Three artists recently have experienced subpar weeks: Justin Bieber (n-word scandal), Mariah Carey (historically tepid album sales), and 50 Cent (below par first week sales and ‘extracurricular’ injuries). The only way to atone and correct the ills of a horrid week – or several in the case of our Canadian pop star – is advice from me. Yes, I can fix problems just like that for these three with my thoughtful, encouraging words. Here goes nothing!
Advice: Have a seat…
As the legendary Rev. James Cleveland song “Plenty Good Room” goes, “just choose your seat and sit down”. As the popular YouTube channel The Skorpion Show might put it, “have several seats”. Get the picture Biebz? Please, PLEASE sit down somewhere. And if you are not going to sit down, channel your energy on your music rather than your behavior. No, I’m not dying for a new Justin Bieber album – particularly if its anything like that hot mess Believe Acoustic(2013) – but maybe it would be therapeutic and keep you out of trouble. And oh yeah – putting on a shirt still applies too.
Advice: Let it go…
As you say yourself, it’s “The Art of Letting Go”. So Mariah, just, well “let it go, let it go!” Girl, you’ve had a killer run – you’ve made bank and sold millions and millions of albums – but those days seem behind you at this point. Fame naturally wanes, even for veteran artists prodigiously talented as you are. Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse exemplified the new normal in albums sales, particularly in R&B, regardless whether you’re a newbie or well, Mariah Carey. So there’s no need to come up with lengthy, unorthodox album titles with some special meaning to you because, well, there’s just no need; hence, the art of letting go.
Advice: Broaden your horizons…and free up time?
50 Cent, your new album Animal Ambition: An Untamed Desire to Win is a cocky and overconfident affair in my book. Yeah, you have your moments, but to be so sure of yourself, your best work like Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre seem far, far behind you. At times, your nonchalant flow is just that – too casual to truly back up your edgy, assured rhymes that continue to iterate how awesome you are. 50, please broaden your horizons beyond the shallower things in life. Also, free up time from that whole “excessive masturbation” ordeal…hmm. Oh, and work on those pitching skills…
After a five year hiatus, Carey ‘brings the heat’ on comeback LP Me. I Am Mariah…
Mariah Carey • Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse • Def Jam • US Release Date: May 27, 2014
Nearly five years ago, Mariah Carey released a solid, if not necessarily flashy album in Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Like her previous albums of the 00s, Memoirs featured a quirky title, tailor-made for the prodigiously voiced R&B diva. Despite its quality and a hit with “Obsessed”, Carey found her numbers down tremendously, even missing the number one spot on the Billboard 200. Five years later, and a couple of album delays thrown in there as well, it makes one wonder if Carey’s comeback album and first of the 10s can survive in a world where album sales continue to plummet, particularly in the R&B realm. Speaking on the commercial fortunes of latest LP Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse is premature before the album actually charts, after listening and analyzing the affair, I hope that Carey can whip out some of her old commercial magic. Me is a pleasant album, and even with its flaws (there are some), it does showcase the tremendous artistry and talents of the musician.
“Cry” initiates Me in a moody, though somewhat subtle fashion. Rather than throwing an up tempo burner at her audience, Carey opts for a smooth adult contemporary R&B joint accompanied by piano. During the first verse, Carey showcases her smoky, seductive lower register. On the chorus, the vocals are more lush and emotional, matching the connotation the song title expresses. By the second verse, Carey pushes more, ascending into her upper register that’s cemented her legacy as one of the best of all time. There is really little to cry foul (no pun intended) on the opener, save for the slow tempo may be ever too lethargic. Still, lyrics such as “My love, imprudently I left every cell in me / so naked, somewhere at the core of you/ bless our souls” do capture your attention.
“Faded” is more contemporary minded than “Cry”, particularly given its production by Mike Will Made It. To Mike Will’s credit, this is one of his ‘tamer’ productions, fitting better with a classy voice like Carey’s. Moments like a rhythmic, but somewhat clunky pre-chorus evidence that “Faded” is still a bit ‘all over the place’, but the basic R&B cues are in place. Many purists will prefer the more traditional “Cry”, but there are some pros, and if nothing more, “Faded” shows Mimi’s willingness to assimilate to pop music trends of the day.
