First Hit #1: October 9, 1999
As Mariah Carey took more and more control over her career, she also became more interested in folding hip hop into her sound. It was a smart move, it was an ascendant genre and apart from a brief period in the early ’00s Carey had pretty good commercial instincts. It was also prescient, as rap guest verses on pop songs are ubiquitous (and mostly handled by Lil’ Wayne, who would put a guest verse on a grilled cheese sandwich if you asked him). But, in the case of Heartbreaker, it’s not a good idea.
For the most part, the song is a pretty typical Carey number, in this case chiding a man of some kind for breaking her heart and generally being no good. It’s got the trademark layered vocal, she takes a trip to the whistle register later on, and it’s generally a slickly produced if predictable song. It is, in essence, what you expect from Carey, polished and technically difficult pop music.
Except, there’s Jay-Z, and nobody figured out what to actually do with him. His verse is fine – mostly about how great Jay-Z is, though it does provide a bit of contrast and feels like a counter-argument to what Carey is singing – but it’s the little one or two word snippets that are sprinkled throughout the song that screw things up. Give him real lyrics, and it could feel like a contrast to the all-Carey sound, but instead since he isn’t given anything of substance to say until his actual verse, it sounds like an annoying DJ who won’t stop talking over the music. He isn’t quite comfortable in the world where Carey lives, which is all butterflies and rainbows with the odd bad relationship, and it shows.