Missy Elliott :: This Is Not a Test
Label: Elektra Records
Author: Steve 'Flash' Juon
What you hear is not a test. Missy Elliott's rockin' to the beat. Beats by
Timbaland, that is. Hip-Hop has always had historically ill combinations of
producers and rappers: DJ Premier and Guru, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth,
De La Soul and Prince Paul. As surely as any of these collaborations belong
in the Rap Hall of Fame, Missy and Timbaland deserve the award for year
after year of CD's with songs that pushed the edge of the music envelope
for both pop AND hip-hop. No other rapper in Timbaland's
crew makes his ill beats so fresh, and no other MC but Missy brings out his
most unorthodox noises and creative soundscapes.
Having established their dominance together through four straight
multi-platinum albums of chart-topping singles and underground favorites,
neither Missy or Timbaland have anything to prove. Calling her fifth
album "This Is Not a Test" is not only Missy's sly shout out to the old
school (duly noted by Mary J. Blige singing some Sugarhill Gang in the
album's intro) but her recognition that both she and her audience have
already passed every test of whether or not the Missy phenomenon would last.
She certainly scores high on the album's lead single "Pass That Dutch,"
a stripped down Timbaland melody of hand claps and HUGE
bass beats so you can feel that B-A-S-S bass. In typical Missy fashion,
she takes that strong backing and attacks it with her playful wit and charm,
which Timmy even takes a second to match with a De La Soul snatch:
"Number one - drums go BUMP BUMP BUMP
This beat here will make you BOOMP BOOMP JUMP
If youse fat one, put your clothes back on
Before you start puttin +Potholes in my Lawn+
Oh my - gosh! Oh my gosh!
I'm under attack like my name was Saddam
I am the bomb from New York to Milan
And I can write a song sicker than Jeffrey Dahm'
(Woop woop!) Don't touch my car alarm
Break in my car you will hear "Viper Armed"
I've been a superstar since Daddy Kane was +Raw+
I'm live on stage, c'mon and give me some applause!"
She's hardly letting up on the follow-up "Wake Up," which has a guest
appearance by Jay-Z and another hardcore stripped down Timbaland beat.
She slows it down a bit for the dancehall anthem "Keep it Movin" though,
featuring the chatta of hip-hop's latest reggae guest-of-the-minute
Elephant Man. On "Is This Our Last Time" she takes over behind the
boards for herself, providing strong bass and a melody that borrows a
bit from "Second Time Around" by Shalamar, giving the song a perfect
punch to tag-team flows with Fabolous:
"Cinderella, you was wit it before
Now when I bring a slipper, you act like you don't fit it no more
Like I got it, but I can't get it no more
And I ain't usually a chaser - cause I write wit my pencil
But also know how to use my eraser"
Going back to the old school again, "I'm Really Hot" has the echoing
sound effects like a video game, whistles, quick scratches, and sirens guaranteed
to make 80's heads nod in approval. Timbaland gradually builds up the
sound with additional melody and bass to modernize the flow, and the overall
result is as hot as they come. "Dats What I'm Talkin About" is a bit
cold though, and not from the "ice just to chill the night" Missy bought and
sung about. As a duet with R. Kelly, it has a forced syrupy sweetness
that's the antithesis of her more natural odes to getting a groove on,
doing neither contributor justice. The first half winds up with "Don't
Be Cruel" featuring Monica, but could just as easily be called her 2003
update on Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" until Beenie Man takes over and the
beat turns into bouncy reggae for the rest of the song.
The album's second half starts out Missy's trademark sly sexuality over
a smooth beat, and let's just be frank about it - her "Toyz" are devices
for masturbation. Only Missy Elliott can get away with a singing to a
beat so pop that radio DJ's could easily slip this deceptively raunchy
song into the mix with Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson. "Let it
Bump" is a more traditional hip-hop song from Missy and Timbaland though.
It's also both a statement and a problem. While Timmy's continued
insistance on sonic minimalism is a refreshing statement in a world of
over-produced mayhem, it's not necessarily what Missy fans would expect
from him production-wise. Those used to the sound shock of hits like
"I Can't Stop the Rain," "She's a Bitch" and "Work It" may by this point
in the album feel dissapointed at the lack of quirky yet funky jams
he's always been known for.
"Pump it Up" featuring Nelly is as close as it gets for Timbaland.
The beat twangs like a snare drum tightened too much, with a mic
shoved as close to the head as possible. The result is not unlike
leaving change on a glass table when you crank the speaker up to 10,
and listening to everything rattle. While it's still a scaled back
approach to beat-making, it has that innovative sound one would
expect from Tim, the kind of thing one doesn't hear on the radio
until he's done it first and other producers copycat it.
"It's Real" is another self-produced Missy track for her to croon an
R&B melody over; and while hip-hop fans might generally prefer her
punchy raps to her diva stylings this one will not cause the listener
to hit skip. In fact, the only downside of the track is that at two
minutes and fifty seconds, it's just too short. "Let Me Fix My Weave"
is a traditional Timbaland sound, meaning it's not stripped down, but
it will echo previous works he's done for Missy and Bubba Sparxxx
among others. It's definitely got the fresh for Missy to rap to though:
"I met a guy named Tommy, very charming
He was on me like cheese be on maca-raw-ni
His game real tight, makin me so hawny
Fine enough for us to fuck to be his baby mommy
He really don't know me so I moves in slowly
Brush up and let him hold me, let me spit some bolog-ny
Baby you can call me if you go down on me
But you got to back up off me wearin Cubic Zircon-y"
The album wraps up with another old school style track, with Tim
providing another unenhanced beat while Missy does her best K-Solo
style on "Spelling Bee" with a flow tight as H-E-double-L. Then comes
the self-produced "I'm Not Perfect" featuring the Clark Sisters, and
an "Outro" to match the "Intro" with Mary J. Blige again playing a
guest role. On the whole, while it's always great to hear from Missy
and Timbaland and "This Is Not a Test" is no exception, it's truly
the first time a Missy release has seemed to be somewhat mediocre.
It's a shocking thing to say, but both Missy and Timmy seem to have
left their A-Game at home. While it's good enough to satisfy long-time
fans of either one's style, the t'cha must reluctantly conclude this
essay is only good enough to warrant a B.
Music Vibes: 7 of 10
Lyric Vibes: 7 of 10
TOTAL Vibes: 7 of 10
Originally posted: November 25, 2003