“Dedicated” proceeds and looks to the past for its inspiration. The script is obvious, as Carey explicitly states it: “I’ll just sit right here and sing that good old school sh*t to you.” It gets better though, as Carey continues on in the second verse: “Boy it was so real, I wanna feel that again / loyal friends form way back then / tell me can you vision us / 36 Chambers High.” Oh and by the way, she gets an assist from Nas, known for his clever lyricism as an MC: “Nah, we don’t wish today’s game was old again / we just wish it wasn’t full of Draconian, Babylonian, phony men…” Even with the ‘old school’ being the focus, the groove is nu-school, thanks to Hit-Boy.
At the time single “#Beautiful” arrived in 2013, it was brilliant move on Carey’s part to pair with then hot alt-R&B singer Miguel. Even though the prime of the single has since worn off, “#Beautiful” remains a highlighting track from Me. “Hop on, the back of my bike / let the good wind blow through you hair,” ran memorably from Miguel on the first verse. He’d continue with the flattery, finishing the line: “With an ass like that and a smile so bright oh, you’re killing me, you know it ain’t fair.” The chorus sums up the sentiment exceptionally: “You’re beautiful, and your mind is f*cking beautiful / and I can’t pretend that that doesn’t mean a thing.” Carey wouldn’t be upstaged by Miguel though – particularly the way she was on dud “Triumphant (Get ‘Em)” which didn’t make the album: “I like when you run red lights / don’t stop ‘til you thrill me, oh how you thrill me.” Throw in signature Carey cues – ad-libs, whistle tones – and she’s on autopilot.
After “#Beautiful”, “Thirsty” has big shoes to fill. The hip-hop oriented R&B track doesn’t achieve the same level, even with Carey flaunting her ‘swag’ you might say. Like on “Faded”, Carey seems to be more forward thinking, attempting to successfully fit in and assimilate to a new generation of listeners. The track has its ups, but lines about “thinking you a boss now / boy you just f-ckin’ thirsty” don’t feel as authentic as more meaningful, substance-filled lyrics from MC. “Make It Look Good” is a much better fit, with Carey singing atop a more neo-soul, traditional R&B production. There’s still ‘swag’ and hipness (“Play those players who play you ‘til there’s no more / game left to be played”), but it feels a bit more natural and less forced. The fast-paced rhythmic vocals on the chorus are a nice bridge to hip-hop, while the overall vocal production shines.
“You’re Mine (Eternal)” didn’t exactly burn up the singles charts once it bowed, but it does represent the sound and type of track associated with Carey artistically. “I can’t seem to live without your love / suffocating here by myself, I’m dying for you touch”, Carey sings on the first verse. She sums up her dedication on the refrain. It’s predictable both thematically and lyrically mind you, but with Carey’s willingness to experiment at times on Me, “You’re Mine (Eternal)” is just what the doctor ordered at this stage of the album.
“You Don’t Know What To Do” dives into the pop-soul realm. That said, what better rapper for Carey to get to assist her than Wale, who excels on more soulfully produced joints? While the intentions are sound and definitely look good on paper, Wale himself doesn’t sound as electrifying as he has elsewhere. Carey sounds fine, but “You Don’t Know What To Do” doesn’t exactly ‘set the roof on fire’. It’s not ‘cold’, but perhaps only ‘lukewarm’. “Supernatural” feels a bit better, sporting a grinding tempo that allows for Carey to sing in ballad-style. Lyrically, however, “Supernatural” seems limited quantity. Additionally, the key change towards the end of the song isn’t smooth; music theorists everywhere are cringing everywhere in regards to the abruptness of the modulation.
“Meteorite” comes close, yet doesn’t quite reach its mark. The neo-disco cut seems a bit of a stretch stylistically for Carey. While it has some of the sentiments of “Heartbreaker” or even the more obscure “I’m That Chick” (E=MC2) and is certainly enthusiastic, the pop soul cut just doesn’t sound as if it’s perfectly executed. To its credit, perhaps it’s a grower. “Camouflage” lays better, employing piano accompaniment and vocal layers courtesy of what sounds like a gospel chorus. Throughout, Carey blesses the listeners with her magnificent upper-register ad-libs and nuances. The main rub, however is when it’s all said and done, there are just too many things going on simultaneously, making “Camouflage” a bit nebulous and cluttered. Then comes “Money (S*/…)”, one of the oddballs of Me. The production by Hit-Boy sounds off-putting initially, but once it settles in, has a hypnotic quality about it. Lyrically, “Money (S*/…)” lacks depth, but there is definitely something special about it despite its deficiencies. The hook shines if nothing more: “Money, this, that, the other / don’t mean nothing other than / jets on holidays and / chefs with hollandaise / expensive lingerie caused / I come home to you”. Loso (Fabolous) seems to have a good time assisting MC.
