With hits like “We Belong Together” and “Shake It Off,” The Emancipation of Mimi, released in 2005, marked Mariah Carey’s return to her chart-topping highs of the 90s. The 2008 follow-up, E=MC2, is – for the most part – the party she threw to celebrate the win.
E=MC2 is a largely uptempo album loaded with beats that are ready-made for head-nodding, finger-snapping, and two-steppin’ on the dancefloor. Even some of the ballads – such as hood fairytale “Love Story” – have a deep bass thump. Mariah accomplished this sound by re-teaming with longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri, who oversaw Emancipation’s biggest cuts, as well as working with other producers known for innovative R&B.
Danja, a Timbaland protégé, helms the opening cut “Migrate,” featuring autotune virtuoso T-Pain. The tune comes off as if Mariah, singing in her whistle tones, is hopping from club to club, following the lead of a beatboxing robot pied piper.
Atlanta’s DJ Toomp, known for his work with rapper T.I., contributes the airy “I’ll Be Loving U Long Time.” The track is built around a snatch of El DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” which was also used on The Notorious B.I.G.’s 1995 smash “One More Chance (Remix).” (Mariah has used familiar hip-hop samples throughout her career. The 1993 smash “Dreamlover” borrows the same loop from The Emotion’s “Blind Alley” that’s used by old-school rapper Big Daddy Kane on his 1988 hit “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’.”)
Lyrically, Mariah is more conversational and playful than ever before, shouting out B.I.G. and 2Pac on the house-y “I’m That Chick,” complaining about a dude who “brings the drama [with] six baby-mamas” on the reggae-tinged “Cruise Control,” and referencing YouTube – then just three years old – and talk show host Wendy Williams on the springy, come-on “Touch My Body.” (The song, which was E=MC2’s first single, became Mariah’s 18th No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100.)
But E=MC2 isn’t all fun times. It also deals with Mariah’s lingering family issues. On the rhythmic elegy “Bye Bye,” the biracial crooner reconciles with her Black father after years of estrangement (“I’m glad we talked through all them grown-folk things [that] separation brings”). But sadly, they reconnect only shortly before his death from cancer in 2002. She regrets that he wasn’t able to witness how she rebounded from the commercial disappointment of her Glitter film and soundtrack: “You never got to see me back at number one.”
The closing song, “I Wish You Well,” which surges with gospel fervor, addresses the more complicated relationship that Mariah has with her brother and sister, both of whom have sold stories about her to the tabloids. She makes peace with the fact that she’ll likely never be able to trust them enough to have them in her life. “I weep for what I dreamed we all could be,” she sings with longing.
These last two cuts make E=MC2 both a celebration of the joys of success and a testament to the wounds it can never heal. For Mariah, Emancipation was not an endpoint, but the beginning of an emotional open road.