“Butterfly” (Mariah Carey, 1997)/ “Bye Baby” (NaS, 2012)

Time for a little re-assessment. Bumping two songs from the last batch of four star songs up a notch. Also dropping back for two final “B” songs.

“Butterfly”, on its face, is a prototypical big ‘90s Mariah ballad. That’s where the comparisons to “Hero” (which is awful), “One Sweet Day” (which is pretty bad), or her cover of “I’ll Be There” (which isn’t great) end. “Butterfly” contains some of Mimi’s best singing (particularly the bridge), and a lyric that rings as true as any she’s ever written. “Butterfly” is her goodbye to her ex-husband, Tommy Mottola (who I’ve now written about in two of the last three song entries). It was her “letting go/growing up” song, and obviously had a great deal of meaning to her. You can feel it.

Nas and Mariah are homies–they’ve appeared together on a multitude of songs and were label mates at the time “Butterfly” was a hit. Eventually, Mariah left Columbia for one regrettable album on Virgin, followed by a decade or so Def Jam (she’s since joined the Epic Records roster). Nas left Columbia for…Def Jam, where he fell under the aegis of his former arch rival, Jay-Z. 2012′s Life Is Good is his most recent album for the label; a document of his divorce from alt-R&B chanteuse Kelis. “Bye Baby” closes the album, and it’s Nas at his most emotionally naked. Over a sample from Guy’s “Goodbye Love”, the rapper bittersweetly and succinctly recounts the two entertainers’ relationship, from courtship to the divorce deposition. Like “Brilliant Disguise” and Here, My Dear, to name two separation-documented masterpieces, “Bye Baby” is an almost painful listen. So is “Butterfly”. Mariah’s lyrics are more poetic, Nas’s are more plainspoken, but they’re both honest expressions of those weird feelings you have when you’re not in love with the person you thought you were in love with anymore, and it’s time to move on.

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