20 Best R&B Albums of 2014

The year in tough lovers, elusive chanteuses, purple royalty and more

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Mariah Carey, 'Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse'
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18/20

18. Mariah Carey, 'Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse'

No one sings like her, no one consistently clowns enemies like her, and most definitely no one titles an album like Mariah Carey. I Am Mariah isn't Carey's all-time best, but it improves significantly on its predecessor: 2008's plodding, tepid Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel. Some credit goes to Jermaine Dupri, one of Carey's foundational collaborators and overseers, adept at transposing what Mariah does well — singing, nostalgia, rapper-collabs — onto a contemporary sonic scaffold. But most of the credit goes to Carey herself, forever good-humored, funny and relatable. So yes, "#Beautiful," a gorgeous, retro-soul duet with Miguel, is officially tracklisted with the hashtag in the song title. And she's extra withering toward a try-hard lover — "Best thing that happened to your ass was me" — on "Thirsty," which opens with the sound of a cork popping and champagne glugging into a flute. Carey is 45 and still killing it in a world that revolves around youth. A.M.

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