Ariana Grande leans into the Mariah Carey emulation on Positions, her sixth studio LP and third in two years. The whistle notes appear more than ever before, and the way she uses them is especially Mimi-esque.

Ariana and TBHits are credited as writers on all 14 tracks of the album, with a host of others — including usual suspects, Tayla Parx and Victoria Monet — providing an assist. The central theme of the album is sex, and unlike previous projects, Ariana stays within the confines of R&B — no random pop ditties here and there.

The album opens with “Shut Up,” a violin-driven track with a meme-ready hook. It’s cute for about the first minute or so, then gets really old really fast.

”Shut Up” is followed by “34+35,” a bop that is as raunchy as it is clever, and a No. 1 hit whenever it gets released — because songs this good rarely get left as album cuts. Sonically, it is exactly what we expect from Ariana, which is basically a revival of late-’90s Mariah.

The Doja-Cat-assisted “Motive” has Ariana grilling a suitor over a beat that is R&B yet house yet trap. The track is by far the most original thing Ariana has ever done and one of the shining moments on Positions. Unfortunately, it is followed by “Just Like Magic,” which sounds dated and downright lazy in style and lyrical content. An entirely skippable dud.

“Off the Table,” a duet with the Weeknd, steers us in a somewhat better direction. The track is definitely in Abel’s sonic territory and makes for great background music.

Ariana rap-sings à la Beyoncé to her sometimes possessive man on “Six Thirty,” which is another one of the album’s best. She teams up with Ty Dolla $ign on “Safety Net,” a decidedly unremarkable track that we could file wherever we filed “Off the Table.”

“My Hair” gives us the most mature-sounding version of Ariana we’ve probably ever experienced. The song can be described as neo-soul-lite — think something you’d hear at a lounge frequented Gen-Xers. The track ends with a lot of whistle note action, and is followed by “Nasty,” which begins with a whistle note that sounds particularly Mariah-ish. “Nasty” is about exactly what you’d expect it to be about, and is sung over a basic-ass track beat. The song kinda comes alive at the bridge, but overall, it is quite forgettable.

“West Side” is a laid-back, semi-futuristic jam that feels cooler than most of the album. The mid-tempo track is just over two minutes long — because Ariana is now a real R&B artist and real R&B artists make their best songs unreasonably short.

“Love Language” sounds like a Neptunes production from 2002. The song, which also has disco-ish elements, ends with a 20-second interlude that is better than most of the album. Ariana plays too much.

“Love Language” is followed by the album’s lead single and title track, and then “Obvious,” the album’s very best song. “Obvious” is squarely in Ariana’s lane, but manages to feel a lot fresher than most of the album — perhaps because the pace of the track is slightly slower than her usual up-tempo pace. It is also one of the stronger vocal performances on Positions.

The album that ends with “POV,” a ballad that underwhelms at first but gets better with each listen.

Positions would benefit from shaving off two or three songs, but overall, it is a solid outing by Ariana Grande. As an artist, she seems to be settling into her style, which is definitely derivative of Mariah Carey’s style, but decidedly bolder in terms of lyrical content.

For an artist on a winning streak like Ari’s, there can be pressure to be “experimental” for the heck of it, but with Positions, she proves that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And in an industry that is always in a hurry to condemn successful, young female artists as “playing it safe,” that is powerful.

Album rating: 8 out of 10 stars.

In July of ’99, Blaque released “Bring It All to Me” as the second single from the group’s self-titled debut album.

(Sidebar: Did you know Blaque stood for Believing in Life and Achieving a Quest for Unity in Everything? The more you know.)

Co-written and co-produced by Cory Rooney, the song samples Shalamar’s “I Don’t Wanna Be the Last to Know.” Take this as more evidence that Shalamar is the most underrated group ever, and that much of the R&B music before 1985 didn’t get a fair shake. Honestly, R&B still doesn’t get a fair shake, but we’ll table that for another post.

