February 5, 2004

Missy Elliott: Run for Cover, Motherfucker

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Oh, how I used to hate Missy Elliott. There was a time when I could think of no music video worse than “The Rain,” the very video that garnered both constant rotation on MTV and seemingly endless acclaim from critics the world over. Well, things have changed for Missy and me. She’s lost a considerable amount of weight and I’ve come to understand why people have praised her for all these years.

Last year’s Under Construction is what turned me around. Before this album, I would change the channel as quick as I could when one of her videos came on. But there was something about “Work It” that made parts of my body twitch involuntarily, and I know I’m not alone here. The brief “Pied Piper” breakdown toward the end only sweetened the deal, and by the time the equally superb “Gossip Folks” broke, I had gone from Missy opponent to proponent.

This Is Not a Test! picks up right where Under Construction left off, with Timbaland’s trademark cacophony of sounds somehow coming together once again to produce the most infectious and grooveable beats imaginable, creating the perfect platform for Missy’s choppy yet effortless delivery. By now, you’ve probably heard the lead single “Pass That Dutch” and know exactly what I’m talking about. Much in the same vein as the aforementioned “Work It,” the song is driven by a pounding beat, with the gaps filled in by trademark whistles and handclaps that walk the very thin line between kitsch and dizzying masterpiece.

Some of Timbaland’s more intriguing work includes the production on “Is This Our Last Time,” which is essentially a crunked-up reworking of Sonic the Hedgehog music, and “It’s Real,” which sounds like it was borrowed from A Charlie Brown Hip-Hop Christmas.

Funky beats aside, This Is Not a Test! is more R&B-heavy than its predecessor, with Missy singing on several songs as opposed to rapping. By doing this, a recent New York Times article would have you believe that she is one of a growing number of inadequate vocalists such as Pharrell Williams, Ashanti, and Andre 3000 who have “un-golden throats” but try their hand at singing anyway. To call singers such as these “bad” is a questionable claim at best (well, Ashanti sucks). In glorious contradiction to the know-it-alls at major newspapers, Missy’s singing aids the flow of the album by adding variation to the sequencing of its tracks.

Actually, Missy’s forays into R&B on this record are “praised” by none other than the Pied Piper of R&B himself, R. Kelly. After the bridge of “Dats What I’m Talkin About,” he proclaims mid-song, “This is the greatest bridge I’ve ever heard.” Who could refute that claim?

Perhaps the album’s defining moment comes on “Wake Up” when she says, “Hip-hop, don’t stop, be my life saver/ Like Kobe and Shaq if they left the Lakers,” making her passion for music unmistakably clear. But thanks to albums like This Is Not a Test!, you could probably find a lot of people to tell you that Missy Elliot is as important to hip-hop, if not more so, than hip-hop is to her.

Archived article by Ross McGowan

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