Before “I don’t know her”: A true history of Mariah Carey & Jennifer Lopez’s ‘beef’

Andrew Martone
10 Min Read

This is not where it started. This was after.

Jennifer Lopez recently returned to Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live! and was questioned on her alleged beef with Mariah Carey. Once again, Jennifer insisted that there is no bad blood on her end between the two, and that she admires and respects Mariah. Then, during an interview with on The Wendy Williams Show, Jennifer got a little more shady. However, consider this a Wicked moment amongst this yellow brick road of shade. A lot happened before “I don’t know her.”

Rewind back to 1999 with us for a moment. Jennifer is an actress looking to break into the music business. She signs to Sony Music, headed by Mariah’s then-ex husband, Tommy Mottola, and is considered a priority (similar to how Mariah was treated in 1990). On the flip side, Mariah is running into the end of her Sony contract. The relationship she has with her label is, to put it nicely, strained as a result of her divorce from Mottola (whom she was married to from 1993-1997). At this point, there were no real issues between Mariah and J. Lo, just speculation and some under-performing singles for Mariah.

Move ahead to 2000. Mariah was working herself into the ground on a trifecta of projects: Glitter, her film debut, the accompanying soundtrack, and Wisegirls, an independent film. Glitter is set in the 1980s, and will reach back to that decade for its musical backdrop. The first single, “Loverboy” was scheduled to sample “Firecracker” by Yellow Magic Orchestra. Mariah was the first person to ever license the song to be sampled, according to the song’s publisher. Within 3 weeks, Jennifer’s people (via Sony) contacted the publisher to license the same sample. Coincidence? No. Sabotage, orchestrated by Tommy Mottola.

While working on the album, Mariah hit the studio with Ja Rule, and crafted what became “If We.” It was Ja Rule’s first foray into R&B collaborations. Right after finishing the record, Irv Gotti (head of Ja’s record label, Murder Inc.) was contacted by Tommy Mottola. Mottola asked Gotti to craft a collaboration for Jennifer and Ja Rule “in the same style” of the record Ja already did with Mariah. “It was exactly the same style — with Mariah and Ja talking back and forth, just the way he does with Jennifer on ‘I’m Real.'”

Ja Rule spoke to LAUNCH in 2002 about the “I’m Real” remix coming together:

‘I got a call from J. Lo and them, they heard the record that I did for her (Mariah) somehow, and they thought the record was like incredible. So they called me and said, ‘We want you to do a record for J. Lo’s new single, ‘I’m Real,’ but we need it now. Like right now. We’re shooting the video Saturday.’ It was like Thursday, I got the call. So they bring the record over, and drop it off. Like with no instructions, like, ‘Do what you want Ja.’ And that was the whole awkward thing about it, like, ‘What do you mean? Do what I want.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never wrote a whole R&B record,’ and it just shocked me. And he was like, ‘Yeah, do what you want with it.”

Listen to the two songs back-to-back. The similarities are glaring.

Jennifer’s records were released first, and Mariah was left scrambling for a solution. She chose to retain “If We” for Glitter, but use it only as an album cut. On the flip side, “Loverboy” presented a dilemma. Much of Glitter was already filmed, including scenes with Mariah’s character singing “Loverboy” with the “Firecracker” sample. She had to act fast and find a song that could maintain her vocal track while still adhering to the 80s theme of the film. She settled on Cameo’s “Candy,” rushed into the studio with members of Cameo and recreated the instrumentation/track. When she released her hip-hop remix the song (a trademark of Mariah’s single releases that she pioneered in the 90’s was to go back into the studio and record new vocals over new tracks to create both hip hop-oriented and dance-oriented remixes), her friend Da Brat threw major shade at Jennifer. To add to the theatrics, Brat sang-rapped her diss to the “Firecracker” melody. She says: “Hate on me, much as you want to. You can’t do, what the fuck I do. Bitches be, emulating me daily. Hate on me, much as you want to. You can’t be, who the fuck I be. Bitches be, imitating me lately.” Listen below.

Despite never being released or leaked in the almost-15 years since this unfolded, a snippet of Mariah’s “Loverboy” with the “Firecracker” sample can be heard at the end of this Glitter trailer (the original can also be heard in the film during the “Loverboy” recording studio scene with the “Candy” version overdubbed).

From there, Mariah infamously spiraled into a meltdown. “Loverboy” underperformed and was met with lukewarm critical response (Billboard went as far as to call the song ‘self-sabotage‘). The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was certified Gold in the US (Mariah’s singles up to that point typically hit #1, easily, and went platinum). On the flip side, Jennifer’s “I’m Real” hit #1 on the Hot 100, and the remix helped further establish her as a figure with hip-hop crossover appeal. Furthermore, both Glitter the soundtrack and the film bombed when released (though the former has become regarded as one of Mariah’s most underrated bodies of work and the latter has developed something of a cult following and appreciation in recent years).

While the situation was playing out, Mariah never mentioned it publicly, aside from alluding to issues on long-deleted messages left on her website. She began discussing it and J.Lo after the fact, when the dust started to settle. The first instance came when Mariah was being interviewed by Vanessa Grigoradis for Allure Magazine, which hit stands in September of 2001. The interview itself only touches on the situation for a moment, compared to what Grigoradis claims Carey said while being interviewed. Mariah then commented on the sampling controversy during an interview with Blender Magazine published in February 2003. She elaborated further during an interview published in the March 2003 issue of Vibe Magazine.

“You wonder why some companies aren’t doing so well?” Lyor Cohen asks. “It’s because they’re too focused on negatively impacting a successful Mariah Carey album.” Carey’s apparent suspicions were confirmed when producer Irv Gotti revealed that the track sampled for J.Lo’s album version of “I’m Real” was originally to be used by Carey (Lopez is signed to Sony). “He could’ve admitted that a year earlier and saved me a lot of grief,” Carey states flatly. Was it difficult, then, to watch Jenny from the block bite Mariah’s patented hip-pop formula, using choreography (and booty) to distract from a voice that doesn’t come close to rivaling hers? “Everybody has their place,” Carey offers diplomatically. “I’m trying not to feel competitive and let that take over me, even if I feel like what someone’s doing isn’t especially noteworthy.”

The infamous “I don’t know her” interview occurred in LA during the filming of Mariah’s video for ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’ in March 2003. It’s safe to assume that this was a few months after the above interview was conducted. Yes, Mariah was shady, but it’s safe to argue that Mariah was still reeling from what unfolded less than 2 years prior.

Since then, there have been numerous instances of shade throwing back and forth. It’s unclear why someone hasn’t stepped in and tried to get the two divas to squash the beef. Maybe Jennifer isn’t as much of a pawn in this chess game as she appears, and had a bigger role in the Mariah’s sabotage than we know. However, since things continue on as they have for a decade and a half, all we know for certain is what Mariah said a few weeks back when asked about her infamous statement…

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