Going into Daydream, Mariah Carey was living a sweet, sweet fantasy, baby. Not only had 1993’s Music Box become the dahling diva’s best-selling album to date, it also came hot on the heels of her hit holiday LP, 1994’s Merry Christmas, which would give her the gift that keeps on giving in “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” But while her octave-bounding brand had been built on big ballads like “Vision of Love,” “Love Takes Time,” and “Hero,” she was itching to break free of the adult-contemporary chains to which she had been shackled from the time she was barely 21. After flirting with hip-hop on Music Box’s “Dreamlover,” she embraced the genre born in her native New York even tighter on the diamond-selling Daydream, released in 1995. The album’s first single, “Fantasy,” rode a genius sample of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” all the way to No. 1—as did the bittersweet smash “Always Be My Baby,” which featured Atlanta street beatmaster Jermaine Dupri behind the boards. Elsewhere on Daydream, Carey dug deeper into the R&B that’s always been close to her heart. There’s “Underneath the Stars,” an ethereal, Minnie Riperton-esque reverie; “Melt Away,” a slow-jam joint with Babyface; and “One Sweet Day,” the epic ballad featuring Boyz II Men that topped the charts for four months. Meanwhile, the deep house of “Daydream Interlude (Fantasy Sweet Dub Mix)” showed just how club-conscious Carey really was. And there are deeply personal moments on Daydream as well, as evidenced by the confessional lyrics of “I Am Free,” a gospel-powered declaration of emancipation, as well as by the reflective lyrics of “Looking In.” Released at the peak of her powers, Daydream finds the twentysomething Carey finally taking charge of her creative direction—and winding up with one of the biggest pop albums of the decade.

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