'Fantasy' 20 Years Later: How One of Mariah Carey's Biggest Singles Became the Future of Pop Music
It was like a fantasy.
He was gritty -- not only by name. A founding member of the
Wu-Tang Clan, his unruly mane and gold grill enhanced his trademark persona:
Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Meanwhile, Mariah Carey was a 25-year-old, squeaky clean
diva-in-training who belted out a string of No. 1 singles about finding your
inner hero, visions of love and being rescued by a “dreamlover.”
The two came together in the most unlikely of ways: a grunge
rapper and a sweet songbird on one song. An unfounded concept, that is until
1995, when Carey and the late rapper brought their respective talents together
for “Fantasy (Remix)."
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Carey’s ninth song to top the Billboard singles chart was brazenly flipped into hip-pop
perfection, with the powerhouse cooing the dreamy track as the self-proclaimed
“dirty doggy” smeared his glorious rap rhymes all over it. Over a sample of Tom
Tom Club's 1981 jam, "Genius of Love," and Carey's daydreamy vocals, the
rapper snarls, "Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers."
A turning point in Carey’s career, the chart-topping song quickly became a trendsetter, giving
birth to a new genre -- “hip-pop” -- as TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes once put
“My first thought was, ‘Who the hell allowed this to happen?’” former MTV news correspondent John
Norris tells ET about the remix’s initial release. "It wasn't just a pop
singer and a rapper," he adds. "It was the sweetest pop singer and as
gritty of an East Coast rapper as we had at the time."
While Columbia Records -- Carey’s label from 1988 to 1999 -- gave it the
ultimate go-ahead, it was Carey who relentlessly pushed Tommy Mottola, the head
of the label and her then-husband, for creative control. She was restless. And
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“The record companies didn’t understand my collabs with hip-hop artists and producers, such as
‘Fantasy’ with ODB or
‘Heartbreaker’ with Jay Z,” Carey
told Variety in August. “Now anyone would kill to have
a record with Jay Z. I got a lot of flak for that.”
“People who wanted her to be a Celine Dion-type artist had
gripes about it," rapper Da Brat recalls to ET. A close friend and
collaborator of Carey’s, the rapper would help with the singer’s urban
The change was in full force by the time Butterfly was released in 1997, spurring
crossover gems with Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and hip-hop heavyweight P. Diddy. Rainbow followed in 1999, and its first
single, “Heartbreaker,” featured rappers on both versions of the record. Jay Z
appeared on the official release while Missy Elliott and Brat came together for
an all-female anthem.
fringe makeover, Brat says, “Tommy
Mottola didn’t want
that. He didn’t want her on
that level. He didn't even want her associating with rappers like that. She
fought for that, because Mariah’s got a little hood in her.”
fight was victorious, igniting a wave of collaborations in the dirty-pop vein
of “Fantasy" and “Heartbreaker.” Jennifer Lopez teamed
up with Ja Rule for two of her biggest singles, “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny
(Murder Remix).”Fergie, who first broke on the scene as the hook singer of The
Black Eyed Peas, collaborated with Ludacris on her solo release. Christina
Aguilera teamed up with Redman. And Ashanti found success with a number of
rappers. By 2002, the format was so popular that the GRAMMYs introduced an
award for the Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, which eventually went to Beyonce and
Jay Z for “Crazy in Love.”
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“She set the trend," Brat says of Carey, whose
influence is clearly seen in a number of today’s young artists -- even if
today’s new generation of singers don’t realize the path they’re following.
"All the new R&B and younger pop artists should
worship the ground Mariah walks on because she paved the way in so many
different ways by trying different things that the world didn't necessarily
agree with,” she adds. “And that's what these new artists lack -- they lack
appreciation, and they lack respect.”
While Carey has always straddled the worlds of pop and
R&B, the hip-hop element has increasingly become popular among today’s pop
divas. Earlier this year, Taylor Swift joined forces with Kendrick Lamar for
the remix of "Bad Blood." Also in 2015:
Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea famously banded together for "Pretty Girls."
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“The 'Fantasy' remix set the template for what pop has
become,” Norris says. "It's almost a given now that pop songs will have a
hip-hop element to them. Those two elements are almost a requirement to get on
pop radio today.”
But as the format has become more popular, "the
collaborations we see are not nearly as unexpected," Norris adds.
Unexpected or just unimpressive?
According to Brat, those to follow Carey are just attempting
to capture a vibe that singer simply embodied. “Mariah was already edgy, so to
me, it merged better,” she says. “The gelling between Mariah and ODB -- they
were in the studio together, and he was probably smoking weed and she was, you
know, probably sippin’ her
wine. A true artist can tell how the process went.”
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Nobody then was bridging pop and hip-hop on such a massive
level -- at least nobody as mainstream, or as universally adored as Carey. And
it was a win-win, both for Carey's career and the hip-hop community.
"The whole hip-hop community and R&B world -- we
loved it,” Brat says. “Finally we had somebody to take us over to the pop side.
It was just incredible.”
But it goes beyond the approval of one or two genres. “’Fantasy’
is the most important recording she’s
ever done," Norris adds.