Music

Missy Elliot: This Is Not a Test

Hartley Goldstein

Missy Elliot

This Is Not a Test

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2003-11-25
UK Release Date: 2003-11-24
Amazon
iTunes

Missy Elliott is an enigma. With each ensuing year she simultaneously encompasses the very essence of the mainstream, while constantly avoiding the artistic pitfalls of its conventions. Her singles aren't singles, as much as cut and paste mini-epics of partner-in-crime, producer extraordinaire, Timbaland's heterogeneous stutter funk beats. Furthermore, her skills as an MC seem to find far more common ground with the impassioned adlibbing of Jamaican toasters than with the witty gun-toting bravado of a Jay-Z. In fact, Missy Elliott has continually found inspiration in her brand of over-the-top modesty, a revelation in the exceedingly competitive patriarchy of hip-hop. Instead of trying to conform her natural huskier frame to that of the legions of disposable waif-like pop starlets, Missy has taken control of her own sexual authority. Her sex is not a commodity to be sold; at least, unless she is doing the selling. Who else but Missy could turn a lewd lecture in sexual competency into a unrestrained female empowerment anthem whose mantra proclaims, "take it off, show me what you got, cause I don't want no one minute man!" It is in this context, that Missy's fifth album This Is Not a Test! comes to resolve exactly none of these paradoxes, and whose unabashedly darker tones only seem to exaggerate the spectacular baffling cult of Missy Elliott.

The first irony of This Is Not a Test! is its very classification as an album. The album as a popular form has fallen on some hard times recently with digital downloading becoming more and more prevalent and studio production costs reaching all time highs. With This Is Not a Test! Missy has only made its future more bleak. In other words, This Is Not a Test! (much like it's predecessor 2002's Under Construction), despite being classified as an album can be better understood as a collection of singles comprising a mix-tape. Missing from the record are any hints of trademark "album" qualities like repeated imagery and reoccurring motifs. Instead, the sonic landscape of This Is Not a Test! is populated by roughly 16 tracks of unadulterated guest-filled (Jay-Z, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige to name a few), remix-friendly, woofer rattling, and tweaker popping exuberance.

The opening one-two punch of "Pass That Dutch", and "Wake Up", serve only to further solidify Missy Elliott and producer Timbaland as the best duo since peanut butter and jelly. The record's first single, "Pass That Dutch", marries the stark monotone throb of a single pouncing bass note, against a frenetic cloud of lively diwali-influenced handclaps; while incessant armies of bells and whistles serve as the perfect vibrant counterbalance to Missy's witty clubisms and primal hollering. "Wake Up" is even more inspired. Over Timbaland's angular boom-bap percussion riveting droplets of sub-aquatic melody drizzle down while Missy delivers a revelatory sermon in "keeping it real". On the track's hook she confides, "If you don't got a gun, it's alright / If you gotta keep your clothes on, it's alright / If your wheels don't spin, it's alright / If you gotta wear them jeans again, it's alright." With so much of hip-hop being polluted with thug posturing and empty declarations of "realness", Missy deserves a medal for her sincerity. To only drive her point home, she invites self-proclaimed hustler Jay-Z to kick a verse on the song; despite delivering a line as inspired as "Evisu jeans cover the rectum, I kick game just like David Beckham," Jay manages to come off rather shallow and irrelevant in the shadow of Missy's frank anti-ballerisms.

However, Jay-Z is not the only guest to falter in the company of Queen Elliott's majesty. "Pump It Up", is This Is Not a Test! ' s greatest moment, minus Nelly's amusing declarations of manly sexual prowess (sample lyric: "Me, I got the magic dick, I'm like go, go, gadget dick"). What makes Nelly's boasts really out of place though, is the fact that Missy uses "Pump It Up", not as a conceited opportunity for gloating, but rather as a self-empowerment anthem for overweight women. In the face of the media's love affair with petite females Elliott feverishly declares, "Love my gut, so fuck a tummy-tuck! / Shake my gut like, 'yeah, bitch! What!?'" Missy's impassioned and revelatory exclamations are almost inspired enough to make you forget that "Pump It Up" rides on one of Timbaland's best instrumentals to date; a trebling electric bass note repeatedly crackles, while staccato handclaps, and cowbells cut through the minimalist distorted frenzy. It's a juicy electro-funk grind-core eargasm that fittingly for Missy is a club banger too.

One of the most surprising aspects of This Is Not a Test! is the fact that many of Timbaland's stark minimalist instrumentals sound so groundbreakingly futuristic, that when the record takes any conventional tones the results often come off as exceedingly dull. The bling-friendly Fabolous duet "Is This Our Last Time", is built upon an annoyingly innocent synth melody, and laconic percussion line, which seems about as original as any of Fabolous' other lackluster material. Furthermore, a song like the ode to vibrators, "Toyz", rides by on a nostalgia-laden disco break that's unfortunately far less amusing than the track's inspired lascivious lyrical concept.

With This Is Not a Test! Missy Elliott and Timbaland have cooked up one of the hottest records of 2003; a perfectly executed, if slightly inconsistent, postmodern slice of crunk that will challenge the sonic architecture of the mainstream, while simultaneously serving to define it -- I can hear the remixes on their way already. HOLLA!

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image