To E or Not to E


Love my people. Love them madly, okay? Because only a negro like Missy Elliott could make an album praising Jesus and Ecstasy without a buttcheek of irony, a shumai-twist of sarcasm, or a scintilla of shame. This is not to say Missy is not conflicted over the matter on her junior joint, Miss E . . . So Addictive. Doxology around the dichotomy appearing on track 30, the hidden holy-ghosted track, 14 indexed stairs to heaven away from the Jay-Z remix of “One Minute Man” that closes the album proper—or improper as the case may truly be.

By now we should all know that hiphop Christianity got nothing to do with your Just Say No. An All-Knowing, All-Forgiving, and Alright Now fusion of negrocity and confessional prayer-rhymes defines catechism hiphop style: “Love my Jesus and love my high but Father I apologize and thank you for not allowing me to blow my own or someone else’s brains out over the backstabbers and the industry bullshit.” This brings to mind the former Marvin Gaye dancer who reported in a recent documentary how Marvin seemed to need His Prayer and His Cocaine equally. It also begs we remember Brother Maurice White’s sermon on EW&F’s That’s the Way of the World, where he extolled the virtues of an African American spiritual interior guided along by uh-strology mysticism world religion, cause all of these things give you insight into your inner self hammercy, and an outer self that liked to go to parties, dress up, and be cool and look pretty on ego trips. We’re also called upon here to remember those early ’80s days in Chocolate City when your angel dust was King Carnage but colloquially known as Loveboat or Lovely and go-go bands like Trouble Funk got trashed for releasing songs talking about “Come Get on the Loveboat” and “Let’s Get Lovely.” Audience identification taken to a genocidal level. Sorry to be so rough on a girl but this is how ruins get started in the African American community. Once upon a time, Richard Pryor portrayed the lead singer in a heavy metal band called Black Death dispensing buckets of acid and amphetamines from the stage. Tried to paint it as a white boy thang. But we a long way from the days when negroes had to speak in their Lovely underground codes and the Grateful Dead could freely rhapsodize about speedballing.

Oh but Tate, Missy means Ecstasy to be understood as just a metaphor for her music. A metaphor, Tate. Remember those? Remember you and Vernon Reid’s square asses slightly taken aback, slightly traumatized the first time a South Bronx teenager referred to something, specifically Vern’s incandescent socks du jour, as “dope.” Slammin’, illin’, killin’, murderin’, dope, death. You know how we do. Take a phrase that’s mortality-squared, flip it, now it’s the daily honorific word from your idol, your highest title.

I got grownass friends. Your casual black bohemian E user who like how it enhance the dance, the music, the sex, the romance. Even they think Missy needs to be spanked for promoting this E shit, metaphorically opening up the uptown market as it were. Because we all know how these things go, we all seen it befo’, trickling down from the Superfly marquee to otherwise genius brothers wanting to fight you and slight you a fool for saying coke was addictive in the ’70s, to Naw, see, freebase is how you control the shit, Richard Pryor just got carried away, Tony Montana effed-up I wouldn’t, to next thing you know, Hello, 911, Mama just sold baby sister to the crackhouse. Call me dramatic. Call me an alarmist. Then somebody please show us the U.S. ghetto where the m.o. is Everything in Moderation and generations aren’t known by their synthetic drug plagues.

OK. His high horse. Let a brother get off. Lest we forget: So Addictive is also about Missy and Tim slam-dunking it once again. The lead single, “Get Ur Freak On,” just oughta be christened the battle cry of the bling-bling republic by any other name. The platinum negro national anthem of the cultural moment. Lift every voice and somebody, anybody, everybody, back that azz on up and show me what you working with. What Missy and Tim have done with “Freak On” is push the Nawleans thing into Basement Bhangra territory. The fusion of pneumatic electrofunk with breaker-wave tablas and Qawwali pursuit of higher falsetto ground is done as seamlessly and nongratuitously as you’ll hear this side of Miles Davis’s On the Corner. Similar to how Funkadelic deployed the squeaky and exotic Brazilian quica on “One Nation Under a Groove” and “(not just) Knee Deep,” Tim smears rather than slightly sprinkles the South Asian flavors into his chattering, nattering polyriddimic ear-candy stew.

