Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott
Reviewed on this page:
Supa Dupa Fly - Da Real World - Miss E...
So Addictive - Under Construction -
This Is Not A Test - The Cookbook
Raised in Portsmouth, Virginia, Missy Elliott first tried to break into the hip hop field in 1991, writing and rapping
with the group Sista. The group fell apart without releasing a record, and Elliott had a few lean years before a demo
tape got her songwriting talents noticed. All at once, seemingly, she was writing smash hip hop/R&B hits (for Aaliyah,
SWV, Ginuwine, Jodeci, Adina Howard, and others), grabbing the spotlight with memorable guest appearances (Gina
Thompson's "The Things You Do"), and then in 1997 dropping her own solo album Supa Dupa Fly featuring the hit
single "The Rain," with a bizarre award-nominated video. Hype aside, Elliott has made her mark as a sharp, insightful,
hilarious lyricist, and a warm, infectiously cheerful performer: no matter what she's rapping about, she'll bring a smile
to your face. No one talks about this, but she also has a lovely singing voice when she decides to use it.
Elliott's most successful work has been with producer (and fellow Virginian) Timbaland,
whose tight beats and spare, funky keyboard lines have inspired a legion of imitators. They're at the center of the Super Friends
clique, which also includes Ginuwine, Aaliyah, Playa, and Magoo.
Here are some links to other work reviewed on this site:
- Aaliyah, One In A Million (wrote seven songs); "Are You Feelin' Me" (wrote); "I Care 4 U" (co-wrote)
- Beyoncé, "Signs" (produced)
- Mary J. Blige, "Never Again" (co-wrote, vocals)
- Mariah Carey, "Babydoll" (co-wrote), "Heartbreaker (Remix)" (vocals)
- Destiny's Child, "Confessions" (co-wrote), "Bootylicious (Rockwilder Remix)" (vocals)
- Ghostface, "Tush" (vocals)
- Ginuwine, The Bachelor (co-wrote two songs, vocals on one)
- MC Lyte, Seven & Seven (wrote & produced two tracks)
- Method Man, "Say What" (vocals)
- Mya, "Bye Bye"; "My Love Is Like... Wo" (co-wrote, produced & vocals)
- Nelly, "Playa" (vocals)
- Nicole, Make It Hot (co-wrote and produced five tracks, vocals on three)
- Petey Pablo, "Break Me Off" (vocals)
- Playa, "Ms. Parker" (co-wrote and produced)
- 702, No Doubt (co-wrote four tracks), 702 (co-wrote and produced two tracks)
- Shawnna, "What Can I Do?" (co-wrote, vocals)
- Timbaland, Tim's Bio (co-wrote four songs, vocals on three, produced two)
- Timbaland & Magoo, Welcome To our World (co-wrote three songs, vocals on two), "Cop That Shit" (co-wrote, vocals)
- TLC, "Dirty Dirty" (co-wrote, co-produced, vocals)
- Tweet, Southern Hummingbird, It's Me Again (co-wrote & co-produced seven tracks, vocals on two)
- Various Artists, Why Do Fools Fall In Love? Soundtrack (exec produced, co-wrote & co-produced six tracks)
I have "Brand New," the 12" single released by Elliott's first group Sista, and it's ordinary dance hip-pop, with nothing distinctive
in the words, melody or production; the B-side "Sista Bounce" is similar but more fun. (DBW)
Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
At least as good as you've heard. Elliott and Timbaland have crafted a debut album with tremendous variety
and depth; Missy has more emotional range, from ultra-hard to tender, than
anyone in the field except maybe LL Cool J,
and LL can't sing. The backing tracks are consistently interesting ("Beep
Me 911"), making occasional use of samples (single "The Rain" uses a
short snippet of Ann Peebles's "I Can't Stand The Rain") but more often
coming up with original grooves ("I'm Talkin'," "Friendly Skies"). To give
even more value for money, Elliott beams in a passel of guest artists -
Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, Aaliyah, Ginuwine,
Da Brat - all of whom
get a brief shot to do what they do best, and then disappear without
overstaying their welcome. From imaginative, direct rhyming to soulful
singing to precise production, Elliott is awesomely in control here.
Maybe Elton John could sing "Goddamn it
you're all gonna die" and make it sound musical, but no one besides Elliott
could make a gorgeous hook out of "They don't wanna fuck with me."
Da Real World (1999)
Elliott's acknowledged the pressure of following up Supa Dupa Fly, and it does seem like she's trying too hard
here. The opening single "She's A Bitch" is allegedly an anthem for assertive powerful women, but it comes off like a
contrived attempt to create controversy, and it's hard to understand featuring vicious, chart-topping misogynist
Eminem ("Busa Rhyme") except as a commercial ploy. Timbaland's production approach is basically unchanged, which is
double-edged: it still sounds great, but in his avoidance of genre clichés he's creating new ones (the syncopated
distorted keyboard blurp, the super-tight kick drum), and you can see it getting boring three or four years down the
road. That said, the keyboard lines and samples are often inventive (the ominous "Dangerous Mouths," the reservedly lustful "Hot Boyz"),
and there are a lot of solid, memorable tunes: "We Did It," the recriminating tale of an affair spotlighting Elliott's singing,
and "You Don't Know" featuring Lil' Mo. And Missy's persona is irresistable, as always. Guests include Redman, Big Boi, Lil' Kim, Juvenile, Lady Saw, Aaliyah, Da Brat, and Beyoncé Knowles.
