Mariah Carey’s first two albums were…interesting from a stylistic standpoint. She was clearly a soul singer, but there seemed to be an emphasis on making her music not incredibly progressive. The edgiest early Mariah got was the new-jack remix of “Someday” (who can forget her regrettably doing the running man in the video?) or maybe her attempt at rapping on her first album’s “Prisoner”. Tommy Mottola and Mariah’s handlers were looking to make her Barbra Streisand via Anita Baker (or vice versa?), but Mariah had another idea in mind.
“Dreamlover” was quite progressive for its day. It came from a time when pop divas didn’t really do the hip-hop thing. Clearly inspired by the success Mary J. Blige was having, and maybe realizing that she was only 23 years old, Mariah went and got producer Dave “Jam” Hall (whose biggest success at that point had come via MJB) to work on “Dreamlover”. Hall sampled the breakbeat classic “Blind Alley” (an Emotions hit that became even more popular as the bedrock for Big Daddy Kane’s “Ain’t No Half Steppin’”), and BOOM. Whole new Mariah. Well, actually the whole new Mariah didn’t really show up until 1995’s Daydream. Music Box, the album “Dreamlover” appeared on, offered up a shitstorm of banal balladry, including “Hero”, “Anytime You Need A Friend”, and a cover of Nilsson’s “Without You”. So, “Dreamlover” was an anomaly, but it was a damn successful anomaly, giving Mariah some street cred and spending nearly two months on top of the charts.
“Dreamlover” is the perfect late summer jam. The “Blind Alley” sample is tasteful and not a Puffy-style jack move. Kudos for that go to Mariah’s constant collaborator Walter Afanasieff, whose organ runs add to the song’s throwback flavor. The bass lolls back and forth like a hammock, and Mariah- nay, dozens of Mariahs- float across the chorus.
Part of the reason people are still talking about Mariah Carey in 2018 as a contemporary artist is because she had the smarts to know what the future of pop music was. And let’s not talk about the racial subtext behind the criticism regarding her “switch” from adult contemporary ballad singer to R&B diva. Good on Mariah for ultimately rejecting the schlock approach (or at least for toning the level of schlock way down on future records). It served her well.