Within the past week, two of America’s most treasured R&B starlets released singles. Mariah Carey, the ageless diva, released “#Beautiful,” and Lauryn Hill, the black sheep of black music, released “Neurotic Society (compulsory mix).” Seemingly, they are both acts of due diligence. Context, however, is where these song’s similarities end: “#Beautiful” and “Neurotic Society” stand in stark contrast to one another, and are a current reminder of the two women’s ethos as they stand today.
Mariah Carey and her legendary pipes have stayed up perpetually since her hay day 15 years ago, thanks in part to collaborations like this one with the newcomer Miguel. She is recently attracting negative press for her supposedly ‘real’ tiff with Nicki Minaj apropos The Voice (Side note: a comparison Minaj and Carey’s vocal range. Mariah Carey’s low end is a silken bass, her high is nearly dog-only listening. Nicki Minaj’s high is Lucille Ball, and her low is the Cookie Monster). Besides this, her press ink is mostly paparazzi-minded interest in her marriage with Nick Cannon, and, previously, her nasty split with Eminem.
Lauryn Hill is mostly hermetic, by choice, or maybe because she’s too real for bubblegum appearances. Either way, she almost never emerges from her cocoon of nineties nostalgia. The radical singer/rapper has not chased the limelight since her treasured debut solo album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, 15 years ago. However, her legacy, too, is recently tarnished by negative life events. Apparently, Hill is soon due for prison time for about one million dollars worth of tax evasion. The obligations of her new record deal that will pay for this debt is the only reason for her new track’s release, which is really more of a freestyle at this point in its existence, hence the subtitle “compulsory mix.”
In it, the woman of Zion franticly, arhythmically spits her way through a long diatribe against modern society — or, better yet — a rant over a beat that could be confused with white noise. In the second verse is perhaps one of the only semi-coherent lyrics: “It's like post-war, they looking for the commenters or who the Marx is/Ten thousand pictures on Facebook, it's like the pot callin' the kettle narcissist.” In general, I have a distaste for most rap songs that try to be "conscientious" because of the moralistic aspect overloads the lyrical flow that usually is not bogged down by a sense of right and wrong. Lauryn Hill was always able to balance musical might with strong ethical concerns, and sonically delivered a powerful ethos of deep concern, and soulful love for the innocent. “Neurotic Society” is more like slam poetry, and, because of its financial necessity for Hill, worthy more of snark than vibe.
“#Beautiful” is actually a song, with a chorus and duet play. Self-produced by Carey and Miguel, the beat is a sugary bass-and-guitar affair. As the title suggests the lyrics are essentially a superficial praise of one’s lover, the only non-façade related compliment among many physical ones is the rather ignorant-sounding “Your mind is fucking beautiful.” There is no mention of Twitter, or hashtags in general.
Still, however, Mimi wins this battle of the singles that I just inferred for entertainment purposes. Seriously, though: Good music must be good music before it is a cash grab, and Carey gets that in spades. Hill has essentially returned from a 15-year hiatus, to vomit a decade-plus worth of ongoing distaste with our culture, and her intentions are money motivated. I would say "don’t call it a comeback," but nobody is saying that, so...
Which do you prefer? Listen for yourself and decide: