Missy Elliott

Under Construction (Elektra)

No hip-hop artist is more deserving of the title Supa Dupa Star than Missy Elliott. (Sorry, P-Diddy. You're like 7-Up: Never had it, never will.) Not to dis Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc, and Run-DMC, but nobody can transcend the genre the way she has. Missy's a top-notch producer and pop icon who can swim in the mainstream (check her Gap and Sprite commercials) without selling out. Her debut album, Supa Dupa Fly (1997), spawned hits like "The Rain" that were more trend-setting than chart-topping. Those achievements came soon after: "She's a Bitch" (1999), "Get Ur Freak On" and "One Minute Man" (2001). In each of these, Missy proved that women could be sexual as well as forceful. While other female rappers and singers claim to use female sexuality as an empowerment tool, none of them comes close to Elliott on this score. As a result, she's defied every stereotype without alienating her fan base.

Elliott calls her latest creation Under Construction, because she, like hip-hop, is a work in progress -- and needs rebuilding. Remember when beefs got squashed on linoleum or wax? Now fisticuffs and gunshots are the order of the day. The senseless and violent deaths of Tupac, Biggie, and Jam Master Jay and the simmering feuds between current rap kingpins are about to bring the genre to its knees. All of that plus her own personal tragedies (the deaths of muse Aaliyah and friend Left Eye of TLC) made Missy wanna holla. So out of the drama comes an album that is essentially an ode to the golden age of hip-hop. The standout track, "Work It," along with "Funky Fresh Dressed" (with Timbaland protégée Ms. Jade) and "Back in the Day" (featuring "H to the Izz-O" himself), serve as the album's thematic anchors, reminding everyone of the time when hip-hop was fun and about chilling, not killing.

With those tracks in mind, you'll have to excuse the appearance of a few cracks in the foundation: "Nothing Out There for Me," a duet with Beyonce, is as flat as a concrete slab (just like Ms. Knowles' voice), while "P***ycat" is plain awful and should have been left in the studio, never to be heard from again. Collaborations with Ludacris ("Gossip Folks") and Method Man (on an adequate remake of his "Bring the Pain") sound slightly out of place and would have been better-suited for last year's Miss E... So Addictive.

For the past 20 years, hip-hop music has constantly reinvented itself, and after everything it's gone through, now is the time to get the gangsta-ism out of its system. God knows we don't need another Will Smith popping up, but we sure don't need any more Suge Knights either. If hip-hop artists would take a close look at the plans Missy and other progressive-thinking acts like Jurassic 5 and N.E.R.D. have drawn up, things will get better. We canrebuild hip-hop. We have the technology to make hip-hop bolder, bigger, and deffer -- brick by brick.

 
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