Picture this: it’s 1999, and pure, contemporary, yet soulful, R&B, married with hip-hop, is what is dominating the airwaves. Dozens of crooners are scoring hits with this sound, ranging from emotional ballads, to quiet storm ready mid-tempos, to uptempo bops. Enter Donell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be,” a quintessential exhibit of turn of the century R&B.
Fast forward 18 years to 2017, and Mariah Carey has resuscitated that now nostalgic sound, feeling and overall threshold of quality. Give the hit-making production duo of Mariah Carey and Jermaine Dupri a good ol’ sample and they’ll deliver. This seems to be a guarantee, and in the case of “I Don’t,” they created something that’s on trend but at the same time seems to transcend time. Maybe it’s the sapiently used sample of “Where I Wanna Be” (which is also interpolated in the lyrics). Or it could be Mariah’s impeccable ear for music, which makes her able to create a catchy song, effortlessly.
On her new single, “I Don’t,” Mariah and Jermaine Dupri have reproduced the classic sample and laced it with the raw, guttural trap hip-hop trends of today to create an undeniable banger. MC and JD managed to update a sound they pioneered together, keeping that lush sound intact without it sounding like a rehash, and gifting the lambs with, once again, a bop.
Lyrically, its the catchy, relatable, true-life inspired Carey fare we love, with a touch of shade and undeniable realness. It seems Mariah took the opportunity to express her view on her much publicized break-up with billionaire fiancé James Packer. Sources close to Mariah called out the song’s similarity to “Side Effects” but highlighted her vocals. They hit the nail on the head.
Venting her frustrations regarding the relationship, she shares her thoughts on it and its end and sarcastically sings how she felt like the “pity party of the year.” She sings in a comfortable range, playing with the different textures of her golden pipes. Vocally, it is emotional yet appropriately understated, warm and soulful (to the disappointment of some, but not us).
Featured hip-hop artist YG adds some nice flavor to the song too, via a catchy hook and verse, a practice that became commonplace in the late ’90s. His inclusion also maintains Mariah’s track record of giving shine to hip hop stars on the come up and not merely using them for their popularity after the blow up. YG’s repeated 4-bar becomes an ear worm, and his broken apart verse creates a feeling of stuttering and stammering as the breakup takes hold. Then when Mariah comes back in with the doubled vocals for the final chorus? Yes. She’s back like she never left.
Hopefully, urban and rhythmic radio will take note and give “MC the MC” the success she deserves with “I Don’t” at their formats, which could inspire pop radio to let it crossover. Until then, we’ll be bopping to “I Don’t” at the dress burning party, sipping on a splash.