Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi: Her Best in Years!

The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves from slavery. Mimi’s Emancipation frees Mariah Carey from being a slave to mediocre music, not that she always was one. She’s had an amazing career, bursting onto the scene at the beginning of the 90’s as the biracial, pop/AC counterpart to Whitney Houston (or so I was told). She had big hair, a bigger voice, and even bigger record sales, pushing millions of units worldwide.

At least until the mid-90s, which saw her go through a public divorce and have a subsequent revelation of, “screw my biracial background. I’m black and I’m doing R&B.” Thus Mariah slowly backed away from the pop/AC powerhouse schlock that made her who she was and segued into a more hip-hop/R&B sound. The move was a blessing and a curse; Mariah produced some of the best albums and singles of her career (“Always Be My Baby”;Butterfly) but also committed a small offense of career suicide, losing over half her fan base and inevitably, lowering the quality of her material.

From the spotty Rainbow to the abysmal Charmbracelet, and the best-left-undisguised Glitter in-between, Mariah’s music as of late has relied more on the afterglow of her past successes instead of on her sheer talent. Couple that with her public breakdown and Mariah was counted by many, including myself, to be down and out for the count. But Mariah has wholly redeemed herself on her 13th release, The Emancipation of Mimi.

From an overall standpoint, lead single, It’s Like That, blew all the other female comeback singles out of the water. The beat was catchy without being repetitive or annoying, there were no obnoxiously unnecessary spastic ad-libs (JD and Fatman Scoop’s ad-libs are rather welcome and entertaining), and the lyrics had their fair share of creative moments (“them chickens is ash and I’m lotion”) coupled with a catchy hook.

Mariah’s vocal performance is full and strong, while being controlled, proving her voice is intact and she’s finally got keen on how to properly use it. Some say she tried too hard to sound “down” and “hip” with the younger generation (“purple is takin’ me higher”), and while that line might explain her striptease on TRL a couple years back, I digress and admit that this is simply a bang-up record.

2nd single, We Belong Together, has yet to grown on me, however. JD and Mariah have concocted a couple of smashes in the past (and he concocted three of album’s best tracks) but this one just doesn’t resonate with me the way his recent string of hit ballads has. Mariah’s in top form vocally, at the end, and the lyricism is decent but the melody and overall structure is a bit bland to me (but give me some time and we’ll see if it’s airplay will change my mind).

Shake It Off fares much better. Against JD’s simple, mid-tempo backbeat, Mariah’s vocals gain a slightly raspier and huskier tone as she tenderly shakes off a trifling man and his licentious behavior. The lyricism is clear, the vocals controlled, and the overall record’s low-key profile proves to be its strong suit.

But it’s common knowledge that Mariah’s strong-suit are her power ballads and our first true taste of that is found with Mine Again. With nothing but a synthesized piano and Mariah’s vocals for the first :45, it might’ve well as been acapella as Mariah’s vocals turn the song inside out. Once the soft percussion taps, live piano, bass, and horns creep in, Mariah turns it up a notch and wrings the song dry of every drop of pain and emotion imaginable, sewing it up beautifully at the end. Her asthma is gone. She’s remembered how to breathe and is once again blowing us away like no other.

Intended lead single, Say Something, would make the perfect third single as we roll into summer. The Neptunes’ laidback percussion kicks and muted synth keys create such a relaxed, summery atmosphere that coincides with Mariah’s playful vocals and Snoop’s tranquil, pimped-out cameo perfectly and would surely keep things chilled out all summer long.

The Kanye-helmed Stay The Night is a close contender. Rocking the Stylistic’s sample, Kanye quietly constructs a rolling, piano-laced backbeat for Mariah’s lush vocals to ride as she contemplates falling back into old habits with a former flame. The powerhouse Mariah we know and love is in full form here and, coupled with the lyrical integrity, the record definitely has enough appeal to be a surefire hit all across the boards.

But out of all the up tempos, my favorite is, hands down, Get Your Number. JD’s production has enough bounce, with a little westcoast flavor, that’s impossible not to groove to and his singing, yes I said singing, on the hook isn’t nearly as annoying as it is convincing (and hilarious). He really does sound like an intoxicated dude trying to holla at Mariah in the club. Mariah’s exuberant vocals play off of the beat well, especially her little breakdowns at the end of each verse, and contribute to making this the most entertaining record on the album.

But a 7-streak run of great material should’ve been an indication that we’d eventually hit the proverbial bump in the road. One & Only is that proverbial bump. Not necessarily a bad song, it just sounds like it’s on a treadmill (shout-out to Monnie). The production is thin and plods with no destination, Mariah’s fast-paced vocals are breathy and squeaky, and Twista’s cameo is equivalent to auditory wallpaper; acknowledged but unmemorable.

Circles quickly sets things back aright. The jazzy, piano-based ballad is the perfect tempo for Mariah to vocally run circles around as her heartache and frustration comes through loud and melodically clear.

Your Girl does it one better. Sounding identical to a Kanye production, complete with chipmunk vocals that aren’t sampled, Mariah works the soulful backdrop well as she declares how she plans to convince the man of her dreams that she’s the one. The simple lyricism, simple production, and Mariah’s effective vocals turn this 2:46 of perfection into the underdog of the album.

I Wish You Knew is simple lyrically but powerful in execution. Given that “live” feel for effect, against the jazzy acoustics of the “live” piano and drums, Mariah turns in a rather controlled vocal performance that understates and enhances the overall effect of the tune.

To The Floor is the album’s second slight misstep. The Neptunes’ laid-back isn’t as infectious as their other contribution and the lyricism seems to be devoid of any real thought or structure. Nelly’s vocal collabo (yes, he sings) with Mariah isn’t the smoothest blending of styles and overall, it might’ve looked like a good on paper and that’s probably where it should’ve stayed.

Joy Ride quickly makes up for that. Possessing a dreamlike, atmospheric quality, with the twinkling piano licks, and swelling strings on the bridge, it’s the perfect cloud for Mariah’s lush falsetto vocals to float on as she sings of the newfound joy love has brought her. Excellence. And things end, as most Mariah albums tend to, on an inspirational note.

Fly Like A Bird is Mariah’s testimonial of sorts that with God on her side, nothing and no one will break her spirit. The atmosphere is more jazzy than gospel, with the energetic drums, bass, piano, and horns, but the choir included towards the end turns Mariah’s breathy falsetto back into the verdant powerhouse we’ve grown to know and love. These last two tracks are what Charmbracelet should’ve sounded like.

This album is the album Mariah’s been struggling the last few years to make and it proves to be the one most worth waiting for. She’s stumbled and felt things out along the way and she finally got the formula right. She teamed up with the right producers, gave her sound a more sleek and stylized R&B finish, with hip-hop edges, tightened up her songwriting, and reinforced it all with her once again exuberant and resilient voice.

Some say that she needs to act her age a bit more and stop trying so hard to appeal to the younger generations. But The Emancipation of Mimi proves that MC’s just as beautiful, talented, and relevant now as she was 15 years ago. It’s her emancipation proclamation; freeing herself from the enslavement of mediocrity. Let’s just hope her next album doesn’t veto it all.

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