As the turn of the millennium grew closer in the fall of 1999, mainstream music was in the process of repositioning itself for the new century, with the worlds of pop and hip-hop becoming increasingly cozy. By the release of her seventh studio album, Rainbow, on Nov. 2, 1999, Mariah Carey was well into an albums-long pivot toward hip-hop and R&B stylings. Though the album didn’t become one of her six to top the Billboard 200, it introduced a slew of new sounds from Mimi that would inform much of the following decade of her career.
To celebrate Rainbow‘s 20th birthday, we’re taking a look back at the hit-spawning album and ranking each one of its tracks.
14. “Vulnerability (Interlude)”
Nestled halfway through the tracklist, “Vulnerability” is a breathy interlude that has Mariah belting about romance and regret; this may have been nothing entirely new, but as the only track on the album where Carey is the sole writer and producer credited, it feels just a tad more genuine. When stacked up against the rest of the LP’s standout tracks, though, the “Vulnerability” interlude gets lost in the shuffle.
13. “Rainbow (Interlude)”
Rainbow‘s titular track also comes in the form of an interlude, making it one of the two dreamy snippets on the album. On the “Rainbow” interlude, Mariah reflects on the happiness that a rainbow brings and the journey that it represents, only showing its beautiful spectrum of colors after a strong thunderstorm. Like “Vulnerability,” however, the short song quickly fades into the background when standing next to the rest of the album’s tracks.
12. “After Tonight”
The heartfelt “After Tonight” tells the story of a smitten Mariah and the future that she dreams of with her new flame. The song reaches a satisfying climax toward the end of the track, but sonically resembles too many of the countless other slow burners that Mariah has recorded throughout her prolific career.
Directly preceding the “Rainbow” interlude, “Petals” is a heart-wrenching reflection on Mariah’s deteriorating relationships with her sister and then-husband Tommy Mottola, as well as other tumultuous times that have characterized her life. Mariah alludes to violence her family faced as a mixed-race household, the relationship with sister Alison that blossomed in their youth before wilting in adulthood, and the betrayal she felt from people she thought were her friends, all wrapped up in a touching piano-tinged package.
10. “Did I Do That?”
“Did I Do That?” perfectly exemplifies the urban direction that Mariah took in the late ’90s with the albums leading up to and including Rainbow: the track samples New Orleans rappers Silkk the Shocker and Mystikal’s single “It Ain’t My Fault 2,” and heavily features their braggadocious voices throughout the song. Mariah’s contributions are mostly limited to cooing over the beat, making for a one-of-a-kind collaboration that melded two seemingly disparate styles into one song.
9. “How Much” feat. Usher & Jermaine Dupri
Like “Did I Do That?”, “How Much” represents a tack into musical territory that Mariah had only just begun dabbling in, with guest appearances from Usher and Jermaine Dupri to boot. In the chorus of “How Much,” Mariah interpolates Tupac Shakur’s oft-sampled posthumous track “Me and My Girlfriend,” which has been lifted by artists ranging from Beyoncé to Icona Pop in the years since his death.
Brimming with equal parts attitude and anger, “X-Girlfriend” is an empowering warning to the ex of Mariah’s new lover. Produced by future Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss (at the time the frontwoman of R&B group Xscape), “X-Girlfriend” contains the right combination of hi-hats and acoustic guitar strums to give it a classically ’90s R&B feel.
Mariah’s soaring vocals have become her trademark, and her confidence in her pipes has been an essential tool in her career since her debut in the early ’90s. Sultry slow jam “Bliss” stands out not because of Mariah’s soothing melody, but because of the sky-high runs that she hits throughout the song.
6. “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now)”
The fifth and final single released from Rainbow, Mariah’s cover of Phil Collins’ chart-topping 1984 single “Against All Odds” is a piano-driven delight that crescendos from heartfelt love letter to affirming power ballad in classic Mariah style. Further bolstering the song’s success a year after Rainbow‘s release, Mariah released a new version with Irish boyband Westlife as the lead single off their Coast to Coast album in September of 2000.
5. “Crybaby” (feat. Snoop Dogg)
“Crybaby” is a harmonious marriage of Mariah’s new R&B leanings and Snoop Dogg’s laid-back West Coast flow, and represented another moment where Mariah was melding her sound with others. The song was released as a double A-side single but peaked at No. 28 on the Hot 100, thanks in part to a public feud with record label Columbia following her divorce from CEO Tommy Mottola.
4. “Can’t Take That Away (Mariah’s Theme)”
The double A-side counterpart to “Crybaby,” “Can’t Take That Away” also suffered commercially because of a lack of promotion from her label, who pushed her to release “Crybaby” as a single instead to capitalize on a perceived desire for a more urban sound. It’s no surprise that Mariah was so upset about the label undermining the success of “Can’t Take That Away”: she finds strength in the song’s lyrics about self-confidence and acknowledgment of one’s talent, and she delivers electrifying energy as the song builds in its second half.
3. “Thank God I Found You” feat. Joe & 98 Degrees
Another piano-based track, “Thank God I Found You” was released as Rainbow‘s second single in January of 2000 and was a much-loved union of three huge 1990s fixtures: Mariah, Joe and 98 Degrees. The song, inspired by her relationship with Luis Miguel, became Mariah’s fifteenth single to top the Hot 100, further extending her record at the time and establishing Mariah as an effortless cross-genre star.
2. “Heartbreaker (Remix)” feat. Missy Elliott & Da Brat
It’s no surprise that a remix for Rainbow‘s lead single was included on the album’s tracklist; the original song achieved massive success (in part due to a certain A-list rapper’s feature on it), so a remix with some of the era’s best femcees was a necessary and much welcome venture. Da Brat and Missy Elliott contribute their attitude and artistry to an already fantastic song; they work together beautifully with Mariah’s vocals to create a timeless ode to ’90s pop&B and female solidarity.
1. “Heartbreaker” feat. Jay-Z
Rainbow‘s lead single was destined to be a smash from the start: as the decade drew to a close, Mariah was one of pop’s most beloved vocalists, and a featured appearance by one of the hottest rappers to emerge in ’90s rap only improved the song’s winning formula. “Heartbreaker” is equal parts pop, R&B and hip-hop, with Jay-Z showing off his pop sensibilities after a string of street-centric albums. “Heartbreaker” unsurprisingly topped the Hot 100 in October of 1999, and further cemented Mariah’s status as a musical chameleon.