Quintessentially one of the greatest vocalists and songwriters popular music has ever witnessed, Mariah Carey’s influence has been prevalent in every new crop of artists since her debut in 1990. There aren’t many artists who can say they have an unparalleled vocal range and 18 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 — more than any other solo artist in history. With that being said, any time Carey releases a project, people will be listening.
It has been four years since Carey’s last release, “Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse”, which was reminiscent of her past collaborations with producer Jermaine Dupri. More than any other album in her illustrious discography, “Caution” brings about a more venturesome side of her artistry. Along with legends Dupri and Timbaland, current hitmakers like Nineteen85, Blood Orange and Skrillex all help Carey create a sound that reflects the current state of R&B without losing the essence of her trademark style.
“Caution” takes a step back from the soaring vocal showcase shown in some of her biggest hits and evokes a more sleek, sensual tone that creates a gloomy vibe. Even the title is more straightforward and bolder than her previous lengthy album titles, such as “The Emancipation of Mimi and Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel”, which is a testament to where she is going musically
Penning some of the most romantic, breezy songs in her past such as “Underneath the Stars”, and infectious pop jams such as “Heartbreaker”, hardcore fans also know that Carey has a compelling sense of humor. Introducing this era with “GTFO” showcases a sassy-yet-savage side of Mariah that hasn’t been seen since the 2009 diss track “Obsessed”. “GTFO” shows that Carey is not here to play around and perfectly sets the tone for the moody atmosphere that this project launches.
The title track radiates a certain sense of confidence that directly correlates to the crafty and sharp sound Carey continues on the rest of the album. Lines such as: “Proceed with caution, don’t be dishonest/I need you closer to love me harder” portrays her sly demeanor and creates the essence of a spy-like character. She sounds naturally cool without trying too hard, which is difficult to achieve.
Sampling Lil’ Kim’s “Crush On You,” one of the most recognizable tracks in hip-hop, “A No No” opens the door for Mariah to experiment with more jabs at people who have wronged her while taking on an effortless flow. Carey taps into the fun personality her fans cherish while singing: “Off with your head, now slither out the out the door/Snakes in the grass, it’s time to cut the lawn/Ed Scissorhands, AKA I cut you off.”
One of the highlights of “Caution” involves the entrancing mid-tempo “The Distance” featuring Ty Dolla $ign. With Skrillex and Carey teaming up for the first time, it seemed like an odd match due to Skrillex’s EDM background and Carey’s R&B roots. Celebrating the success of a love story, “The Distance” denounces all of those previous trepidations and ends up beautifully displaying Mariah’s gift of storytelling in a simple, yet effective way.
An achievement that the general public often overlooks is how Carey truly popularized the fusion of hip-hop and pop music. Starting with 1995’s Bad Boy remix of “Fantasy” featuring Ol’ Dirty Bastard, she is no stranger to collaborating with hip-hop artists. Carey continues displaying her evident appreciation for the genre with “Giving Me Life” featuring Slick Rick and “Stay Long Love You” featuring Gunna. Both tracks hold onto the tradition of Carey sharing the spotlight with other artists without diminishing her own.
On top of all of the love songs and clever diss tracks, at the core, the vulnerability Carey displays in many of her introspective tracks is where fans connect with her the most. Some of her most personal tracks have been the closer of other albums, like “Daydream’s” “Looking In” and “Butterfly’s” “Outside” for instance. “Portrait” is a melancholy ballad that discusses bottling up your truth. The heavy lyrics include: “Somewhat desensitized/Still the same hopeful child/Haunted by those severed ties.” This haunting song is an honest reflection of Carey’s own troubles and creates an opportunity for her to relate to listeners, which is what she does best.
Through all of the ups and downs of her career, no one can deny Carey’s strength and persistence is admirable. At this point, it is not about topping what she did in the earlier stages of her career commercially. It is about evolving as an artist and continuing to create timeless music, which is all you could ask for a once-in-a-lifetime artist like Mariah Carey.