Friday, July 01, 2005

Advance Review: The Cookbook by Missy Elliott

I told you I'd try my best to review it before the release date, didn't I?

The Cookbook is an appropriate title for Missy Elliott's sixth album. Like her previous albums, there is a ton of variety and interesting sounds to be found here. However, this time around, those sounds are provided by a variety of collaborators.

Missy's previous albums have always been defined by her ultra-creative working relationship with producer Timbaland. They were the dynamic duo, creating mind-blowing, out-of-this-world music that innovated without alienating. No matter how many artists Timbaland produced for, his best work came from his collaborations with Missy. But after the disappointing sales of 2003's This Is Not A Test, it looked like things would change...and they did.

Timbaland produced only two of the 16 tracks on The Cookbook. Those two tracks are also the first two tracks on the album. "Joy," which features Houston's Mike Jones, will rattle your 808's as a strange ethereal voice croons the song's title but changes up entirely when Mike Jones spits his verse. "Partytime" is a traditional Missy/Timbo club banger.

The rest of the album proves that Missy can truly stand on her own. She collaborates with a combination of well-known, established producers, and some newcomers. She also produces some tracks herself like the first single "Lose Control" which features Ciara and Fat Man Scoop. The most intriguing combination is Missy with The Neptunes. The popular duo produced "On & On," which is the song heard at the end of the video for "Lose Control." This song is probably the most creative thing The Neptunes have done in a long time. Missy raps with an old-school flow over the off-kilter (but immensely catchy) backdrop of bleeps, bloops, and pounding drums. Even Pharrell's interference is kept to a minimum.

She also works with two other well-known producers. Scott Storch produces "Meltdown," a sexy jam. I won't quote any of the lyrics here, but let's just say that she references a certain song by Lil' Kim and 50 Cent. Rich Harrison, the man behind "Crazy In Love" and "1 Thing" produces "Can't Stop," another sexual song. This time, Missy raps over Harrison's signature frenetic drums. "Mommy" is produced by new producer 3Play and has Missy rapping (in various pitches) over a beat that wouldn't sound out of place in the 1980's as she asserts herself as a female boss.

Every Missy album has its share of surprises and this one is no exception. Flexible seems to be the best word to describe some of the songs on this album. "Irrestible Delicious," which features Slick Rick, changes itself up without abandon. It glides between Missy rapping in an English accent (in an homage to her guest star), Slick Rick himself rapping, and Missy singing over the course of more than one beat and features a sample from Rick's own "Lick The Balls." Despite all that, the song doesn't fall apart. "My Struggles" (featuring Grand Puba and Mary J. Blige) is surprising in a number of ways. The biggest surprise is the seriousness of the subject matter. She addresses her abusive childhood briefly, something she has never talked about before in her music. Another major surprise is Mary J. Blige's part on the song. When she shows up, the beat changes and Mary doesn't sing...she raps.

The Cookbook is certainly a better album than This Is Not A Test. In fact, it is probably her best album since 2001's Miss E...So Addictive. This is the album that should've been the follow up to 2002's Under Construction. Missy throws her conventions to the wind by working with a bunch of producers in addition to Timbaland. Then, just when you think she will succumb to the conventional R & B/Hip-Hop style, she does whatever necessary to change things up from beat changes to DJ scratches. She plays multiple roles on her songs whether as a don't-take-no-mess female, a woman with relationship and sexual needs, or someone who just wants to party. She's unafraid to sing, rap in a variety of ways (include reggae style on "Bad Man" with Vybez Cartel and M.I.A.), change her voice or do anything else she feels like. For some, the hyperactivity of this approach will seem annoying. However, this is exactly why Missy has stayed relevant for eight years across six albums. Now that Missy has proven that she doesn't need Timbaland as a crutch, the sky's the limit.

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