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Charting Black Excellence | Mariah Carey's 'Caution' is an authentic reminder of her artistry

Da’Shan Smith

 // Nov 30, 2018

'Charting Black Excellence' celebrates black artists and their current accomplishments on the Billboard charts, which often don't receive the proper recognition and attention.


On the November 16 release date of Mariah Carey’s 15th studio album, Caution, Perez Hilton (gossip columnist pertaining to all things celebrity culture) tweeted, “In case you didn’t know, Carey has a new album out today. Sadly, she isn’t expected to debut in the top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 [sic].”

After revealing he “probably won’t” give the album a free stream, a whole thread of chaos ensued with fans accurately countering Hilton’s invalid revisionism on Carey’s musical trajectory, as well as the dynamics of R&B versus pop music, what even constitutes pop music, what hits in her discography are R&B, today’s mainstream appeal, her Lambily stan base’s preferences, and maybe, even his own taste. To sum all this up, according to Hilton's own words, “I'm just saying that rnb Mariah is so played out. She's done that for over a decade now.”

Thankfully, the twitter community spoke out against Hilton’s ill-informed takes. Our Master Class on Carey’s role in bringing hip hop more recognition in pop made a small round online. Even Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast wrote about “The Racist Pigeonholing of Mariah Carey,” based on Hilton’s words and the repeated history of this happening throughout pop music, in a column aptly titled, “What’s In A Genre.” And as official reports on the Billboard 200 chart come out this week, Caution will indeed be debuting in the top 5 -- despite what Mr. Hilton inaccurately predicted for the chart.



But again, back to the Billboard 200 top 5-debuting album, which this article is about…

Carey’s Caution is a collage of musical revisitation on wax. We not only experience “classic Mariah,” but hidden Easter eggs of Mimi, the Elusive Chanteuse who further evolved into her 2000s hip hop sound. Serving as the hallmark 15th studio album in a now 30-year career, Caution encapsulates the eras of Carey post-Butterfly. These eras had hot and cold relationships with the charts and public opinion, but remained in the pop culture conscience, nonetheless.

The year 2018 has been karmically rewarding for the living icons and legends who have pioneered sounds and trends in music. As a thank you to their devoted stans and their own deserved acknowledgements, these figures are delivering stellar projects — reminding the new school of the industry (and those who forgot) about their consistent architecting and innovation.

On Caution, the musical-isms that exude Carey’s signature style exist the most on “Giving Me Life.” With an instrumental that pairs lullaby-jazz with the European dramatique of Butterfly’s “My All,” she fully hones in on her songwriting skills, musical revisitation, and artistic control. Her allusions to the summer recall Butterfly’s “Fourth of July” and her affinity for the season throughout her discography. Slick Rick features a verse that fulfills the chanteuse’s desire of finally collabing with the legendary emcee — who himself celebrates the 30th anniversary of his debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.



While discussing the charts, it should be mentioned that the promo and official singles are being slept on — but still manage to maintain a fervor in today’s pop culture and online hemispheres. Released as Caution’s first promo single, “GTFO” creeps in its ballad form. The song’s structuring of cooing obscenity through an acronym-based title — engineered by Carey’s signature falsetto whisper — calls to mind “H.A.T.E.U.” and “It’s A Wrap” from 2009’s Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel.

Like “GTFO,” both of those songs anticipate the argument, rehash the “ignored signs,” and offer quick cellular phrases to throw out in potential quarrels (and memeland). By saying “take yo tings and get on yo merry way,” Carey gives “GTFO” an added tropical layer — and through that there’s a sense of relief and resolution.

The Memoirs of An Imperfect Angel era was greeted with huge success back in 2009 — the lead trap&B single “Obsessed” hit the top 10. However, a few singles received a similar fate that “GTFO” faced, receiving much due placement on respective hip hop & R&B charts, but not on the main Hot 100. Similar to Caution, that album showcased Carey’s flaws in relationships, as well as her knack of reconfiguring her art form in order to elevate the present sound.



