Artist: Missy Elliott
Album: Under Construction
Rating: 5.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Airbrushed to within an inch of her life on the cover of this particular album, Missy actually moves up several notches on the “I would” scale. Although she still ain’t no Kelly Rowland, or Beyonce in the shallowness of the “looks” scale, when it comes to vocals, she’s already proved with her work as part of Sista, with her backing vocals for Jodeci, and with her own commercially successful albums, that she certainly has the pipes to rival today’s urban divas.
Missy’s formula for success has been simple – hop in the studio with Timbaland, spit some gibberish over his undeniably funky beats and hey presto – another hit. Over the last few years though, Missy has come into her own as a talented producer in her own right, with her work on not only her own albums, but with artists like SWV and Mariah Carey also attracting attention. The one big bugbear for a lot of heads though has been the lack of meaningful lyrics – ok so with much of Missy’s output being aimed at clubs, you’re hardly gonna want a lesson in wordsmanship when you’re shaking your ass, and admittedly things HAVE improved from the infamous “who’s got the keys to the jeep” days, but still you can’t help feeling that to be on a fourth album and still be carrying a rep for throwaway lyrics is a little worrying.
So is this new slimline Missy Elliott, getting close to the finished article, or does the “Under Construction” motto hint at a work in progress that may still be worlds away from completion?
The first thing that’ll strike you is that Missy’s opening pledge to “take Hiphop back to the root” is most definitely reflected throughout the course of this album. Its not always pulled off perfectly, but the thought is there – from the opening intro of ‘Go To The Floor’ which borrows heavily from ‘Nobody Beats The Biz’ before Timbaland’s trademark staccatto fuzz busts out the speakers, to first single ‘Work It’ sampling Run DMC’s ‘Peter Piper’ – the current trendy fad for looking backwards is all over this album. The cynical among us might wonder how much of this is due to the fact that nostalgia will ALWAYS sell, but for now we’ll go a little easy on Missy and see what else gets thrown up.
‘Bring The Pain’. Hmmm… another remake. What’s the point? The original was ill enough without needing a revisit. If I wanna hear this track I’m gonna throw on”Tical” – I don’t need to be hearing an inferior remake thanks very much.
‘Gossip Folks’ meanwhile is much better, wrapping a childrens’ double-dutch rhyme around a bouncy Timbo beat to superb effect. Even Missy’s usually nonsensical flow is balanced out by the dulcet tones of Ludacris who totally BLAZES the fucking track. Superb shit.
Things continue with the lead single ‘Work It’ and the Jigga-blessed ‘Back In The Day’, two tracks both dripping in commercial appeal. The former you’ve no doubt already heard, with Timbaland again working his magic whilst Missy’s reversed vocal trick is incredibly addictive. The latter track though, is genuinely surprising – carrying an upbeat, positive vibe which works very well, despite the cheddar chasing duo who rock the mic. Here Missy’s skills in the singing department can’t be denied – she might be an average emcee, but she possesses an amazing talent for hooking up dope harmonies.
The MC Lyte-borrowing, ‘Funky Fresh Dressed’ and the mellow ‘Pussycat’ both interrupt the flow a little, and sound a little out of sequence. ‘Funky Fresh Dressed’ comes off like a speedier cousin of Tweet’s ‘Oops (Oh My)’ and features Ms Jade spitting Lyte’s famous ‘Self Destruction’ line on the hook in addition to dropping a forgettable verse. ‘Pussycat’ meanwhile is the first example of Missy’s work on the boards for this album, but the laidback beat and the inclusion of Tweet’s sultry backing vocals sound strangely out of place after the hard-edged beats that have come before. It ain’t a BAD cut… it just seems like its in the WRONG place.
‘Nothing Out There For Me’ features Missy linking up with Beyonce for a slow paced ballad – there’s no other way to describe this. Again, it just feels out of place – maybe Missy needs to think about pulling a Jay-Z double cd stunt, with one cd featuring the uptempo shit, and the other featuring all the slow paced stuff. In the right place, this cut would be ill, but unfortunately for Missy, I’m as far away from being on a “love” vibe as possible at the moment, so this cut has to get the finger. Sorry.
Thank Christ for Timbaland then. ‘Slide’ suits my miserable ass right down to the ground, with its rubbery Indian-styled bassline, techno-ish affects on the chorus, and Missy’s distorted hook all adding up to provide a dirty filthy slab of FONK.
‘Play That Beat’ and ‘Ain’t That Funny’ both keep up the high standard, with the former coming off as some kind of weird “Timbaland-attempts-Wu-beat-style” and somehow succeeding with the addition of Missy and Lisa Crawford’s buttery vocals making this work incredibly well, while ‘Ain’t That Funny’ brings the grimey dirt back into the mix with the Missy and Crawford team-up again warbling perfectly over Timothy’s fuzzy audio.
The last few tracks are a disappointment though. ‘Hot’ is Timbaland’s only disappointing beat on the entire album – the hard edged drums failing to disguise the sparse blandness of the track. ‘Can You Hear Me’ is a nice shot at putting into how words how Missy and guests TLC feel about the departed Aaliyah, Lisa Lopes, Big Pun, Biggie and 2pac, but the smelly odour of sentimental cheese ain’t ever too far away. Finishing things off is a hidden remix of ‘Work It’ featuring man of the moment 50 Cent, which doesn’t really do anything that you can’t find on the original – again what’s the point, apart from milking a little more cash from Eminem diehards?
Conclusion? Take this for what it is – commercial Hiphop with a smattering of R’n’B influences – and you should enjoy it. For those who like their Hiphop with a harder edge however, this might be a little too glossy for y’all. However in a Hiphop landscape that is increasingly marrying with the slinkier sounds of urban R’n’B, this seems to be what the record buying public are demanding, so it still might be worth a look.