Mariah Carey closes Me with two covers. The first is “One More Try” from George Michael’s classic pop album Faith, which receives updates with backing vocals and production tweaks. All in all, Carey stays pretty true to the original, not a bad thing considering the beauty of the melody. She makes it her own contextually (ad libs, etc.), but she doesn’t supersede or usurp the original. Arguably, Carey ‘lets loose’ more on “Heavenly (No Ways Tired / Can’t Give
Up Now)” tackling contemporary gospel powerhouse Mary Mary’s “Can’t Give Up Now”. The emotional gospel cut is right up Carey’s alley, as Carey is known for often closing her albums out with an inspirational song. Through the flurry of key changes and stomping drums, Carey ad-libs her heart out, pouring every ounce of emotion into the joint. Perhaps she overdoes it, but then again, gospel is known for its histrionics. Outro “Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse” provides background on the effort (it appears at the tail end of the deluxe edition rather than before the three bonus tracks).
The deluxe edition of Me offers three bonus tracks – two of which hail in their original form from Carey’s previous LP Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. On “It’s A Wrap”, Mary J. Blige joins Carey on the six-feel cut that already shined with Carey “riding solo”. R. Kelly provides vocal contrast to the chanteuse on “Betcha Gon’ Know”, the prelude track from Memoirs that set the tone exceptionally. The true standout track from the deluxe edition, “The Art of Letting Go”, finds Carey excelling at her ‘ace in the hole’ – balladry! Whether she’s down low or ascends to that potent, easily recognizable upper register, Carey captivates, relating to the audience, who reminisce about having to ‘let go’ themselves. Filled with memorable and prudent lyrical moments, “The Art of Letting Go” could’ve supplanted another track from the standard issue of Me. Ultimately, “The Art of Letting Go” is the draw of the deluxe edition.
More often than not, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse is an enjoyable Mariah Carey album and more generally, a solid contemporary R&B album. Carey and her songwriting and production team have essentially assembled and effort that covers a little bit of everything from pop-soul, neo-soul, retro-soul, neo-disco, and of course adult contemporary R&B. Personally, it proves to be a much better album than expected, particularly given the delays and a couple of singles that only managed to dint the charts. It’s by no means a perfect album; it’s lengthy by today’s standards and at times sounds over-cluttered with the production and multiple vocal layers. Even so, its flaws certainly aren’t deal breaking, with the pros outweighing the cons. After a five-year hiatus, Carey ‘came to play ball’ here – she ‘brings the heat’ on this comeback LP.
Summarizing Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse: Likes & Dislikes
+ Likes: Exceptional vocal moments from Carey; some enjoyable songs; overall enjoyable album
– Dislikes: Overcrowded production work at times; some songs could be better developed; too lengthy in duration
Favorites: “Cry”; “#Beautiful” ft. Miguel; “Make It Look Good”; “You’re Mine (Eternal)”; “The Art of Letting Go”
Years ago, the notion that one of today’s most gifted, preeminent artists could release an album that could potentially ‘flop’ would have been laughable – absurd. However, as R&B/pop diva Mariah Carey continually prolonged her long-awaited follow-up to the underperforming, oddly titled Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, one has to wonder if the album even has a shot. That’s not throwing shade towards Carey or diminishing her immense musical gifts, but several factors make a once surefire bet a potential big-time underdog.
Delayed albums have a history of underwhelming sales. Honestly, this notion shouldn’t be that unreasonable or shocking. If an album continues to be pushed back or several singles have been released with none catching on, it is a good indication or at least the perception that the product is struggling. Sure, the respective artist is still releasing their next studio album, but the grandeur and excitement about the product falls-off with failed promotional opportunities. 50 Cent certainly didn’t benefit from the delays with Before I Self Destruct, which featured numerous delays beginning in 2007 (saw the light of day in 2009) and was barely gold-hit for the multiplatinum rapper. R. Kelly also didn’t benefit from scrapping 12 Play: 4th Quarter in 2008. The resulting album Untitled arrived with little fanfare and definitely began the waning of Kelly’s album sales in general. With so many singles released with lukewarm reception, the questions certainly arise about the success of Carey’s upcoming Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse.
