Climbing to the top of your craft or profession is no easy task, but the mark of a true legend lies in one’s ability to reinvent themselves without missing a beat. In 1997, musical icon Mariah Carey was in that exact position.
At that time, after selling upwards of 50 million copies worldwide within a five-year span, Carey was at a professional and personal crossroad. Her marriage with Tommy Mottola, the high-powered Columbia Records music executive who offered her her first record deal, was on the fritz and eventually ended in May. Their separation coincided with the recording of Honey, the superstar’s sixth studio album. It followed-up her massively successful Daydream album, which sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, raising Carey’s celebrity to unprecedented heights.
While Daydream included traditional pop hits like “One Sweet Day” and “Always Be My Baby,” one inclusion on the album helped Carey break new ground: the remix to her hit single, “Fantasy.” Calling on Wu-Tang Clan member Ol’ Dirty Bastard to co-star alongside her, the pairing was an odd couple on paper but translated into magic on wax, resulting in one of the defining moments in ’90s pop culture, bridging the mainstream with the underground.
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“Fantasy” may have been viewed as an anomaly, but Mariah Carey decided to take more creative control on her sixth studio album and sought out rap’s top performers and producers to lend their touch to Butterfly. Among those enlisted were Sean “Puffy Combs, Missy Elliott, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Ma$e, Trackmasters, Stevie J, and other hip-hop luminaries, resulting in an album that was steeped in the glossy, big-budget sound of hip-hop soul of that time. The album added more than a bit of flavor to Mariah Carey’s clean-cut, pop-princess persona. While critics were initially polarized in reaction to Carey’s change of pace, with some admonishing her love affair with hip-hop, fans were more than ready for the evolution of MiMi and the urban market claimed the newfound vixen as one of their own.
Despite not reaching the same commercial success of her previous albums, Butterfly was a commercial and critical success, debuting atop the Billboard 200, with 236,000 sold in its first week, eventually totaling more than five million copies sold worldwide. The 12-track LP kickstarted Mariah Carey’s streak of high-profile collaborations with rap artists before keeping strong ties to the hip-hop community and working with the likes of JAY-Z, Nas, Snoop Dogg, The LOX and more.
In celebration of Butterfly’s 20th anniversary, VIBE ranked the album’s tracks from the worst to the best song that has stood the test of time.
Where does your favorite song stack up?
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12. The Beautiful Ones
Retreading territory already conquered by a musical legend is a task reserved for the most talented of performers, and Mariah Carey takes her stab at channeling the spirit of Prince and the Revolution with her cover of the group’s 1983 classic “The Beautiful Ones.” Produced by Cory Rooney and Carey herself, Mariah’s cover includes a revamped version of the original instrumental, as well as additional vocals by Sisqo of Dru Hill. Although the attempt at replicating the magic of the original is admirable, it ultimately fell a bit flat compared to its predecessor.
11. Fly Away
“Don’t be afraid to fly,” Mariah Carey purrs on “Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise),” the sole intermission on the megastar’s 1997 album. Written by Mariah Carey, David Morales, Elton John and Bernie Taupin, “Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)” is among the handful of uptempo records on the album and features grand background vocals, in addition to Carey’s signature runs and adlibs. It’s so addictive that it gives a few of the actual full-length songs on Butterfly a run for their money.
10. Fourth of July
Mariah Carey and Walter Afanaseiff joined forces behind the boards on the Butterfly cut “Fourth of July,” which finds the then-Columbia Records franchise player in starry-eyed lust. Written by Carey herself, “Fourth of July” is one of the more breezy selections on the album, as she gives a feathery vocal performance, singing with a nimble tilt over live percussion, bass guitars, and delicate keys, making it one of the album’s standout offerings.
9. Baby Doll
Mariah Carey enlisted producer Stevie J and multi-threat Missy Elliott, two of the integral cogs in ’90s R&B to help construct “Baby Doll,” one of the multiple instances on Butterfly in which Carey sheds her pop princess skin and delves into contemporary R&B. Co-produced by Stevie J and Carey, “Baby Doll” was penned in part by Elliott, as well as collaborator Cory Rooney, and includes an impassioned vocal performance on the songstress’ part, making for a sensuous addition to the album’s tracklist.
