Missy Elliott: Under Construction

Missy Elliott
Under Construction

Missy Elliott may project herself as a dynamo, but she's less a superhuman than an ideal older sister or best friend--someone who knows not only how to have a good time, but what those good times are worth. She's both vulnerable and matter-of-fact, a combination that brings out the best in her collaborators: On Under Construction, she gets fabulous cameos out of Jay-Z, Ludacris, Method Man, Beyoncé Knowles, and Ms. Jade. (Not so for TLC's barely there showcase "Can You Hear Me" and 50 Cent's useless rhymes on the hidden-track remix of "Work It.") She's also an utter cornball. Sometimes this is a good thing: Anyone who can make Jay-Z get flat-out goofy on "Back in the Day" ("Me and Missy be the new Tag Team/Whoomp, there it is!") is doing something right. Still, that song's tired concept (guess, just guess) is--and I use this outdated piece of hip-hop lingo advisedly--fresh.

Inadequacies in concept and content are glossed over by Missy's irrepressible persona and her and Timbaland's insanely detailed production. Even after the initial glow wears off and you think you're tired of the album, it keeps giving. The electro-groove of "Go to the Floor" is stiff yet springy, like the limbs of a bendy doll. The playful squelch of the keyboard riff on the lead single "Work It," is just as outlandish as the song's suggestion that we envision "Lil Kim dating a pastor." In the same way, Missy's playa-hater disses on "Gossip Folks" are actually entertaining instead of boorish, defensive posturing. It would seem as if she hews to hip hop's old-school spirit far more effectively by simply having fun than by, oh, announcing her intention to do just that between nearly every song. But because Missy is voracious, she does both. Because she's lovable, she gets away with it. "I'm a work in progress," she announces at the top of the record. But what makes Under Construction tick is that she sounds like she can start anew anytime she wants.

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