Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2022

Hip-hop stars deliver mixed bag of hits

By Jonathan Groce | November 21, 2002

Missy Elliott's boisterous personality and undeniable talents are sought after time and time again by the hip-hop industry and have been featured in many recent collaborations with Ludacris, Tweet, Ginuwine and the bad girl, Eve. Bringing Misdemeanor to the set adds considerable weight to a single, and the charts repeatedly reflect a certain command for an artist only in her sixth year.

Yet, when Missy sits down to release another album, she understands that the industry will not allow her to lose the remarkable edge and ground-breaking styles she began with Supa Dupa Fly in 1997. With a spoken introduction on her fourth album, Under Construction, Missy claims she herself is currently a "work in progress," and these words provide insight, whether intentional or not, into the reconstruction of a hip-hop artist in her prime. Though Elliott has not particularly suffered a dip in sales, the indisputable queen of funky hip-hop/pop/R&B -- Missy insistently defies genre -- finds herself a few pounds lighter, but yet considering the social weight of a hip-hop industry in reconstruction.

After the deaths of Aaliyah, Left Eye Lopes and the World Trade Center victims, Missy feels that she views life in a more valuable way and thinks the hip-hop family needs to rebuild itself in terms of the hate and animosity between artists. With a mission to "take hip-hop back to the road," Missy reinvents her style yet again, in the guise of nostalgia for the early days of the music.

With long-time producer Timbaland, Missy struts her stylized groove with rhymes and rhythms that force the beat to explode. The opening track, "Go to the Floor," immediately after her soliloquy, pushes everyone to the club. Ludacris appears for "Gossip Folks," a be-bop influenced jam that features a nasal Missy with surprising success. Not content to simply twist her beats, the confident Missy distorts her voice and range without fear.

The sublime "Work It" has been out for two months on the radio now, and this single remains infectious, even after countless plays. I personally do not listen to commercial radio all that often, but I think even the most avid driver enjoys rapping with Missy on this ultra-funky track. Here, she completely reconstructs the contemporary jam with female empowerment laced with sonic beats, improvisational spins and lyrics and an off-the-hook chorus that features the line "Put my thing down, flip it, and reverse it" played backwards twice. (Yes, please stop trying to convince me it means something else.) With this tour de force hit, found twice on the album with a bonus, though inferior, remix, Missy encourages a new generation to turn their records upside down and mix some original music.

Unfortunately, nothing else on the album quite equals the power of that single, save for the must-hear "Bring the Pain" (featuring Method Man in a track that makes me want to excuse his "Dirrty" appearance). Claiming every track on the album is a "Missy Elliott exclusive," some of her songs underwhelm beneath all this playful hubris. "Funky Fresh Dressed" and "Play That Beat" have some nice beats and raps, but both lack marketable hooks. Beyonce Knowles features prominently in "Nothing Out There For Me," a track in which Missy encourages her gal pal to leave her man at home and come out to the club. Here, Beyonce's powerhouse vocals are beautifully restrained, with enough funk to garner chart power.

On "Back in the Day," she raps lyrically about the history of hip-hop, with Missy's often-beautiful voice empowering an otherwise kitschy track. Jay-Z features prominently in this zany trip down memory road, which leads us to his simultaneously released new album, The Blueprint 2: The Gift and The Curse. For the record, Jay-Z was opposed to a two-disc set, and I now understand why. While Missy Elliott's album deserves to fly off the shelves with an intriguing string of hits and near-misses, Jay-Z's expanded yet underwhelming sequel to last year's introspective, The Blueprint, features too many misses and not enough hits.

Beyonce seems to get around these days, even with Destiny's Child under its own reconstruction. After appearing with Missy, she duets with Jigga on "'03 Bonnie and Clyde," an intriguing love song fused with violence and sly humor. Yet, here Beyonce sings in the shadows of her rumored boyfriend. With a low-key sound, the first single achieves a small feat, but we should expect more from Jay-Z. The next single, "Hovi Baby," fills a desire for action, but manages to go absolutely nowhere musically. Here, we find Jigga rapping over Muzak, of all things.

Along with covers ("Guns and Roses," with the annoying Lenny Kravitz, and Paul Anka's "I Did It My Way") and the overused Neptunes (a boring "The Bounce"), The Blueprint 2 feels more familiar that it probably was intended. Still, Jay never bores, keeping filler moving along, jumping from jam to jam without a damn, and I have to admit, I find myself listening to plenty of the tracks over and over again. Borrowed from Missy, Timbaland works on "What They Gonna Do" slamming the track with Hovi battling rhymes, synthesized digital bass jams and a dance hall sensibility that makes too much sense to ignore. Shooting for hyper-futuristic club music, Jay-Z often offers brilliance with this, and "Bitches and Sisters."

With two-CDs to fill, it is hard to blame Jay-Z for resorting to the familiar to fund 25 tracks. Divided into The Gift and The Curse, Jay-Z should do us all a favor and keep everything with jam potential on disc one. Truly gifted, Jay-Z cannot escape the curse of too many collaborators on one track, as on the inappropriately titled, "As One."

With this Blueprint, Jay-Z finds himself indulging in vanity projects for variety, but without any direction or desire for reinvention. Although he remains a dominant player in hip-hop, Jay-Z's latest fails to produce a quality single, like last year's "IZZO," and registers as a filler-dominated epic with only a few jams to keep things moving. Meanwhile, Missy's blueprint for hip-hop, though slightly out of focus on occasion, results in a truly fresh concoction of blurping beats and twisted vocals that keep the entire album in replay. In the end, shorter and lighter takes the prize for the premiere, highly anticipated hip-hop album of the fall.

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