8. Whenever You Call
“Love wandered inside/Stronger than you, stronger than I,” Mariah Carey croons on “Whenever You Call,” one of an array of piano-driven compositions showcasing the singer’s full octaves. Produced by long-time collaborator Walter Afanaseiff and herself, “Whenever You Call” is trends more toward ballad driven material that littered her previous bodies of work and provides a sense of balance to the hip-hop-inspired fair that is prevalent on Carey’s sixth studio album.
7. The Roof
“I got you stuck off the realness,” Prodigy’s sampled vocals warn at the beginning of “The Roof,” a gritty offering on Mariah Carey’s Butterfly album that helped break new ground for the singer. Produced by Trackmasters, the track, which also includes a sample of “Rock Box” by Run-D.M.C., is steeped in the glossy sound of mid-’90s R&B and served as a departure from her more pop-oriented stylings. Despite not charting in the U.S., “The Roof” saw success abroad, gained traction in the United Kingdom, as well as the Netherlands, and helped introduce the new incarnation of Mariah Carey to fans, internationally.
Mariah Carey ends Butterfly with a personal touch on the final cut, “Outside,” which finds the vocalist expressing her struggles as a biracial child and finding the wealth within herself. “Blind and unguided into a world divided/You’re thrown, where you’re never quite the same,” Carey laments over keyboard riffs and delicate percussion, before gradually turning up the intensity to a fever pitch, as she flexes her vocal range on one of the album’s more meaningful inclusions.
5. Close My Eyes
One of the most popular deep cuts on the album is “Close My Eyes,” an autobiographical number on which she draws from her own past experiences. Produced by Walter Afanaseiff and Mariah Carey and written by Carey herself, “Close My Eyes” is noted as one of the singer’s favorite records from her catalog and was in part inspired by her tumultuous relationship with ex-husband Tommy Mottola, who she divorced prior to the album’s release.
4. My All
Emotion and passion run deep on “My All,” one of the more sensuous selections and most potent on Butterfly. “I’d give my all to have just one more night with you,” Mariah Carey sings, yearning over intense acoustic guitar riffs, courtesy of Walter Afanasieff, who compliments the backdrop with additional keys and synths. The fifth released single debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, but eventually became Mariah Carey’s thirteenth chart-topping single which went on to platinum status, making it one of the more impactful songs from the album to date.
“Spread your wings and prepare to fly/For you have become a butterfly,” background singers Melanie Daniels and Mary Ann Tatum belt out on the title-track to Mariah Carey’s sixth studio album. Originally intended to be a house record with producer David Morales, Carey shifted course after realizing the power of the song’s content, ultimately teaming up with Walter Afanasieff to construct the song that is known today. Despite not being released as a commercial single, “Butterfly” was a moderate success domestically and overseas, and has been praised as a signature selection from her catalog.
In an attempt to further ingratiate herself to the hip-hop community, Mariah Carey teamed up with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s Krayzie Bone and Wishbone for “Breakdown,” a collaborative effort that would translate into magic. Produced by Puff Daddy, Stevie J, and Mariah Carey herself, “Breakdown” is a mid-tempo soundscape powered by digitized drums and live instrumentation, where Mariah lays down sultry vocals, while Bone Thugs attack the track with their signature brand of staccato raps and harmonious couplets. The fourth single released from Butterfly, “Breakdown” peaked at No. 4 on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and cemented Mariah Carey’s transition into the world of hip-hop soul.
There are certain songs in an artist’s discography that mark a point of evolution and growth. For Mariah Carey, “Honey” did just that. Produced by Mariah Carey, Stevie J, Puff Daddy & The Ummah, “Honey” incorporates samples from the popular old school rap classics “Hey DJ” by the World’s Famous Supreme Team, and “The Body Rock” by the Treacherous Three. The lead-single blatantly announced Mariah Carey’s first full-blown foray into the world of hip-hop, and a joyous moment it was.
“Honey” proved to be one of Carey’s most highly anticipated songs of her career, causing it to become her third to debut atop Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. “Honey,” which includes guest vocals from Puff Daddy and Bad Boy Records artist Ma$e, was accompanied by a remix featuring multiple members of the Bad Boy family, and served as moment of liberation on the part of Mariah, making it one of her most important and timeless tunes of her career, and the pinnacle of Butterfly album as a whole.