In 1999 Elliott also turned up on the remix of Mariah Carey's "Heartbreaker."
Miss E... So Addictive (2001)
Timbaland and co-producer Missy don't have any new production tricks - except for a procession of retro keyboard and percussion elements on
"Old School Joint" - but the overall sound is more electronic and minimalist than ever; a couple of tracks are straight-up techno
("Whatcha Gon' Do").
It works on the infectious, vaguely Arabic-sounding leadoff single "Get Ur Freak On," and even when there aren't any real hooks they manage to hold your attention by
shifting little details ("Lick Shots"), but it's not nearly as much fun as before - frequently impressive but rarely moving.
Some of the melodies are schoolyard-simple (the "2 Minute Brother" rewrite "One Minute Man," featuring Ludacris). And she persists in making space on her albums for misogynist rants: Method
Man and Redman contribute moronic rhymes to "Dog In Heat," and Jay-Z gets the last word on the album (aside from a hidden gospel track)
with his rebuttal remix of "One Minute Man."
Lowering expectations a bit,
the lush romantic "X-tasy" (based on a drum loop from "In Time") and the lover's rebuke
"Step Off" are solid, and Da Brat and Jade liven up the measured thwacker "Slap! Slap! Slap!"
But probably the best songs on the disc are the slow sung interludes "...So Addictive" (backups from new protege Charlet "Tweet" Keys) and "I've
Changed" (backups from old protege Lil' Mo).
Ginuwine is on "Take Away," Eve turns up on "4 My People," and of course Busta Rhymes has a cameo ("Bus-A-Bus Interlude").
In 2001, Elliott produced and added incidental vocals to a cover of "Lady Marmalade" by Christina
Aguilera, Mya, Lil' Kim and Pink; she also appeared on remixes of Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" and Janet Jackson's
"Son Of A Gun." (DBW)
Under Construction (2002)
No big surprises, once you get past the artwork (Elliott has lost so much weight she's unrecognizable): lots of off-balance synth and percussion courtesy of Timbaland, a fair number of
old school hip hop and pop samples (the single "Work It" uses the opening rhythm box from Blondie's "Heart Of Glass"). But it still works: the heavy
rolling "Slide" is as powerful a track as you're likely to hear this year, and "Ain't That Funny" is similar and just about as good.
Though she says her outlook has become more serious since the death of Aaliyah, and there is an Aaliyah/Left Eyes Lopes tribute featuring TLC ("Can You
Hear Me"), the record is actually much more fun: the pure party tracks ("Go To The Floor"), the Battle of the Sexes numbers ("Pussycat") and the occasional social observation ("Gossip Folks").
Missy produced all but three tracks with Timbaland; on the others she collaborated variously with Erroll McCalla, Craig Brockman and Nisan.
For once, Busta Rhymes doesn't appear, but Method Man ("Bring The Pain") and Jay-Z ("Back In The Day") do, and
Ludacris contributes easily the disc's finest rap on "Gossip Folks."
"Nothing Out There For Me" is basically a Beyoncé Knowles solo feature: Missy just adds some spoken ad libs.
Most of the backing vocals are from Tweet, who released a successful solo album earlier in the year; unfortunately, Elliott seems to have outgrown singing her own hooks.
This Is Not A Test (2003)
Maybe Missy should focus on movies for a while: there's much more energy, personality and charm in Elliott's two-minute
cameo in Honey than there is in this long, tuneless mess of an album. As usual, she produced most of the tracks
with Timbaland, and as usual there are A-list guests: Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z,
Nelly, R. Kelly, Fabolous. But for once the songs aren't any good: they're mostly
clattery, industrial grooves with an attempted edginess that feels forced ("Let It Bump"; the single "Pass That Dutch").
There's a bunch of styles - reggae ("Keep It Movin'" featuring Elephant Man); love songs ("That's What I'm Talkin' About");
dance ("Don't Be Cruel") - but somehow it all sounds the same. What's more dispiriting from such an original artist,
"Let Me Fix My Weave" is a carbon copy of 50 Cent's "In Da Club."
The best thing about the project is the back cover: Elliott in the famous Huey Newton wicker chair pose,
flanked by two Afro-wearing sisters; second place goes to the clavinet-like keyboard line on "Toyz."
Also in 2003, Elliott appeared on the The Fighting Temptations soundtrack.
The Cookbook (2005)
Middling Elliott: not earshattering like her best records, but a lot more fun than the last record.
Timbaland only gets in a couple of tracks here ("Joy" with Mike Jones), as a variety of other producers take the reins
(The Neptunes' "On & On"; Rhemario Webber's energetic, "Apache"-sampling "We Run This").
But Missy's basic recipe is the same: frantic robotic dance tracks (leadoff single "Lose Control" with Ciara and Fat Man
Scoop; "Partytime"), brief cameos (Mary J. Blige pops up on "My Struggles")
and a few ballads ("My Man" featuring Fantasia).
Her left-field sense of humor is back, as evidenced by outlandish images on the luscious seduction number "Melt Down"
(produced by Scott Storch) and her incongruous rapped verse on the soulful kissoff "Time And Time Again."
Slick Rick guests on the old school "Irresistable Delicious"; other guests include Tweet (the mournful yet propulsive
"Teary Eyed"), Vybez Cartel and MIA.
Over the past several years, Elliott has released a few singles announced as heralding a forthcoming Block Party CD, but that has not materialized to date.
No, seriously, who does have the keys to the jeep?