Like all admirers of the great modern African American minimalist composers—your Thelonious Monks, your Wayne Shorters, your Thom Bells, your Jeff Mills, your RZAs, your Dr. Dres, your Manny Freshes—yours truly remains enthralled by Missy and Tim’s perpetually renewed, resourceful, and refreshing collaborations in the fine art of syncopation. Their strong mixtures of offbeats, weak beats, hyperspatial stop-time beats, and fractured antiphony continue to tantalize the active regions located between a negro’s auditory nerves, her neckbone, and her digital extremities.

The making of architectonic social music. A commonplace in the African American musical canon. Yet there are few qualified master builders around today. Before Missy and Tim hit the scene hiphop soul meant Mary J. Blige having pitch issues over an old r&b sample. After them it meant drum programming that had as much spontaneity and unpredictable nervous energy as a Redman-Method Man duet. If that wasn’t enough, Missy’s supadupa smoove and tight two-, three-, and four-part harmonies effortlessly made sense rather than incongruity among all her hard rhyming—her vocal obbligatos playing a civilizing role akin to that thriving community garden we like to throw up in the vacant lot on your hardscrabble tenement block. Just like the U.K.’s junglists did the math that allowed halftime diva licks to trippingly flow across triple-time more-mutant-than-human digital drum densities, Missy and Tim made a mix of attack-dog lyrics and très-femme vocals seem as right and proper as the union of butter Ginuwine and sandpaper Solé. You got to imagine Diana Ross snuggled up boa down with James Brown back in that day to appreciate how rad Tim and Missy’s recombinant creations be. Dexter Gordon maintaining his lordlygossamer elegancefinesse in the company of the Jimmy Castor Bunch. Jelly Roll Morton revisited on the modern slang tip. Some arty abstract bourgie thuglife shat. Noh theatre meets techno in the backseat of a Cash Money cruiser. As experimental as Black beat science gets but clubbable too. Willem de Kooning reborn as a poor baby seal, if you catch my drift. So what, ain’t nothing moving but the music if you don’t.

As always, Missy’s got a steamy superfriends sundae thing going on here: Redman-Method Man naturally spraying track two, “Dog in Heat,” with sybaritic Nighttown narratives. Ludacris advertising his tantric method on the album’s first shot at “One Minute Man.” Rudeass Jigga wham-bammin’ the script on the remix version, declaring the one-minute man the real Casanova. As be the case every time Eve gets with Missy she sounds more excitable on the techno drama “4 My People” than she does on her own charming disc—Missy being the only woman in hiphop who makes it appear she’s doing her royalty cameos a favor.

Musicality and musical personality on Missy and Tim’s level is a rarity in black music today. As with Monk, Prince, Lester Bowie, it’s enough for her to exhale on a track to give it some giggle and jiggle. Those who also appreciate Missy’s less avant-garde side will dig the ballads and the skits here. The latter achieve maximum hilaritocity on “I’ve Changed—Interlude,” where Missy shuts down an overemoting Lil Mo’, accusing her of “trying to raise money for some new choir robes” before pulling the plug. The ballad side is heard to best effect on “Moving On,” the aforementioned unlisted track 30, a waltztime church processional featuring those divine miracles the Clark Sisters.

Decades ago, when EW&F ruled the world of pop, Pablo Guzman asked Maurice White his opinion of George Clinton. White praised the Doctor for possessing the rarefied ability, like his own, to credibly compose in any genre of American song. On So Addictive Missy and Tim once again prove themselves just as able to renovate and innovate in varied songforms. But whatever gifts they may possess for composing third-eye-opening lyrics à la Clinton or White remain hidden, perhaps even forbidden by their mercantile instincts. Their skills at crafting secular inspirations for release and redemption remain nonpareil among their peer group. Riddle me this, though: Would it not be easier for a GOD-fearing, Jesus-loving hiphop/pop demigoddess to enter the kingdom of heaven without a tab of E in her rhyming dictionary?