Twenty years ago, Mariah Carey had a “Fantasy” that changed pop music forever

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September 12, 1995.

The year was 1995. Mariah Carey was undoubtedly one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, and the 90s it-girl. She debuted in 1990, and already amassed eight #1 hits, in just 5 short years. Not a year went by without her having a #1. She even released a Christmas album, in 1994, that yielded a new Christmas classic, “All I Want For Christmas is You.” In the fall of 1995, Carey was once again poised for yet another slay session… but this time, it was on a much larger scale.

She was also a married woman now, married to the head of her record label. Unfortunately, he was very controlling not only of her personal life but in regards to the sound of her music too. Her image, so far, was one that of a sugar-sweet, pop balladeer with a fantastic voice. Her songs were safe and all very “girl next door.” Her music had R&B and even semblances of hip-hop inspiration, but Mariah wanted more of that. Much more.

Carey grew up on Long Island, in close proximity to New York City, during the 1980s – in the time and place, the when and where, hip-hop exploded. She listened to stations like 107.5 WBLS and 103.5 KTU that helped introduce young New Yorkers to hip-hop. She also grew up on gospel, classic soul and R&B records from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. However, if you listened to her catalogue thus far, those influences were hinted at, but stifled. There were hints throughout (such as the sample on “Dreamlover”) of her love of hip-hop, but it was not allowed to flourish. Until 1995.

Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly “allowed,” but she did it anyway. For Daydream she enlisted Atlanta based hip-hop/R&B producer Jermaine Dupri to work on the album, yielding “Always Be My Baby,” but more significant was what she did with the album’s lead single, “Fantasy.”

For the album version of “Fantasy,” she worked yet again with “Dreamlover” producer Dave Hall (who had worked with Mary J. Blige and other big names in R&B and hip-hop) to create the perfect amalgamation of hip-hop, pop and R&B. Truly, it was Mariah’s “Fantasy.” The track samples The Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” which itself was a legend in the hip-hop community, for its significance in helping hip-hop become more mainstream.

“Genius of Love” was released in 1981 by the Tom Tom Club, and because of its beat and inclusion of “rap” style delivery, it was an immediate hit in hip-hop circles in New York. The beat was immediately put into use as a break beat, and then, a sample for hip-hop’s biggest, up-and-coming names: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (“It’s Nasty,” 1982) and Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde (“Genius Rap,” 1981). All three songs were competing hits, and helped hip-hop become more mainstream.

 

By sampling such an iconic hip-hop track, Mariah was able to connect with fans of both pop and hip-hop, and at the same time prove that she’s not just some girl trying to fit in with the latest trends. She really knew her shit, and sampling “Genius of Love” for “Fantasy” was proof of that. However, in case anyone had any doubts, she made one more important decision.

In 1995, Bad Boy Records was on the rise. Led by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, the label was a massive force in making hip-hop part of pop music through artists like the Notorious B.I.G. and Ma$e, among others. Unsurprisingly, Puffy eventually became a sought after producer… however, from the “pop world,” it was Mariah Carey who got to him first.

For the “Fantasy” Remix, Mariah teamed up with Puff Daddy to strip the album version of its pop production, and make it more distinctly hip-hop in sound. She even (on her preferred version of the remix) removed the bubbly chorus from the original, replacing it with the “I’m, in, heaven… with my boyfriend…” refrain interpolated from “Genius of Love.” The result was a sparsely produced, but unmistakably hip-hop track, with a melodically infectious and vocally jaw-dropping R&B-inspired pop vocal from the pop music “it girl” of the 1990s. The lyrics, penned by Carey of course, were relatable, catchy and the makings of yet another hit.

And she didn’t stop there. Mariah had one last trick up her sleeve, and this, perhaps, was the most controversial: she wanted to get Ol’ Dirty Bastard, of the Wu-Tang Clan, to feature on the track. And she did. In 2015, such a notion doesn’t seemed far-fetched (especially for Mariah, given the number of rappers she’s worked with now) but then, in 1995, it seemed damn near scandalous.

Her label, her husband… they gagged. But, somehow, they let it happen. All the soccer moms were probably taken aback quite a bit, too. However, fans of R&B, hip-hop and the like were floored. Never before had the genre (hip-hop) been embraced in such a big way by a “pop star.” And, that September, Mariah Carey forever changed the face of “pop music.”

It’s true, she didn’t invent the rap/sung collaboration, but she pioneered it, made it mainstream. She made it work. Dare we say, she “made it happen” – and it was an undeniable hit. The song was #1 everywhere, on every chart, and became the first song by a female artist to ever debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Sure, Billboard did not credit O.D.B. but undoubtedly the remix helped keep the song at #1 for 8 weeks.

Since 1995, there have been countless songs by pop and R&B singers, featuring guest appearances from hip-hop artists, and vice versa. Sure, we could sit here and name them all, but it’s unnecessary. You’d be hard pressed to turn on the radio today and not find an example of Mariah and O.D.B.’s impact.

Not many big names have attempted to cover the song, perhaps because of the near impossible-to-replicate vocal arrangements, but it’s formula has been copied time and time again. Still, one notable cover of the song does exist. At the 2012 BET Honors, Kelly Rowland performed “Fantasy” alongside Wu-Tang’s Raekwon – at Mariah’s request:

Twenty years later, “Fantasy” is a bonafide classic. It’s a favorite among fans, non-fans, of the Diva herself, her peers and those she has inspired. It is indeed the exemplary song that married pop/R&B and hip-hop and changed the musical landscape from then-on.  It has the perfect hip-hop sample, a quintessentially quotable verse from an iconic hip-hop artist, and an impeccable vocal performance from the Empress of the 1990s.

So, today, press play on “Fantasy” (the remix, Mariah would prefer), strut around (or, roller skate, if you wish) try your best to sing along to those impossibly-high belts, do your best O.D.B. impression, and try your luck at some break dancing. When you’re done, come back here to watch the music videos, or watch Mariah slay it live at Madison Square Garden in 1995. And, remember, hip-hop and Mariah, they “go back like babies and pacifiers” … “Ol’ Dirt Dog’s no liar”!

 

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