This Is Not a Test!
iss E… So Addictive, spearheaded by the epochal “Get Ur Freak On”, marked a zenith for Missy Elliott and her long-term conspirator Tim Mosley, as they presented a panoply of liquid-digital Asiatic acid-hop that saw good on their early promise to revolutionise the face of hip hop and, therefore, popular music as a whole. Inside a year they’d topped “Get Ur Freak On” with the ubiquitous backwards-twisting club-sexuality of “Work It”, which in turn heralded Under Construction, a thoroughly futurist history lesson that melded back-in-the-day-jams to Timbaland’s exquisite pointillist electronic production and Missy’s typically wild infectious idiosyncrasy. Another year on and another revolution comes surging from the factory, yeah?
Much is made of Timbaland’s undoubted skill as a producer, in fact so much is made of it that he seems to overshadow and obscure the artists he works with these days. One listen to the lacklustre new Timbaland & Magoo album reveals that he does his best work when teamed in symbiosis with a strong personality though. The exceptional “Cry Me A River”, for example, is as much about Justin’s teary-eyed lost-loverboy performance as it is Tim’s string-laden cybernetic-clone-choir making with the stereophonic beatbox. Likewise Bubba Sparxxx’s schizophrenically spiralling “Ugly” relies as much on Bubba’s own character and delivery as the extravagant sonics. In an era shaped by Tim’s own vision when every two-bit hip-pop chancer is ripping off his sound, Missy Elliott is the strongest of the strong personalities he chooses to work with, and therefore his best weapon for staying ahead of the game.
Not that the game is just about maintaining the avant garde frontline. This Is Not A Test! is less about turning hip hop on its head again than it is about Missy just doing her thing, and doing it and doing it and doing it well. Lead single “Pass That Dutch” may feature the kind of handclaps that made Lumidee so irresistible all summer, and revel in the kind of aural frippery that finds psychedelic rhythm in the neighing of horses, amongst other things, but it’s Missy’s personality that drags the track into the stratosphere, her lubescent and laconic sensimilia slur inviting all and sundry to partake in the song’s titular activity. On “Wake Up” the beatscape is so minimal that attention must focus on Missy and Jay Z, who here finds time out from his busy schedule (too busy, judging by how tired he sounds on The Black Album) to rhyme “rectum” with “David Beckham”, proving that England’s pony-tailed golden boy of soccer is now as just as global as his beloved hip hop.
If Under Construction occasionally wallowed in the mire of earnest spoken-word preaching and madness-sapping nostalgia (madness being a key component of Missy’s charm) then This Is Not A Test! evens things up some. There may be nothing as world-straddlingly crazy-brilliant as “Get Ur Freak On” or “Work It”, but moments like “Ragtime Interlude”, “Fix My Weave”, “Toys” and “Let It Bump” show-off the playful side of Missy brilliantly. The Elephant Man-starring “Keep It Movin’” brings forth the club-queen for a slice of awesome dancehall/block party fusion that’s destined to shake booties like nothing else over the coming months. There’s also time for yet more hip hop historiography, as LL Cool J, Salt ‘n Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, Prince and a host of others are all referenced in one way or another over the course of the album.
One of the things that Timbaland’s lusciously detailed production does is to regress the listener to a pre-adolescent state of infant sensuality, where every minute electronic detail is a gasp-inducing joy. The palpable pleasure with which he plays around with rhythmic patterns and sources, creating a world in which anything from a human voice to digital interference to traditional handclaps or drums can form the ever-shifting (layers of) beat(s), simply adds to the effect. When paired with Missy’s wantonly lascivious delivery and interplay with her vocal partners (Nelly hollering the ludicrously brilliant phrase “go-go gadget dick!” at one point), the sensuality of Timbaland’s palette is enhanced tenfold, the listener no longer regressed but rather stripped of the hang-ups that impair an adult’s ability to free the body from the constraints of the mind.
This Is Not A Test! is easily the most sexually direct and fun record since, ooh, The Love Below, but the social and spiritual conscious of tracks like “Wake Up” and “I’m Not Perfect” prove that there’s a lot more than just libido guiding Missy’s muse. She’s done it again, and the fact that we’re not surprised shows just how valuable and talented she is.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: DECEMBER 1-DECEMBER 7, 2003