Missy Elliott: Under Construction

Felicia Pride

Missy Elliott

Under Construction

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2002-11-12
UK Release Date: 2002-11-11

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if Sista, the group Missy Elliott was in as a teenager, had made it past their one song, "Brand New". Not many remember Missy back then, but I grooved hard to that song back in the day. A female version of Jodeci, Devante managed the girl group who rocked combat boots and ridiculously long flip ponytails. I'm sure Missy is glad that the group didn't work out, because when it comes to the production tracks, Missy definitely knows how to "Work It" (laugh).

Unfortunately, a talented producer doesn't a great album make, as is the case with the shabby Under Construction. Well maybe that is a bit overcritical. If you have ever thought that Missy has put out a great full-length album then you will be disappointed. But if you are familiar with Missy's four-or-five-decent-songs-per-album track record, than you'll enjoy your 20 minutes of listening pleasure. Missy can kill a single, but an album is a challenge that many artists have yet to conquer.

You know the saying "too much of the same thing ultimately gives you a headache"? Well maybe that isn't how it goes, but it can accurately describe Missy's fourth release. To fool you (make you think it isn't all the same), she has laced it with old-school loops, hooks, snippets and backgrounds, which from time to time do make you feel nostalgic. The album conjures such classics as "Bring the Pain" and "Paul Revere", with incessant references to pioneers such as Slick Rick, Ice Cube, DJ Premier, and Chuck D. The album's flap is fancy, fly, and fresh with Missy and her crew frontin' in phat gear including bamboo earrings and shelltops. But you wonder whether this is genuine or part of the commercial gimmick that "old-school" hip-hop has been regretfully affected by.

Pop in the disc and the momentum starts. She's got you pumped. The banging track comes on and instantly you're dancing-it's uncontrollable. "Go to the Floor" is an energetic starter -- Missy always begins with a bang -- and will definitely have the clubs jumping or the truthful latter case, heads bopping at the bar. But as time passes and tracks linger, the momentum becomes a monotonous drone that yearns for additional construction.

Since Missy seems to have a lot of friends, she enlists substantial guests -- Ludacris, (they should do more projects together, the chemistry is there) Jay-Z, Method Man, and Beyonce.

On "Back in the Day", Jay-Z reminds us why we still buy his albums. His appearance makes this song one of the best on the album as he takes you on a witty verbal hip-hop journey equipped with an explanation for those who don't get it the first time. You can tell he's having fun with it, which definitely reverts to the "good old days" of hip-hop. He rhymes passionately, "Fuck Chuck Phillips and Bill O'Reilly / If they try to stop hip-hop / We all going to rally." If only that was the true- because unfortunately Jay, that would require, unity.

"Nothing Out There for Me", the track with Beyonce, seems like it should be on a Tweet album instead of this one. It's an oddball, just like Missy's musical execution, so it's only fitting that the album itself doesn't exhibit much cohesion beyond the old-school feel. But the tune, which plays as a phone conversation between Missy and Beyonce (Beyonce is partially rhyming, will she be next to start rapping?), is clever with a unique storyline not popular in the realm of hip-hop.

Oh, yes, can't forget to talk about "Pussycat". Why is Missy trying to be Lil' Kim? I mean it is obvious that Lil' Kim has lost her shine, but is Missy the appropriate replacement? This song which features Tweet on background vocals, is like rotten milk -- I'm not buying it. There are only a few female artists who can pull off the nasty girl image and Missy is not one of them. And as talented as she is (yes I do think she is talented), why would she want to even try? Those who have to depend on sex to sell records do it for a reason. I'll let you listen to the lyrics instead of nauseating myself trying to repeat them. Just put it this way, Missy is eliciting a conversation with her privates. Exactly, gross.

What was tasteful, but lacked significant musical inspiration, was "Can You Hear Me", the tribute to Aaliyah and Left Eye. Featuring TLC, it was still a momentous homage coming from friends that were close to both of the missed young women.

An in-depth discussion about lyrics isn't necessary because since Missy came on the scene she has remained consistent in that respect. Her lyrics are still childish rhymes that usually just create amusing background sound for the track. So save yourself the frustration of contemplating whether or not Missy thinks we are all idiots and do what about 80% of hip-hop fans do, don't listen to the lyrics. Instead check her flow (if it can be called that) that she switches up, one minute sounding like a 10-year-old boy from the deep South and the next minute impersonating a bootleg spoken word artist.

Missy and Timbo's production (they co-produce almost all the tracks) is a little more subtle this time, not so much in your face, which is both beneficial and detrimental to the album. You still see remnants of their signature bassline and rhythmic convulsions. Only a few of the tracks though, overwhelm your senses forcing your neck to bob on its own. The others allow Missy and guests to frolic in the limelight instead of being lost in Timbaland's production playland. As Missy declares of her and Timbaland's brutally honest relationship, "He tells me all the time that this is his favorite album of mine. I don't take that lightly. Halfway through he turned to me and says, 'you know I didn't even like your last record.' And he produced it". Let's hope next time around he doesn't say the same about this one.

Throughout the album, Missy preaches severely unintelligible diatribes about haters, the state of hip-hop (which sounds funny coming from Missy), and life in general. At one point saying, in efforts to rationalize her dirty talk, "I be representing for the ladies, we got something to say. We been quiet too long, lady-like, very patient. We ain't get mad when Prince had his ass out, we thought he was going to turn around to the front and have the front out too, but you know that didn't happen". Alas, the new leader of the feminist movement, scary.

After popping two Aleve to rid the headache Under Construction gave me, I still have to commend Missy for doing her thing. The woman is determined (just look at all the pounds she lost), talented and moving serious units with hooks that don't even make sense. Now that is saying something, but about whom, I don't know.

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