PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Mariah Carey: The Emancipation of Mimi

Jozen Cummings

If Mariah Carey felt like she was in a mental prison, her latest album is the emancipation she has been waiting for.

Mariah Carey

The Emancipation of Mimi

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2005-04-12
UK Release Date: 2005-04-04
Amazon affiliate

With Mariah Carey's latest album, The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey not only puts to rest the rumors of a career gone sour, she also, probably unknowingly, settles a debate that has been going on since she stepped on the scene with a "Vision of Love".

Back in the early '90s, Carey was one of the poster girls for all that was a diva, but she was forced to share the spotlight with another diva that already had a few years on her named Whitney Houston. Both had the vocal range of a piano, both were endorsed by industry bigwigs, and both had more hits between them than any rivalry in pop music at that time. Tupac and Biggie it was not, but everyone who followed either Carey or Houston, betted on the downfall of the other. VH1, which at the time was an adult-contemporary Mecca, even devoted some of their weekend programming to Mariah versus Whitney video shows, asking viewers to decide who was the better diva. But unlike today's televised music contests, there were no numbers to call and vote, the decision was made by and stayed with individual viewers, and ultimately, only time would tell who would be the winner. And with Carey's latest album, the debate has been settled, at least for now.

From the onset of The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey spawns two hit singles. The leadoff song, "It's Like That", produced by hit manufacturer Jermaine Dupri, was also the album's lead single and is the perfect introduction for the rest of the album's carefree feel. Hand claps and a playful whistle set the pulse for four bars. After Dupri's ad-libs, the whistle drops out and allows Carey's voice to lead the hand claps and throbbing bass, while she let's her listeners know exactly where her head is at: "I came to have a party/ Open off that Bacardi/ Feelin' so hot tamale." The rhyme scheme is elementary of course, but so is the bare-bones beat, until the chorus spawns a well-placed chord progression with strings and piano. With this turnaround, "It's like That" is able to go from catchy to infectious status.

Doing a complete 180, Carey's next song is the willowy ballad, "We Belong Together". Although the chords are a complete rip off Lil Jon's "Lovers and Friends", Carey makes the song her own, reminding fans of her "Hero" days with full, throaty vocals and a crashing climax at the end. The dichotomy between The Emancipation of Mimi's first two tracks is the album's bread and butter. Not since Butterfly, when Carey first decided to get into the hip-hop/R&B/pop foray, has she managed to change styles so seamlessly.

On the Kanye West-produced "Stay the Night", Carey is faced with the dilemma of spending the night with an ex-flame who now belongs to someone else. Over crackling snare drums, a sampled piano loop from Ramsey Lewis' "Betcha By Golly Wow" propels Carey, whose amazing range shines by stretching every last word of her lines. Not only is this one of Carey's finest moments on the album, it is also one of West's finest moments in R&B production, and you only hope the two will together again soon.

Carey also teams up with her reliable rap-sidekick, Snoop Dogg, on the Neptunes-helmed "Say Somethin'". The track is vintage Neptunes with big drums and intergalactic sound effects, and Carey adds to the breezy, easygoing feel of the song with a voice that is sexy, but subtle, like a shy woman who doesn't need to say anything at all to get a man's attention.

Unfortunately, like Carey's previous efforts to bridge the gap between hip-hop and pop, she can often end up with more pop than hop. The two Nelly appearances are the album's low points, mostly because they both sound corny and similar. On "Get Your Number" Nelly's at-times annoying gangster twang is amplified by the even more annoying '80s-esque synthesizers. It gets even more comedic when Carey sheds her vocals in exchange for four bars of a whisper rap, "I got a big bad house/ With a sick hot tub/ We can watch a flat screen/ While the bubbles filling up." On "To the Floor", there are more of the same, corny synthesizers, unnecessarily overproduced vocals, and more of Nelly's torturous yelps and pseudo-R&B singing.

So it is, Carey does not completely hearken back to her old days, but The Emancipation of Mimi does prove her staying power. Despite what some critics have said about this album, The Emancipation of Mimi is not Carey's comeback album. Unlike Houston, Carey has not kept her fans waiting for years to release an album of new material, despite whatever personal problems she has withstood. This is not to say Carey did not deserve the critical assault she received for the Glitter soundtrack and Charmbracelet, both albums were failures both musically and chart-wise, but it is fair to say Carey didn't have it all together and therefore the previous two efforts suffered. Meanwhile, whatever Houston is waiting for, she needs to get going, because until she, or any of her peers (yes, Mary J. Blige, that means you too) put out an album of this caliber, Carey has emancipated herself from personal struggles and has proven to be the diva.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.