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The Soul of Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi

Andrew | April 12, 2020

Mariah Carey opened her mouth and silenced the naysayers on 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi. The album was the best-selling LP of 2005 in the United States, and yielded one of the longest running number one records in Billboard Hot 100 history. The success and singles are the stuff of legend. They make up a strong offensive, especially since Mariah sequenced her first three singles in a one-two-three punch on the album’s tracklist. Beyond the album’s tremendous singles The Emancipation of Mimi is a treasure trove of brilliance with an emphasis on 70’s R&B/Soul and hip hop samples. These 7 songs are the soul and backbone of The Emancipation Of Mimi

“Mine Again”

The first track to follow the triple-whammy of singles is track 4, “Mine Again.” Opening with a live keyboard played by the song’s co-writer and co-producer James Poyser of The Roots, there’s a vintage smokiness in the keyboard’s bass, and a sweet ringing in the treble. It yields to Mariah, swirling with melancholy as the words “I remember when you used to be mine… way back when” seem to tumble out of her mouth. She delivers the poignant verse with unhinged soulfulness, while still maintaining impeccable vocal control. The music halts, and she ruminates on an ascending melody “maybe you could be mine again.” She triumphantly takes flight over the chorus. What ensues is one of many vocally astounding moments throughout The Emancipation of Mimi, but the key change that takes hold later is where she really lets loose. Her vocals are so powerful that when streamed through Spotify/Apple Music they can actually distort when played back through. She’s doing her best Aretha Franklin here, effortlessly. 

“Circles”

“Circles” takes a similar approach in sound. The keyboard once again leads the instrumentation, but instead she’s glossed with a bass that’s more akin to 80’s R&B and a funkier sound which magnifies the sadness and torture she conveys. Her professions of “boy, my world has changed, and I don’t think I can make it without you” intensify with each repeat of the chorus, and reaches a climax as the music drops out and she gets caught up “running around, and running around, and running around” because “nothing’s the same.” 

“I Wish You Knew”

Mariah even serves a faux-live moment during “I Wish You Knew,” which is also very Aretha, but very Diana Ross as well. She speaks to the “audience” about the yearning that’s swirling for this torch she carries. She’s pining away at the idea of love, while singing about how she longs to express her feelings, but her “inferiority complex kicks in” and the words flutter away like a butterfly. Yet her words to describe the experience are poignant and gut-wrenching. They impeccably capture the experience of pining away over someone. Again, her vocal intensity swells to match the overwhelming emotions, culminating in a leap where she reaches into that famed whistle register. 

“Stay the Night”

Huge vocal show-outs are a hallmark of Mimi, but she’s consistently belting on the Kanye West-produced, retro soul-sampled “Stay The Night.” Laced with a loop from Ramsey Lewis’ cover of The Stylistics’ “Betcha By Golly Wow,” Mariah sings in full voice from the opening note as she struggles to decide whether to stay or go. While she does utilize her whisper range, most of “Stay The Night” revolves around Mariah belting. She’s facing some persistent persuasion, and she’s torn. The hook prefaces the repeat of the loop with a few swoops and then Mariah powerfully accentuates the melody at the beginning of the loop. There’s even an unsuspecting key change while Mariah holds a powerful note. The song closes with Mariah rallying “and you keep on keep on keep on.” 

“Your Girl”

“Your Girl” employs a similar sampling technique. The shortest cut on Mimi, what it lacks in length it makes up for in power. But unlike “Stay The Night,” on “Your Girl” Mariah is brazen and emboldened as she pontificates that she’s the hottest thing since sliced bread and she should be your girl. She’s confident as fuck in it, too. She knows she has the juice, and the hook is nothing short of audacious: “I’m gonna make you want to get with me tonight. I’m gonna put those naughty thoughts into your mind. I’m gonna show you clearly I can rock your world. You’re gonna know for sure that I should be your girl.” The beat Scram Jones crafted allows Mariah to punch her words on the hook, adding a unique and memorable edge to the song. 

“When I Feel It”

“When I Feel It” was supposed to be track 13 on the album, but didn’t find its way to listeners’ ears until 2007. The song revolves around a significant sample of The Dynamic Superiors’ “Here Comes That Feeling Again.” Copyright clearance was denied, and the song was forced to be excluded from the final tracklist. It’s unfortunate, because the retro vibe of the song is unmistakably Mimi. It’s got a unique edge though, because the sample is more than just a few seconds looped up. It’s a series of long pieces strung together. Unlike the less of a chopped-up, replayed elements like “Stay The Night” and “Your Girl,” this gives Mariah room to fully embody 70’s R&B diva over a largely untouched retro track. 

“Fly Like a Bird”

Emancipation culminates into a moment of true gospel fervor on the closing cut, “Fly Like A Bird.” The same keyboards, bass, and brass that surround Mariah throughout much of the album’s backbone once again unite on “Fly,” helping carry Mariah higher and higher. She starts reserved, mainly using her whisper register, until she starts mixing in her throat voice. By the final chorus, a choir takes over the chorus and Mariah vamps and riffs from low to high all the way to the big finish. If you weren’t saved before “Fly Like A Bird,” you surely are after.

Written by Andrew

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