Missy Elliott This Is Not a Test

Missy Elliott This Is Not a Test
During the old school days that Missy Misdemeanor is so fond of, rappers regularly released annual albums, so her prolific output is not unprecedented. But perhaps nailing all-time-classics three years in a row is asking too much. The first hint that her quality control might be slipping is Diwali-influenced lead-off single "Pass the Dutch.” While Timbaland’s handclap-fuelled bass bomb is pretty good by most standards, it can’t compare to the futuristic mind-fuck of "Get Yr Freak On” or "Work It.”

More often than not, Missy still wows with her soulful singing and freaky flow, but if we bear impossibly high expectations, it’s only because she’s so rarely failed to meet them. Of course there’s plenty to love here, too. Jay-Z may seem incongruous on "Wake Up,” but it probably strengthens her message to the hip-hop masses that, well, it’s alright to be poor, unarmed and makin’ money legally. Testosterone takes hits throughout the album, most notably on "Toyz,” a brilliant ode to her vibrator. "I gotta bag full of toys,” she spits over a fantastic 1970s funk bass line, "so I don’t need none of you boys.”

Missy continues the feminist fun on the symphonic synth-fest "I'm Really Hot,” swipes Salt ’N Pepa’s "Push It” chorus and gleefully drops rhymes like "love my gut/so fuck a tummy tuck/skinny girls, yuck,” on "Pump It Up,” her should-have-been-better duet with Nelly. Sonically, Timbaland’s efforts rely on claustrophobic production, using dubby echoes, vibrating beats and mind-twisting synth squelches to anchor his partner's vocals.

Missy even takes a rewarding detour into dancehall, collaborating with Beanie Man and Elephant Man, but on too many occasions she also winds up in boring R&B land. She doesn’t need to rap backwards every time, but since Missy’s proven that she "can write a song sicker than Jeffrey Dahm” it’d be nice have included a few more of them. (Elektra)