The release date for Me has been set for May 27, 2014, according to a recent Billboard article. The problem with a release date so soon (despite delays) is there is no hit single to promote the album, which is a problem. “#Beautiful” does appear on the album, but its promotional power has long ceased. “The Art of Letting Go” was right up my alley, but the deluxe edition track wasn’t potent enough to be the game changer that a forty something Carey needs at this point. The performance of “You’re Mine (Eternal)” is horrific by Carey standards, making this journalist wonder if Mimi is about to be extremely devastated when her album sales numbers come out. I wish her the best – she deserves that given her prodigious talent – but I fear for my girl.
Need ten jams to spin? Here’s my list of ten of November 2013’s hottest joints!
1) Lady Gaga featuring R. Kelly, “Do What U Want” (ARTPOP)
“Applause” may have been a bust of sorts, but Gaga got herself together with the help of one of R&B’s most salacious presences, R. Kelly. Playing on words, “Do What U Want” accomplishes Gaga’s love for double meanings. If examined sexually, Gaga presents herself as, well easy. But when examined less pervertedly, Gaga is suggesting she is more than her body and could care less how you scrutinize it, etc.
2) Bun B featuring Pimp C, Lil Boosie & Big KRIT, “Cake” (Trill O.G.: The Epilogue)
Bun B probably isn’t most of the present generation’s ‘go to’ MC, but the veteran UGK MC is nothing short of a beast. Here, his late, great partner Pimp C delivers a masterful hook, while Bun is joined by Lil Boosie and Mississippi underrated MC Big KRIT. KRIT also handles the production work, which seems like the perfect match for the 42-year old Bun B. My favorite catch line, “Them thighs come with that shake / b**ch in yo mind, ho I got cake.”
3) Justin Bieber featuring R. Kelly, “PYD”
R. Kelly may just be R&B’s most popular commodity again as Justin Bieber taps him for arguably his best Music Mondays release to date, “PYD” (“Put You Down”). Previously, the Biebz has been whining about heartbreak and Selena Gomez namely, but on “PYD” he wants to get… well, down. No more of the G- and PG-rated Bieber where “damn” is as far as he’ll step from his teen-pop roots… he’s ready to step it up a notch. And if we didn’t understand his intentions, him and Kelly repeatedly iterate the acronym throughout (“P-Y-D, P-Y-D”)
From the first track “Vapors”, one knows that Jhene Aiko’s EP Sail Out is something special. Playing doubly as a weed-smoking joint as well as a yearning for an ex- who was good in bed, “Vapors” is both brilliant and highly representative of the newfound alternative R&B movement. “Can you hit it again?” never sound more telling from Aiko’s cool, calm, and collected vocal perspective.
5)Celine Dion, “Water And A Flame” (Loved Me Back To Life)
Celine Dion’s latest album has plenty of strong songs that tickled my fancy, with the Daniel Merriweather cover “Water And A Flame” amongst ‘em. The original is little known as Merriweather isn’t a big name in the United States. Regardless, if Merriweather never receives his deserved recognition, at least one of the greatest pop singers provides a stirring rendition here.
6) Eminem, “Rap God”, (The Marshall Mathers LP 2)
What more is there to say, Eminem delivered the hottest rap track of the year this side of Kanye West’s “Blood On the Leaves” and Kendrick Lamar’s epic rap verse on Big Sean’s “Control”. If I’d been Big Sean, I would’ve fought to have gotten “Control” on Hall of Fame, even if it meant delaying it (it’s sold abysmally anyways). But this is Eminem’s moment and quite an electrifying moment it is indeed.
7) Jake Miller, “Homeless” (Us Against Them)
“Homeless” is among the cream of the crop from Jake Miller’s debut album Us Against Them. Vocally, Miller sounds solid as he sings plaintively on the chorus: “Here I stand in the cold / I try to knock as you change the locks / now I’m all alone / where am I supposed to go / if you are where my home is, I guess that makes me homeless.” The serious vibe of the sung vocals is matched by Miller’s more agile, rhythmic rapped vocals. While it’s a ‘bummer’ as far as its overall tone, it is at least a standout ‘bummer’.