The album version of “Bring It All to Me” features the only real vocalist in *NSYNC, JC Chasez, but the whole group is credited. The video version doesn’t include his vocals, which is odd — artists don’t put collaborations on album just to exclude the collaborator when the single is released. My guess is that *NSYNC’s label didn’t want the group to lose pop appeal by associating with a black girl group so early in the group’s career.

And how’s this for random: One of the song’s remixes features a then-unknown 50 Cent.

From the piano line to the beat to the mellow vocals, “Bring It All to Me” is song is so late ’90s smooth. The song would become the group’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

This week’s TBT selection is in honor of Blaque member Natina Reed, who passed away in 2012. Yesterday would’ve been her 40th birthday.

Today, one of the greatest vocalists in the history of popular music turns 40.

When former child stars turn 40, it really puts into perspective just how young they were when they first started. Monica was only 14 when Miss Thang dropped in 1995, but an even more impressive fact is that she recorded some of the album’s biggest hits in the summer of ’93 — when she was just 12 years old.

She would go on to follow Miss Thang with The Boy Is Mine, which produced her three No. 1 hits. And then the new millennium came, and the music industry basically abandoned most of the greats of ’90s R&Bs. She would have one more top 10 hit, but was would never enjoy the same kind of success she did in the mid-’90s.

Chart positions be damned, Monica was still putting out quality. From “Love All Over Me” to “Everything to Me,” R&B connoisseurs know that the quality never waned.

Join me in celebrating one of the best to ever hold a mic. Below are my four favorites from Monica’s iconic catalog.


“Before You Walk out My Life”


“Why I Love You So Much”


“First Night”


“All Eyez on Me”

Call her President Grande.

In the video for her new single, “Positions,” Ariana Grande is a young, sexy president of the United States, who handles national crises by day and bakes in lingerie at night. The lyrics, however, have nothing to do with politics and everything to do with secks.

“Positions” is the lead single and title track of Ariana’s sixth LP, which drops on October 30. Because so much of her work is Mariah redux, it’s hard to say if Ariana actually has a sound, but that being said, “Positions” feels like standard fare.

The video has cameos from Ariana’s inner circle: Victoria Monet, Tayla Parx, Nija Charles, Tyler Ford, Misha Lambert, and Ari’s mom, Joan Grande. And in under 48 hours, it has already amassed 26 million views on YouTube.

If you’re a betting man, put money on “Positions” becoming Ariana’s fifth No. 1 (and fifth No. 1 debut) on the Billboard Hot 100.

In September of 2002, Santana released “The Game of Love” as the lead single from the group’s 19th LP, Shaman. Written by Gregg Alexander and Rick Nowels, the song’s vocals are performed by Michelle Branch.

“Game of Love” is a song that I’ve loved for years, and it might have been a TBT selection sooner if I didn’t have reservations about the song’s performers. What reservations, you ask? Santana’s lead singer, Carlos Santana, said Beyoncé can’t sing (which is objectively false) in a bid to justify Adele’s Grammy win over her. Mind you, Carlos Santana literally doesn’t sing and yet somehow has all these Grammys in his possession. He quickly apologized for his comment, but you know he still feels that way deep down.

Michelle Branch, on the other hand, once said Mariah Carey’s songs are stupid, which is quite rich coming from someone who makes stupid-ass songs like this. It’s the audacity for me.

In any case, “Game of Love” is the sort of alternative rock track that I just can’t resist. Produced by Clive Davis and Carlos Santana, the song’s vocals were initially sung by Tina Turner, but when she declined to be in its music video, Macy Gray was tapped to sing the song. Clive didn’t like Macy’s version, so we ended up with Michelle Branch.

The Tina Turner version was released years later, and while we love Queen Tina, Michelle’s version is better. Tina’s ad libs towards the end of the song are amazing, but overall, the track works better with a lighter voice.

