Ms Mona Scott of Violator
Let me say right off the bat, I'm a huge Missy Elliott fan. She's one of the few producers and MC's - male or female - that has been consistently excellent, innovative and exciting. But lets be real, in recent years she kinda fell off. I liked a little but not a lot of Cookbook and I was definitely disappointed with the offerings on Step Up To The Streets (or whatever it's called) soundtrack. But I was prepared to have an open mind when I heard her manager, Mona Scott, was going to be in London on Friday to preview eight tracks at swanky Mayfair club Fifty Below.
After taking a break from working with Timbo on Cookbook, Elliott has recently rejoined her creative partner to forage into pastures (sort of) new on her forthcoming as-yet-untitled album. As well as Tim, Missy has teamed with Danjahands, Swizzy and Souldiggaz, as well as no doubt a couple of other people, to be announced.
"There's something very special about Missy and her ability to draw from herself, rather than the radio or where other people are going," Mona Scott told me when I quickly cornered the legendary manager for a quick chat. "Her music is uniquely her own, it's where she's at in her life. She always goes against the grain and follows her own pain."
Overall, on the strength of what I heard, Missy isn't necessarily doing anything new. Generally, you can expect uptempo club tracks, throwback R&B jams and plenty of that crazy talk we know her for. I guess, having done so much to pioneer and push music forward, it would be too much to expect to repeat such success. But I wonder, based on the tracks I heard, whether Missy has lost a little of her creative juice?
The CD, introduced by Missy's manager, Mona Scott begins. Via the miracles of modern technology (pre-recorded intro's!), Missy says hi and apologises for not being in attendance. "I'm probably walking Oprah's dog or housecleaning at Neverland, you know how I make that change," she jokes. Over to the first track, no mention of producer so i'll just speculate it's Tim...
1. Act A Fool
Over a techno-esqe, Irish-linedancing-on-speed beat, Missy does her usual stunting. "She can't be me, I'm supa-dupa fly/ Bet a hundred thousand dollars, bitch ain't cuter..." she insists. You could have found something similar on Cookbook. This is a 5/10.
2. The Best Best (Prod: Nate Danjahandz)
Now this is what we're talking about. Sensual electro-synths are the order of the day here, as the tune manages to be slow and fast all at the same time a la My Love. A crazy-ass beat. Lyrically, we like the repeating of every word at the end of the line (best-best, night-night etc) but Elliott's out-of date vocab is a minus. 'We get it in crunk in the club...' (really, people still do that?!?!) - 'Make it rain on me...' etc, etc. And there's the bit when (we think) she 'skeets' on herself. Ewww. "I'm trying to take R&B in a new direction," she says as the track closes. Musically, you're doing that Missy, but the wordplay needs a rethink. Nevertheless, a strong 7.
3. Shake Ya Pom-Pom
Of the two Step Up... tracks, this is the one I'm least mad at. The Doug E Fresh-like intro, the sci-fi sound effects, it's vintage Missy but with a twist. Swizz's taut percussion is effective, while Missy's 'One minute, two minute stop/ Everyone drop like you're running from the cops' does the trick. This gets a 6.
4. Before she previews I Like It When You Play That Music Missy warns us that we're not listening to the finished product. "These songs are not mixed, you might hear me sing a wrong note, or the dogs barking in the background," she laughs. "This one is for the drop-top but a bicycle will work just as well." I'm beginning to wonder if she shouldn't be using her real-life self as lyrics. That stuff is funnier and fresher, right? Anyway, Tim is behind the boards on this fast and furious booty bass banger, as Keyshia Cole provides the BV's. Truth be told, I can't remember much more about it and I didn't take too many notes cos it was kinda dry. I think it's a 4.
5. Missy's in-house producers, Souldiggaz get the next track and it's a good 'un. All For You is fuzzy, buzzy and kinda mucky, with Elliott dropping her trademark filthy lyrics. 'Pop ya collar baby, let me see how long it be," she moans. Yeah, we know you're a supa freak Missy, but how about changing the record for once? Ok, we'll go a 7, but take off one for the wordplay, so a 6.
6. "Get a glass of red wine - or, if my label didn't spend the money - a Pepsi or a Sprite cos we're taking it back to Ginuwine's Pony and Aaliyah's One In A Million," she says, sounding increasingly more inspired presenting the record than she does producing the damn thing! As-yet-untitled but we'll guess maybe Hit Me Like That is a sick-out slowie - despite the fact that they've drawn for the - you guessed it - vocoder!!! Still, this is clearly more a homage to the days of Teddy Riley than T-Pain, so we'll give Tim and Missy a pass for following the path of everyone else. This mid'90s flavoured flow is fab. A strong 7.
7. Milk And Cookies. "There's nothing like milk and cookies after a full-course dinner, so I'm a hit you with some dessert," Missy announces. We'd rather some After Eights or a Cappucino, but, hey Missy, it's your playback. There's no actual milk and cookies, but this is an ok-ish club tune. Pacy and punchy, but nothing you've not heard before from Tim and Miss E. 5/10
8. The last track, and finally we get to the really good stuff. "I'm talking real-talk here," Missy confesses. "I let me heart guide my pen. To know where hip hop's going, you got to know where it's been." Hip Hop Don't Die is the most revolutionary track on the record. Not because the music (vocals from Ciara) is that genre-bending or mind-blowing, but because for once, as she said herself, Missy's actually talking about herself. As she guides us through her incredible career, you finally get a glimpse into, if not who Missy is exactly, then at least what's important to her. There's no bragging or boring 'I'm the donn-age' going on, just a reflection over her past and present career that is both funny and surprising in equal parts.
Here's some lyrical highlights (excuse any mistakes, it was a one-listen, write as fast as you can thing):
"They say I was more insane that Janet dating Jermaine, more strange that Jay without Dame..."
"Shot the first video in a black, plastic bag.. Everyone questioned how the big girl gon' dance/ Question if I'm gay cos they never see me with a man/ I don't need a man...." (didn't catch the rest!)
And then something about how hip hop keeps getting blamed for all that is wrong in the world: "I blame the president for not letting us read books... opps!"
Not since Gossip Folks have you gotten a sense of Missy's personality - the true one, anyway. Here's she's a bit political, she addresses the gay rumours and her weight and even pokes fun at her peers. Something she's maybe done a line of here and there over the years, but never all in one go. This is the song that got the room abuzz - 8/10.
Ok, that's all folks. This is by no means the finished product, and some of these tracks may not even make the final line-up when the album is released in June. Right now, it's 49/80 - so that's a good 3/5 - but not enough by Missy's normal standards. Maybe she's keeping the best to blow me away, but hopefully we'll see her get rid of the more generic tracks and really, really get us talking when the album proper drops. I know she's got it in her - maybe it's unfair to keep expecting so much - but Missy, I you can do it. And I have a sneaking suspicion, the best is yet to come!