubs and house parties. Combs was responsible for bringing these acts to our Walkmans and giving us a new sound that continued where Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing left off. Considering how many R&B singers and Hip-Hop emcees grew up in the same neighborhoods and were raised on the same music they either made karaoke covers of or sampled on rap demos, it made sense that they’d experience symbiosis and a new genre would emerge.
We also considered Ashanti, who, from 2002–2005, dominated the charts not only with her solo music, but with her many collaborations with Hip-Hoppers like Ja Rule, Big Pun, and Fat Joe. Her debut album made Guinness Book of World Records for “fastest selling debut album in history” and it was at that time that the Grammy introduced the new category. Still, though she definitely introduced a new voice into the mix, I don’t think she, vocally, made the genre what it is today.
That honor goes to Mariah “My daddy is Black, dammit!” Carey.
A few of the folks she’s worked with:
Bone Thugs-N-Harmony/ Da Brat/ Missy Elliott
Busta Rhymes / Cam’ron/ Nas/ Jay Z
Jeezy/ Remy Ma/ Snoop Dogg/ Nelly
Lord Tariq & Peter Gunz/ Bow Wow/ AMIL
Rick Ross/ Dem Franchize Boyz/ A$AP Rocky
Jada Kiss/ Styles P/ YG/ T-Pain
And the Old Dirty Bastard
While not a complete list, this is a rather comprehensive view of the variety of Hip-Hop artists Mariah has worked with, either on her own songs and albums or as a guest on theirs. And while many R&B and Pop artists would only include rap verses on the remixes of their songs to give an “urban” boost, Mariah more often than not unapologetically included the rappers on the original tracks and the remixes.
When Mariah first hit the scene, her image was that of the hip girl-next-door who wasn’t a complete loaf of American white bread. Under the control, er, tutelage of Tommy Mottola, she shot to the top of the charts with pop hits like “Emotions” and ballads like “Vision of Love”. However, when they divorced, she rebranded herself as an R&B diva, complete with rapper-endorsed street cred. She eased away from the Top 40 audience and found a home in an urban market thirsty for something new and funky.
She found her groove and here are my top 5 Mariah Carey collaborations:
“Fantasy (Remix)” featuring Old Dirty Bastard (of Wu-Tang Clan) [Daydream]
R.I.P. to the Hip-Hop court jester, an entertainer with no equal who shook up the scene from his first “shimmy shimmy yawwww!”. I’ll admit, I blinked twice or seven times when I learned they were collaborating, but it turned out to be a permanent staple in the Hip-Hop dance canon. Mariah had a lot of love for the Osiris of this shit. This photo? Taken at his prison release press conference. Ride of die, Mimi was, even though he proved to be difficult to work with at times.
“Say Something” featuring Snoop Dogg [Emancipation of Mimi]
This catchy Pharrell Williams-produced track was my favorite on the album. It isn’t the first time Mariah worked with Snoop (“Crybaby”), but it is definitely one of my favorite Snoop Dogg features. His smooth flow rode the track for a perfect insertion into a song calling on a man to make his romantic intentions known or be out.
“Breakdown” featuring Bone Thugs-N-Harmony [Butterfly]
What I loved most about this song was how Mariah adapted the unique speedy rap style of Bone Thugs in her singing. We heard Notorious B.I.G. switch up his flow to match theirs on “Notorious Thugs” and we wowed by his versatility. We have to give Mariah her props here, too. She switched up her own flow and sounded like the long-lost member of the Ohio Hip-Hop group. And, the song is straight fire… an ode to enduring the aftermath of love lost.
“Heartbreaker” featuring Jay Z [Rainbow]
“Rainbow” is, in my opinion, underrated as far as Mariah Carey albums go. Mariah has always displayed a certain vulnerability in her music, but this album really invited us to wipe the tears of Mariah’s sadness. The album features Hip-Hop heavy-hitters, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, and Snoop Dogg, solidifying Mimi’s commitment to putting her stamp on the rap-sung genre. The video for “Heartbreaker” was really the best part of this whole thing, tbh.
“The Roof” featuring Mobb Deep [Butterfly]
Mariah has some darker, smokier songs that I love her for and “The Roof” is the best of them. This song featured the same track used in Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Pt. II”, a pretty dark song itself, which gave it a nice crossover appeal. Mobb Deep kinda talk about a romantic interest, but they kinda don’t. I’m going to keep it real and say they just sounded dope and we got so stuck on the realness, I don’t think we cared that they weren’t really rhyming about anything.
Honorable Mention: “Boy (I Need You)” featuring Cam’ron [Charmbracelet]
I had to throw in this track because it was a companion track to Cam’ron’s own “Oh Boy” song (2002). I appreciated that they appeared on each other’s project, using the same beat and riff in different ways. Like with Mobb Deep on “The Roof”, it exemplified how plugged into the culture Mariah was/is and how willing Hip-Hop artists were to work with her and expand their reach via her fan base. I can only imagine how Patty, soccer mom of 3, reacted when she looked up Cam’ron’s catalog. Yikes.
And hey, just cuz this is as random as light-skinned Aunt Viv.