What a marvelous Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott had at the turn of the 2000s. For a rapper-singer often called a singles artist, every one of her albums has tracks that put her thing down, flip it and reverse it (The Cookbook, to which I’ve never warmed and I haven’t mentioned here, has “Meltdown,” rubbery smut that fans don’t often cite).
I rank five of her albums.
1. Supa Dupa Fly (1997)
I didn’t have cable, nor did I listen to hip-hop radio in 1998, so I missed the impact of Missy’s debut. When I bought a copy the spring of 1999, the otherworldly spareness of “The Rain” floored me, or perhaps the rubbery bass line fucked me up. Yet the album tracks impress more than the singles: the skittery rush of “Beep Me 911,” the leisurely tour through the collection of vowels in “Izzy Izzy Alh.” And, to remind me that Missy was as much R&B as hip-hop, she and Aaliyah turn “Best Friend” into a lament instead of a valentine. That’s what woodwind instruments do.
2. This is Not a Test! (2003)
It’s not as if she and Timbo hired motets to perform on previous tracks, but This is Not a Test! sounds sparer – what critics would call a back-to-roots gesture. Certainly on “Spelling Bee” and “Let It Bump” there’s barely more than a beat, over which Missy cracks jokes and makes vulgar noises like Spoonie Gee. Although “Pass That Dutch” may have flopped playing “Steam” to “Work It”s “Sledgehammer,” I get off on the subterranean rumble of that bass; the song’s made for souped-up sedans with woofers. My jam: “Let Me Fix My Weave,” in which Missy, playing the role of a Jamaican around-the-way-girl, praises a boy who’s a sloppy kisser but is good with the tongue.
3. Miss E… So Addictive (2001)
The album that broke her pop, So Addictive depends on the bhangra style of world-conquering single “Get Ur Freak On.” So overwhelming was its success that it left its parent album neglected. “One Minute Man” was pneumatic, the back half devoid of personality. The growl in “Lick Shots” works.
4. Under Construction (2002)
Missy’s biggest album contains her biggest single. Few tracks have date stamped a year as indelibly as “Work It”: a couple holiday season parties where the song, I’m sure, played twice and still filled the dance floor (I haven’t consulted Genius to learn what she says in the chorus’ last line). Few pop songs revel in mimicry, bravado, and self-love this baldly. Call her before you come over so she can shave her chocha, but if you don’t, fuck you — she’ll make you like it. In the era when hip-hop was pop music, Missy the futurist had to play the part of Missy-the-nostalgist (“Back in the Day”), but she doesn’t get fusty about it: “Gossip Folks” depends more on Missy’s use of patois than the “Double Dutch Bus” sample (if she wanted to squeeze lemon juice into the sweet mix, she would’ve released “Slide”). If she eventually confirms what millions of her queer fans suspect, some will cite “Pussy” as preliminary evidence, but I’ll repeat what I wrote fifteen years ago: her assertions of female heterosexual dominance affirm her queerness the louder Timbaland’s beats crunch and crunk and slither, polymorphously.
5. Da Real World (1999)
The remix of “Hot Boyz” took off eight months after its release, to my ears independent of the album, which disappointed commercially and still looks like an outlier between Supa Dupa Fly and the one-single-domination achieved by her two successive releases. The production remains spare yet feels rote; many of the tracks flaunt an aerobic technique of people convincing themselves that they haven’t succumbed to the Sophomore Slump. “Stickin’ Chickens” isn’t the only track crying for another mix, another take from Aaliyah and Da Brat. “She’s a Bitch” was the flop first single inexplicably; “Busa Rhyme” is not one of Eminem’s most heralded performances, which makes Missy’s chorus shrewdly ironic: she eyes a comer, cedes him a spot, realizes his rhymes aren’t all that.