8) Mariah Carey, “The Art of Letting Go”
Mimi’s latest single, “The Art of Letting Go”, finds one of R&B’s preeminent divas doing what she does best, BALLADS. Whether she’s singing in her lower register or ascending to her upper register with every bit of her emotion, Carey compels the listener and makes us think of our own moments when we’ve struggled to let go. “The Art of Letting Go” is filled with exceptional, memorable, and prudent lyrical moments including “Evidently your words were merely lies / reverberating in my ears / and the echo won’t subside / there’s a deep deep loss of hope…” from verse two. The bridge confirms that “Baby letting go, baby letting go / ain’t easy…”
9)Jake Bugg, “A Song About Love” (Shangri La)
Recently I reviewed Jake Bugg’s sophomore effort, Shangri La. While I had mixed feelings, I certainly had rave reviews for one particular standout in “A Song About Love”:
“Is that all you wanted? Songs about love? / Is that want you hoped you would find / when it’s burning inside / but a song about love’s not enough.” Poetic by all means, “A Song About Love” seems to be the most complete performance of the album. The metric shifting “A Song About Love” certainly offers the incredible nuance and an overall unique selection Where many of Bugg’s songs seem quite simple, “A Song About Love” definitely steps up the game.
10) Lady Gaga, “Dope” (ARTPOP)
Another Lady Gaga track really? Yep. “Dope” is completely different from “Do What U Want”. Sure, it sounds as if it shouldn’t be a substantive track, but Gaga’s intents are quite notable, more so than some of ARTPOP’s ‘looser’ cuts. On the sole ballad from the album, Gaga opens herself up to vulnerability, suggesting that despite her past screw-ups with substances, she needs her man “more than dope”. Sure she’s literal and dope doesn’t lend itself to the greatest heart-warming moment ever, but her personalized touch truly shines here.
Mariah gets her ‘swag’ back on latest single “The Art of Letting Go”
Mariah Carey ⎪ “The Art of Letting Go” (Single)⎪ Island ⎪⎪ US Release Date: November 11, 2013
“Letting go, letting go ain’t easy / oh, it’s just exceedingly hurtful / ‘cause somebody you used to know…watch, as you’re falling down…”
Those are the relatable, truthful lyrics that Mariah Carey sings on her ‘comeback’ single, “The Art of Letting Go”. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed “#Beautiful” featuring Miguel, but it didn’t sound as true to Carey’s best moments as her latest does. “The Art of Letting Go” doesn’t sound like it will be a number one hit to me, but it does find Carey doing what she does best, moving ballads. Whether she’s singing in her lower register or ascending to her upper register with every bit of her emotion, Carey compels the listener and makes us think of our own moments when we’ve struggled to let go.
The production catches the ear, but not like the dizzying synths of modern pop or contemporary R&B. While this particular track eschews a ‘throwback’ to retro-soul, there is still a hearkening back to the recent past, at least Carey’s heyday. After the needle is on the record, lush strings and accompanying piano serve as the soundscape supporting Carey’s thoughtful balladry. Never overproduced, the conservative approach to this number is appreciated and allows for Carey to be the star. Remember single “Triumphant Get ‘Em”? Carey was overshadowed by both her collaborators (Rick Ross and Meek Mill) as well as the hip-hop oriented production. The only touch of hip-hop here, when the drum groove locks things down during the bridge section. Even so, it’s nothing to crazy, which is a pro.
But there’s more to this tune than it’s production and timbre. “The Art of Letting Go” is filled with exceptional, memorable lyrical moments. On verse one, Carey establishes the tone from the jump: “I’m making a statement of my opinion / just a brief little reminder to help myself remember / I no longer live in your dominion… you’re just trifling, nothing more than a liability…” She follows up her most recent ‘emancipation’ with even more candidness on verse two in several instances including “Evidently your words were merely lies / reverberating in my ears / and the echo won’t subside / there’s a deep deep loss of hope…” and the penultimate line of the verse “Go to Mimi on your contacts, press delete”. Da-yum! She confirms on the bridge that “Baby letting go, baby letting go / ain’t easy…”.
So, is Carey back on her “Hero” and “Vision of Love” swag? Well, I can’t say yay or nay as of yet, but I do believe “The Art of Letting Go” is a step in the right musical direction for Carey. She’s likely to never reach her prime again or even manage a comeback as gargantuan as 2005 effort The Emancipation of Mimi, but Carey can still give her best and all, and revel in her veteran R&B/pop diva status. I personally believe she still has plenty to offer and certainly outperforms many if not all of her contemporaries. She’s still got it.