There was Mariah Carey before the “Fantasy” remix and Mariah Carey after the “Fantasy” remix.
Prior to this remix, Mariah seemed to be headed down a direction that could charitably be described as “middle of the road”. Inspirational ballads, soft-rock covers, and the occasional dance-informed tune to remind her fans that she was a) still in her early twenties and b) a soul singer at heart. 1993’s “Dreamlover” was considered somewhat risky back then just by virtue of sampling a familiar hip-hop breakbeat.
“Fantasy” also sampled a classic (in this case, Tom Tom Club’s immortal “Genius Of Love”), but the remix also paired America’s sweetheart with the last person someone would expect to hear on a Mariah record-Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Yep, Mariah of the pretty ballads and tasteful gowns was doing a record with the guy who took MTV’s cameras down to the welfare office to pick up his public assistance checks. I remember hearing the remix on NYC’s Hot 97 for the first time and thinking that it must’ve either been an unauthorized remix or DJ blend because there was no way Mariah and ODB could’ve possibly made a song together.
And it worked. It worked because, at heart, Mariah was more Mary J. Blige than Celine Dion. The “Fantasy” remix felt authentic. It also felt ballsy as hell. It read as less a marketing ploy and more Mariah getting in touch with her true self (because God knows, since then she’s done records with just about every other rapper in existence to usually diminishing returns). Of course, it also worked because Mariah sang her ass off, ODB dropped some quotables (“Me and Mariah go back like babies and pacifiers” is one of the all-time one-off rap lines) and Puffy and his Bad Boy camp added enough extra oomph to that “Genius Of Love” sample to set every mid ‘90s party off.