“With You” is another ethereal ballad from Caution with an interesting charting story. The song is currently growing momentum on adult-formatted pop and R&B radio, so far reaching No. 11 on adult contemporary and No. 12 on adult R&B charts. Sonically, the song takes us back to Memoirs predecessor E=MC2 -- particularly the softness of “Bye Bye.” Produced by DJ Mustard — who has found both R&B and reemerging mainstream success with Ella Mai — “With You” contains a finger-snap and pumping 808 that underscores a piano-chorded confession of love.

It seems as though “A No No” is up next as the potential single that will follow “With You.” While it seems the general public is growing fonder and slowly realizing the power behind Ty Dolla $ign’s collaboratory it-factorness, “The Distance” may be prevented from doing so by the public’s intense desire for 90s and 2000s hip hop nostalgia.

Thanksgiving season into Black Friday into Christmas is the timeframe annually owned by Carey’s brand of nostalgia. This year is no different, as her old-school sampling Glitter (which received a doomed fate after its September 11, 2001 release) soundtrack reached No. 1 on the iTunes album charts after #JusticeForGlitter started trending. The 1994 holiday anthem “All I Want For Christmas Is You” returned to this week’s Hot 100 at No. 29. Last year, the song reached its peak of No. 9. Now, the Lambily will embark on 2018’s journey to get the jingle to the top spot.



The release of “A No No” comes at the most appropriate time, as it perfectly interpolates and samples Lil’ Kim’s “Crush on You.” After years, Lil’ Kim, herself, is finally receiving an over pouring of support and acknowledgement for her legendary mark in music, fashion, and culture. Carey confessed on "Watch What Happens Live" that she would love to collaborate with Lil’ Kim and Cardi B on a fan-requested remix. Jermaine Dupri tweeted, “Uh oh!! @LilKim just hit me ‘A No No,’” practically confirming a remix is slated to come.

An hour later, Dupri hit the public with “Uh oh!! @MissyElliott found me in her dm ‘A No No.’” If the producer confirms a response from Cardi B, the song will have the potential to be the “Not Tonight (Ladies Night)” type of anthem that fans have been requesting for nearly two decades. This rumored remix has the potential for history making and record breaking — especially in this streaming era, and at a time when women in rap have been receiving the spotlight.

Missy Elliott and Carey are amongst the nominated class for 2019’s Songwriters Hall of Fame. And while many regard Elliott as the first female rapper poised to be inducted, it should also be noted that Carey is another hip hop win. Without Carey’s gusto to include Ol’ Dirty Bastard on an otherwise pop and R&B “Fantasy,” who knows how long the trend of pop and hip hop collabs would have actually taken off.



Caution is an authentic reminder that Carey’s kept that element of her artistry alive throughout decades. Her body of hip hop collabs are never been based on following, but rather from leading and setting the example. There’s a mastery and brilliance in how she selects who to collaborate with or sample. It’s as if her ears are to the interest of the streets rather than the labels'.

A co-sign from Carey — who’s taste-making has aged like fine wine over her career (remember, she sampled Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” on “The Roof”!!!) — means you’re valuable to the game of hip hop. As he’s bound for his own album charting quest next week with Championships, Meek Mill once gloated, “I did it without a album/I did shit with Mariah.” Right now, however, the rapper to pay attention to, according to Caution’s “Stay Long Love You,” is Gunna.

The deep cuts of Caution from “Stay Long Love You,” “One Mo Gen,” and “8th Grade” highlights that there isn’t a problem with the R&B side of Mimi. These three songs combine trap beats with a digitized new millennium aesthetic that dominated mid-2000s R&B. During that time, Carey’s comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi ruled pop music, simultaneously spring-boarding a third musical phase for Carey's career — and continuing a streak of chart excellence with the likes of Beyoncé, Usher, Ashanti, and Alicia Keys. Just like the portrait on the album art, Caution is glowing with an energy that will redirect music once again.


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