“Game of Love” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and won a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

Elgin Baylor Lumpkin, better known as Ginuwine, turns 50 years old today, so this week’s TBT selection was a no-brainer.

When people think about Ginuwine, the first song that often comes to mind is “Pony,” and for good reason. It was his very first single and easily his most recognizable song.

“Pony” is a great song — a classic, in fact — but a part of me feels like it has taken all the oxygen in the room that is Ginuwine’s legacy. Of all the neglected gems in Ginuwine’s catalog, none bothers me more than “Same Ol’ G.”

Released in July of ’98, “Same Ol’ G” was a single from the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. It wasn’t a hit song — mainly because there was no CD issuance for the single — but it’s one that measures up to Ginuwine’s biggest hits. Also, in terms of production and songwriting, it is among Timbaland’s best work.

Click play and join me in celebrating the life and career of Ginuwine.

One of the biggest R&B acts of the last two decades celebrates a milestone birthday today.

We first got to meet Ashanti when she was just 21 years old — when she was the Princess of Murder Inc. and the queen of the hooks. Between Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv” and Ja Rule’s “Always on Time,” we got quite the introduction from this young singer who didn’t even have a single of her own at the time. And while we were bumping those hits, we were also listening to her uncredited voice on other hits, namely the remixes of “I’m Real” and “Ain’t It Funny” — both by Jennifer Lopez.

If you’re confused by the last sentence of the previous paragraph, I welcome you to revisit both songs.

When Ashanti finally released her first single as a lead artist, she made it clear that she wasn’t just good for singing hooks. “Foolish” spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming one of the biggest hits of the year and even the decade. Her self-titled debut album would sell half a million copies in its opening week, which was a first for a debut album by a female artist.

Ashanti would go on to produce another top 10 hit and a top 20 hit. Its follow-up, Chapter II, gave us two more hits: “Rock Wit You (Aww Baby)” and “Rain on Me,” which peaked at No. 2 and No. 7, respectively.  And that was basically it.

Out of nowhere, the industry seemed to have abandoned Ashanti . She would reach No. 13 with “Only You” in 2004 and No. 37 with “The Way That I Love You” in 2008, but after 2003, she was never quite able to recapture the major success she enjoyed on her first two albums. There are many theories as to why — for example, Beyoncéitis — but that theory becomes a little shaky when you consider that Ciara was able to thrive for a while in a Beyoncé world.

Personally, I blame it on this widespread misconception that Ashanti can’t sing. It’s not clear where this started, but it became a thing sometime circa 2003 — perhaps people kept comparing her to Bey, perhaps people were just being ridiculous. Both things are probably true, but whatever case, that notion is false. Furthermore, it is odd that R&B fans suddenly rediscovered their standards after letting J.Lo cook for years. I mean…what is the truth?

In any case, Ashanti’s run, though short, was impactful. She gave us more classics in 2 years than most can do in 20, and I hope she looks back on her career with nothing but pride.

Below are my top four from Ashanti’s catalog.


“Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)”


“Rain on Me”


“Happy”


“Say Less” (featuring Ty Dolla $ign)

In February of 1997, R&B quartet Allure released their debut single, “Head over Heels” (featuring Nas).

From the vocal arrangement to the lyrics to the reliance on an ’80s hip-hop sample (MC Shan’s “The Bridge”), the song is objectively Mariah-esque, and that is no accident. It was co-written and co-produced by Miss Carey herself, and she even makes a rather audible contribution to the background vocals.

Allure was signed to Mariah’s short-lived label, Crave Records. No official reason was ever given for the label’s closure, but it came months after her Mariah’s divorce from Tommy Mottola was finalized. Mr. Mottola was the head of Sony Music Entertainment, Crave’s parent label. Fill in the blanks.

“Head over Heels” was a top 40 hit, but its one of those songs that is only popular among R&B heads of a certain age. If you’ve never heard this one before, click play and than me later.