The 23-year-old singer’s careful observations add new profundity to her storytelling. Her second album confirms her place as one of modern R&B’s realest talkers.
The opening 20 seconds of “RIP,” a beat-switching standout from Mariah the Scientist’s Ry Ry World, feel like a cosmic ascension, pianos and synths glowing like sun-haloed clouds. “I’m speeding on my way home from Eleven,” she sings, a likely reference to the Miami superclub. The beatific vibes are a feint—the song bottoms out for swampy bass and a menacing, pitch-shifted Beach House sample. “I dream to be a fool,” Mariah sneers, as 808s hit with the sting of a slap. “That way you wouldn’t know that I knew what you do.” You can picture her swerving between lanes, glassy-eyed. Unable to kick this boy in the balls, the gas pedal will have to do.
Mariah’s second album confirms her as one of modern R&B’s realest talkers, as well as one of its most vivid storytellers. Her earliest songs began as poems, and there’s an imagistic quality to Ry Ry World’s casual evocations of, say, snow on a sunroof during a trip to Toronto, or the “damage in the brain matter” inflicted by a lover’s mixed messages. Less consistent lyricists would make these lines into centerpieces; for Mariah, they’re scenery.
The careful observations endow Mariah’s storytelling with particular heft. “I want to remind my fans to ‘tell it like it is’ because it helps define your character,” she said in an interview last year. “If you’re gonna be the bad guy, own it.” She commits to the bit with flair. With its pitched-down “Cry Me a River” sample, “Revenge” morphs from a confessional to a murder ballad; Mariah bares emotional wounds before imagining righteous payback. “Tell ’em that in death we’ll meet again,” she sings, voice cracking. “Like it ain’t your blood that’s on my hands.” You could imagine it soundtracking some avant-garde production of Macbeth, but it runs deeper than theater, too. It can be easier to pour out your heart by couching its secrets in hyperbole.
Ry Ry World is concise at just 10 tracks; along with recent projects from serpentwithfeet, Jorja Smith, and Victoria Monét, it’s a refreshing counter to the more bloated releases of major label R&B. At times the brevity is frustrating. With production from Swedish duo Jarami (Frank Ocean’s “Chanel,” “Biking”), the 90-second intro “Impalas & Air Force 1s” feels like a blissed-out drift through a coral reef. It would be welcome at triple the length. The unmemorable “Maybe” slides into watery ambience, and cheap shots at “big booty […] city girls” don’t add to its likeability. Mariah is at her best when she focuses on her own desires and agency. Over Spanish guitars on the raunchy “Walked In,” she plays feature artist Young Thug at his own game. “Off the Tesla, yes sir,” she instructs, before warning, “None of that cappin’ about booin’ up.”
Fans have long gossiped about Mariah’s past relationship with Lil Yachty; in “Brain,” over a beat that rattles like a pinball in a sewer, she namechecks one of his tours and seems to describe her own depressive episode from the time. “I just/Wanted to escape for sure,” she sings, adding pained backing vocals. “I was/Staring out the big window, but I/Should’ve locked the bedroom door.” Once she starts it feels like she can’t stop, in a raw, diaristic digression that’s unique to Ry Ry World. You might find yourself replaying the song to let its brutal honesty sink in.
Around the time of her debut, Mariah defined her music as “a summation of my agony.” Recently she updated that description. “It’s more like after agony,” she said. “Maybe it used to hurt, and now it’s just a little scarred.” She traces that evolution in the wonderful “2 You,” a bittersweet ballad produced by DJ Camper, co-architect of at least two of the past decade’s best R&B songs. “I never thought it would go up in flames,” Mariah sings, as her voice breaks through an airy beat built of oohs and aahs. “But look at what we made/Sure was beautiful.” In the video, she performs against a starry backdrop, as if surveying her past with a birds-eye view. Her eyes are wide open, ready to experience it all.