Missy Elliott, This Is Not a Test! (2003)
It’s business as usual on This Is Not a Test! Appropriations of hip-hop and R&B classics abound, from “Don’t Be Cruel’s” lift of Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” to “Is This Our Last Time’s” hearkening back to Shalamar’s “The Second Time Around.” Nothing that Elliott didn’t explore more effectively on Miss E … So Addictive, which will probably go down in history as the authoritative document of the mainstream rap industry’s brief, intense love affair with ecstasy; and Under Construction, where she first began to play with the same hip-hop iconography that dominate This is Not A Test. But a straight listening won’t explain the many pleasures to be found here. “Toyz” is a foray into proto-house rapture, complete with funky hard bass line and an uptempo beat for all the dancers in the hizzouse. The first single from the album, “Pass the Dutch,” skitters along a percussive track of handclaps and bass feedback. It’s freaky and haunting, which may explain why it recently stalled in the lower depths of the Billboard Top 40 Singles Chart. “It’s Real” is short and sweet, a simple piano melody over which she croons, “It’s real,” as if she wants to reassure us that she’s a real woman in da real world instead of a futuristic diva. Throughout, longtime collaborator Timbaland and Elliott split production duties, their respective styles meshing so completely that it’s difficult to separate one (Timbaland’s “Pass That Dutch”) from the other (Elliott’s “Toyz”). Elliott’s appeal as a MC/songstress has always been beguiling, difficult to pin down. When she first shot to prominence with “Supa Dupa Fly (The Rain),” detractors quickly wrote her off as all style, no substance. Seven years later, though, it makes sense that groups like Company Flow once chided her for “bringing a go kart to the Grand Prix.” Though MTV viewers recently voted her as one of the 22 greatest MCs of all time, she’s not a rapper in the familiar, lyrically obtuse sense, but in the old school, party-rocking tradition, spitting whatever words the beat inspires. It’s a formula that now seems as warm and forward-thinking as anything her 80s heroes created. If This Is Not A Test feels slightly less fresh than the last jam, and indeed turns out to be the last in a series of great albums, then fuck it, she’s had a good run. Goldmind/Elektra.