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Missy Elliott

The Cookbook

(Atlantic; US: 5 Jul 2005; UK: 4 Jul 2005)

With its slew of catchy songs, The Cookbook is guaranteed to be another hit record for Missy Elliott. Tracks sure to get heavy radio rotation include her smooth duet with Slick Rick, “Irresistible Delicious”, the party anthem “Lose Control”, and the funky romp “Can’t Stop”. Elliott employs a host of guest stars to punch up the record that include Mike Jones, Timbaland, Pharrell, Fantasia, Ciara, Grand Puba, Mary J. Blige, and Lil Kim. But not every song is a good time. Elliott includes recipes for other dishes on her new disc, including the autobiographically serious “My Struggles” and her pulsating tribute to strong women, “Mommy”.


The new album does have a few duds. “Click Clack” has a tired rhythm and uninspired lyrics. “On & On” suffers from having nothing to say and old school scratching production that adds little of interest. These two songs are the exceptions. While not every cut is a winner, Elliott does a fairly consistent job of gaining the listener’s attention through her outrageous lyrics and performance style.


Hyperbole, or exaggerating to make a point, has been a part of rock in general and hip-hop in the particular since the beginning. Lotharios routinely brag about their sexual prowess in overstated terms. For example, rappers commonly compare their lovemaking abilities to nuclear explosions. But is there a point where one has to draw the line, where the comparison is so egregious as to be offensive. Elliott’s latest release begs this question twice, in two different throwaway lines on two separate cuts.


As the title suggests, “Meltdown” is the hottest track on The Cookbook. The song starts out with a sweet, two-note looped synthesizer instrumental sample played over a catchy rhythm. Elliott coyly sings “bet it tastes like candy” three times and then directly launches into her sexy story: “I broke up wit my ex / I couldn’t take his sarcasm / Everytime we bone / I had to fake an orgasm / Moanin’ and groanin’ tried to make him feel manly / I’d rather use my toys, plus my hands come in handy.” Her unusual rhymes (what does his sarcasm have to do with her orgasm? Um, beats me, but the words trippingly come off the tongue and that’s probably the point) and use of explicit detail immediately capture the listener. Elliott gets raunchier: “Make my pussy quiver / Juices runnin’ like a river / Slowly down my kitty litter” before getting to the chorus where one learns that that the thing that tastes like candy is her man’s “magic stick”. Elliott makes clear that she’s only willing to suck her man’s dick if he’s faithful and true. Then she enjoys giving him pleasure. So far, so good.


The song continues as Elliott professes her love for her new man and compares their affair to other famous black diva pairs such as Janet and J.D. and Beyonce and Jay-Z. As Elliot heads to the song’s end she coos the line “You got me whipped like slaves in the days”. Whoa, what did she say? The line functions on several levels. Foremost, this implies she’s utterly overwhelmed as a separate, strong personality by his love. This seems incongruous with the image Elliott fosters of always being in control. Next, this works as a play on the more commonly used expression of one whose self has been beaten down by love: pussy-whipped. In this case with a chorus that concerns a man’s penis, Elliott professes being dick-whipped. However, the allusion to “slaves in the days” turns the wordplay into something patently offensive. The whipping is now one of physical pain to innocent victims. While rappers may compare their skills to atomic bombs, they don’t compare their partners to the victims of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.


The other questionable lyric attributed to Elliott is sung by the electronica star M.I.A. on the song “Bad Man.” M.I.A’s music has been controversial because of ambiguous references to terrorism. Here M.I.A. declares “I be wilder than Tim McVeigh”. The namedropping of the mass murderer as wild distorts reality in an unpleasant and amoral manner. If Elliott and M.I.A. are merely trying to get one’s attention through shock value, they have succeeded but at a cost that debases the details of recent history.


Some might think finding these two lines offensive is a tempest in a teapot. Rock is chock full of shocking language and imagery. Compared to groups like Insane Clown Posse, Twiztid and other purposely tasteless acts, what Elliott does seems mild. But while ICP and company advertise their psychosis and appeal to niche audiences, Elliott is a mainstream artist. She may be the most successful female artist in the music industry today. She is the best-selling female hip-hop artist of all time, has won five Grammy Awards, does Gap commercials with Madonna, hosts her own TV program, and much, much more. Her lyrics carry more weight.


Elliott did change some of the language on The Cookbook before general release. According to an article in the London Times, Elliott used the expression “Batty Boy” several times, unaware this was an unflattering term for a homosexual in Jamaica—the equivalent of faggot in the United States. Elliott claimed not to know this and deleted the term from her album. She was right to do this. If only she had altered the other offensive lyrics, the disc would be even more improved.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


Tagged as: missy elliott
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