Widely regarded as one of the greatest musical comebacks of all time, The Emancipation of Mimi was not only Mariah Carey’s long-awaited return to her pinnacle position in R&B royalty, but a moment of celebration that ignited a revelation in music that proclaimed time knows no boundaries when it comes to good quality music.
Carey’s tenth studio album came at a time when it seemed as if she was being shut out of mainstream media. Many claimed the songstress’ career was over after a series of underperforming records, several public mishaps, and the crippling diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
What they did not know was that with the help of then-Island Records executive L.A. Reid and legendary producer Jermaine Dupri, The Emancipation of Mimi would change Carey’s narrative and send her career into a whirlwind of resurgence.
The Emancipation of Mimi earned Carey two number-one songs: “Don’t Forget About Us” and the 14-week chart-topper “We Belong Together,” extending her record to an astounding 17 number one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the time.
Moreover, the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and became Carey’s highest-selling album since 1995’s Daydream. Not only that but it was also the best-selling album of 2005, with nearly five million copies sold. The album eventually earned Carey 10 Grammy nominations in 2006 and 2007, winning three for Best Contemporary R&B Album and Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “We Belong Together.”
Fifteen years after the album’s initial release, The Emancipation of Mimi is lauded as one of Carey’s best works. It’s the lyrics and Carey’s delivery that resonate with her die-hard lambs. As a lyricist, the Songbird Supreme flourishes; the legendary diva provides classic one-liners and timeless catchphrases that stick like grits.
Carey is set to be inducted into the 2020 Songwriters Hall of Fame, and to kick-off a celebration of “Mimi’s Emancipation,” here are 15 examples of why Carey’s pen skills reign supreme.
From “It’s Like That”
“You like this and you know it
Caution, it’s so explosive
Them chickens is ash and I’m lotion”
Carey stands at her highest point of confidence in the Emancipation era with this clever line, but one could wonder if she was hinting at her 15th studio album Caution with this subtle nod. It is the quintessential Mariah Carey way to say “I’m the HBIC.”
From “We Belong Together”
“Bobby Womack’s on the radio
sayin’ to me ‘If you think you’re lonely now…’
Wait a minute, this is too deep (too deep)
I gotta change the station, so”
This song features a classic reference to Bobby Womack’s timeless heartbreak song “If You Think You’re Lonely Now.” Carey’s ability to paint a picture with words shines as the line illustrates the feeling of heartache when the slightest memory of the one that got away leaves you instantly triggered and in your feelings.
From ‘Shake It Off’:
“Just like the Calgon commercial, I
Really gotta get up outta here
And go somewhere”
On an LP chocked-full of classic references, none are more innovative than the nod to the 80s Calgon bathtub commercial. In this line, Carey transposes the rather tired “Take me away!” line from the commercial into a more tasteful and elegant “I gotta get up outta here.” To take it a step further, Carey can be seen soaking in a gorgeous claw-foot tub, recreating the visual from the classic commercial.
From ‘Say Somethin’:
“Hot as you can stand it, somethin’ like volcanic
You know it seems organic just like the stars and planets”
Carey’s ability to describe a raunchy situation over a posh instrumental gets no better than this line from the Pharrell and Snoop Dogg-assisted “Say Somethin’.” It is an uber-sensual, steamy line that proves that the songstress can go toe-to-toe with the best rappers in terms of bars.
From ‘Get Your Number’:
“I got a house in Capri and my own G4
And a Benz with the doors that lift up from the floor”
On this club-ready banger, Carey brings flavorful finesse and flirty attitude to a line that shows off her wealthy lifestyle. This line is delivered with such confidence and is a representation of what it means to be a boss.
“But inside, I kept repeating
‘Don’t you let them see you cry’
So I casually turned my head
As the tears rolled down my eyes”
One of the more vulnerable moments on The Emancipation of Mimi is a line that expresses the feeling of having to swallow your emotions when confronting a past lover that you never got closure from. Carey’s utterance of the need to peddle back toward lost love sticks like grits.
From ‘I Wish You Knew’:
“See my inferiority complex kicks in
And the words escape me
and I’m paralyzed”
This line is proof that true love will humble those who feel like they are better than their feelings. Not only that, but it also peels back the layer of pride Carey holds on most of the album and reveals a glimpse of her weakness when it comes to the one she loves.
From ‘Joy Ride’:
“Loving you is like a taste of Heaven
Wanna gaze into your eyes forever
Run away and spend our lives together”
In a song written to depict the feeling of love sent straight from the heavens, Carey’s line about eternal love is delivered with the softest, most intimate vocal that elevates it as a standout lyric.
From ‘Fly Like a Bird’:
“Somehow I know that
There’s a place up above
With no more hurt and struggling
Free of all atrocities and suffering”
Perhaps one of the most inspirational lines of the entire LP, the opening bars to “Fly Like a Bird” express the optimism in Carey’s heart given the years of ridicule she endured from the media. Not only that, it features the extensive vocabulary she has become known for as a lyricist.
From ‘One & Only’ feat. Twista:
“See, I’m looking for a man
That’ll rub me slow
Make me sing real high when he goes low”
Carey demands her needs be met on this mid-tempo jam as she incorporates a slick innuendo referencing her signature 5-octave vocal range; she does this as she and rapper Twista feed off of each other’s swift flows. This is, once again, proof that Carey could rap with the best of them if she wanted to.
From ‘Mine Again’:
“It’s irrelevant to dwell on the past , yeah, yeah, yeah
I’m accountable for what went bad
And I mean that”
A line in which Carey is at her most humble, the songstress admits her fault in the end of a past relationship while trying to win back the love of her life. The candid bar expresses that before reconciliation can happen, there needs to be acceptance of wrong-doing.
From ‘Stay the Night’:
“Wanna hold you close
And feel your love inside
But I don’t wanna play myself
‘Cause I know you’re with someone else
And I don’t need complications in my life”
As a perfectionist, Carey rarely makes the same mistake twice. However, on this Kanye West-tinged jam, the songstress expresses that she contemplates spending the night with a past lover who is tied down in a new relationship. This line is all about whether or not a few minutes or hours of passion is worth falling back down the rabbit hole.
From “Your Girl”:
“I’m gonna show you clearly
I can rock your world
You’re gonna know for sure that
I should be your girl”
On this prideful line, Carey puts her bedroom skills out on the table and lets her lover know she will be the best he’s ever had. Delivered with such aggression and confidence, the bar ties Carey’s argument together like a bow.
From ‘To The Floor’ (feat. Nelly):
“Baby, I don’t wanna let you think I’m
(I’d like to try you, I think you so on fire)
Easy, like them other girls you be seein’
(I can’t deny you, I keep tryin’ to fight it)”
In a back-and-forth trade line off between Carey and rapper Nelly, the two trade notions of their intentions on their night together. As Carey explains she refuses to be used, Nelly comes through with a tease, before Carey cuts him off. It creatively and flirtatiously arranged dialogue over a smooth party-themed instrumental.
BONUS: From ‘Don’t Forget About Us’
“And if she’s got your head all messed up now
That’s the trickery
So why you act like you don’t know how this loving used to be?
I bet she can’t do it like me, she’ll never be MC”
While the song doesn’t appear on the original release of The Emancipation of Mimi, this number one single cannot go unnoticed as it features a bold line about how your first true love can never be replaced. Who can forget the iconic statement “she’ll never be MC,’ as Carey makes it known that she is the best, but also reminds us all of why she is so iconic in the first place.
Stream Mariah Carey’s masterpiece comeback The Emancipation of Mimi below.