A Cause for Celebration: 10 years since Mimi’s Emancipation!

April 12, 2005.

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Like most superstars of her calibre, Mariah Carey’s career has seen both its highs and lows. This year, however, is a significant one for Carey. First, because she is beginning her first Las Vegas residency in May. Second, because she is dropping a new single and hits set featuring all 18 of her Hot 100 #1’s. Third, because she is now a single mother. Fourth, because she is celebrating 25 years in the music industry – her debut single “Vision of Love,” was released in May 1990 and her self-titled album in June of the same year. Fifth, because it’s been 20 years since the release of one her biggest, best, and most successful albums, 1995’s Daydream… and finally, because it’s been 10 years since Mimi came back with a vengeance with 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi.

While the album was released on April 12, 2005, the era began in January with the release of the lead single, “It’s Like That.” However, it really kicked into full steam when she dropped the second single, “We Belong Together.” Deservedly so, “We Belong Together” needs a moment of it’s own to be given the proper treatment – and we will do that in the coming months as we walk through Mariah’s #1’s to Infinity as announced yesterday. In the United States alone, The Emancipation of Mimi went on to sell upwards of 6 million copies, and was successful worldwide too. She earned 3 Grammy awards for the album, and countless other accolades and achievements – such as her 16th and 17th #1’s, “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us.”  However, there is plenty more worth discussing in regards to Mimi than simply its success. 

While “It’s Like That” was the stepping stone and “We Belong Together” was the corner stone of her comeback, it couldn’t have happened if their parent album wasn’t superb in its own right. The Emancipation of Mimi was fresh and modern, yet still had that classic Mariah Carey feel to it. With relatable lyrics, phenomenal vocals, and inescapable melodies, The Emancipation of Mimi was the perfect combination of the perfect formula – yielding massive success. Amidst this perfect formula were several notable gems that sit among the top songs in Carey’s catalog.

The first is the Kanye West co-produced “Stay the Night.” Here, Mariah combines her hip-hop sensibilities with her soulful brand of R&B and big vocals for a song that is unmistakably Mariah Carey. The theme of sensual yearning is a common one throughout her music, and the dark, sexy vibe of “Stay the Night” suits that perfectly. The song feels akin to Butterfly’s “The Roof” or Rainbow‘s “Cry Baby,” but vocally it is in a different lane. With “Stay the Night,” it’s clear Carey was on a mission to prove to her naysayers that she still has it vocally – and she certainly delivered.  The song knocks, the vocals slay, and lyrics paint a relatable and engaging narrative.

Another highlight is “Circles,” a throwback to 70’s soul that once again finds Mariah sanging her face off. Again, the theme is yearning for a lost love and her vocals drip in pure, soulful emotion. If you didn’t know any better, you would think the song actually came out in the 70’s – not on Mariah Carey’s 2005 “comeback” album.

A more subtle gem on the album is “One and Only,” a collaboration with slick-tongued rapper Twista. Here, a much experienced Mariah treads in slow jam waters – slipping and sliding effortlessly over the beat with whispery but crisp vocals and impassioned, heartbreaking lyrics. Like on Butterfly’s “Breakdown,” she aimed to match Twista’s style of lyric delivery and succeeds – dare say, she sounds better doing his trademark style than he does. The pair re-teamed on “So Lonely (One and Only Part 2)” which appeared on Twista’s own album as well as the reissue of Mimi.

With “Fly Like a Bird,” Mariah continued a trend that began with 2002’s Charmbracelet – to include a spiritual song on her albums. Of the several she has done before and since, “Fly Like a Bird” stands out as perhaps her best gospel-tinged moment (Christmas albums excluded). The track boasts live instrumentation and a horn section that really warm up the song and album over all.

In fact, the theme of live instrumentation is strong throughout most of Mimi – “I Wish You Knew,” “Circles,” “Fly Like a Bird,” and “Fly Like a Bird” and “Mine Again” all boast soulful, organic production which really helped attribute to the album’s warm, rich atmosphere. It is too bad that the sample on the leaked track “When I Feel It” was not approved in time for the album, because it would have been a standout on the album, as well.

However, Mimi was not an album full of solely soul – it had it’s more hip-hop inspired up-tempos and mid-tempos, too. The best of those up-tempos are the Jackson 5-inspired “Your Girl” and 80’s-tinged “Get Your Number” (featuring co-producer Jermaine Dupri). Meanwhile, the album’s third, fourth and fifth singles, respectively, “Shake It Off,” “Don’t Forget About Us” and “Say Somethin'” (a Pharrell Williams collaboration, featuring Snoop Dogg) lead the mid-tempo pack.

For the first time in her career, a Mariah Carey album lacked a true big “power ballad,” in the traditional sense, though. The closest The Emancipation comes to such a ballad, aside from “We Belong Together,” is the soulful and warm R&B love ballad, “Joy Ride.” However, you hardly notice it’s missing, really… because The Emancipation of Mimi was all about showing us the true Mariah – and for the most part, she ain’t really about the power ballad moments.

Mimi’s emancipation was without a doubt the most rewarding era for the singer since, most likely, her debut. It was a rebirth of her career and, at the same time, a cementation of her legendary status. Few have pulled off a comeback of its magnitude. In fact, no R&B album has sold as much as The Emancipation of Mimi since its release 10 years ago. Not to mention, she once again spawned the song of the decade: “We Belong Together” – like “One Sweet Day” before it, from 1995’s Daydream.

For that reason alone, its apt that they’re calling her new hits set #1 to Infinity… but will she do it again?

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