Missy Elliott’s escaped from Timba Land, and really, it’s about damn time. Apologies in advance to all romantics, but this rapping-producing duo, whose status as one of the most innovative forces in contemporary hip-hop was cemented with ’97’s Supa Dupa Fly, has suffered long enough. As evidenced by the comparative mediocrity of Elliott’s 2003 This Is Not a Test, the musical alchemy that earned Elliott five Grammys and millions of dollars and fans (and by extension Adidas and M.A.C endorsement deals) has long since fizzled. Like most marriages, it was killed in part by the statistical improbability of two exceptional individuals hooking up, producing consistently brilliant progeny, growing in mutually compatible ways, and then keeping it hot for the next 50 years. Or even the next 10.
So on Cookbook the musical marriage of Miss Demeanor and Timbaland comes to an end, or at least a much needed hiatus. Instead she rides beats from the Neptunes and Amerie’s Rich Harrison, swaps spit with ol’-school faves Slick Rick and Grand Puba, and trades lyrical licks with the likes of Ciara, Vybez Cartel, M.I.A., Mary J. Blige, and Fantasia Barrino. The results of this musical promiscuity are mixed, but The Cookbook yields far more bangers than bombs.
Lending credence to the conventional wisdom of not having sex with an ex, the two Timbaland tracks are notably flavorless. “Joy” is an intro skit featuring Missy playing a pretty lame Mama Mia to Mike Jones’s equally lamentable wiseguy. Teetering on the edge of offensive, it’s an insipid waste of disc time. “Partytime” fares a little better, but pales in comparison to the compelling get-up-off-yo’-assdom that has made “Lose Control” a contender for party anthem of the year. Also disappointing is “4 My Man,” Elliott’s duet with Fantasia Barrino. The arrangement forces Barrino, a soul singer if there ever was one, into the modest and ill-fitting constraints of contemporary r&b—a distinction the Avila brothers, who produced the track, are clearly unaware of.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that when it comes to her right to party, Miss Demeanor throws it down harder than ever. “Lose Control” is hardly the best The Cookbook has to offer. Elliott mines the best of hip-hop’s old-school elements for throwback tracks that are engagingly sparse and elemental (the Neptunes’ “On and On” comes to mind), but at the end of the day it’s Elliott’s ability to capture the ain’t-afraid-to-sweat flava that makes her tracks so hot. There’s very little “niggaz don’t dance” in her game. “We Run This” rehashes the hip-hop classic “Apache” with damn near decadent results, and “Irresistible Delicious” is a sexy spin on Rick’s legendary “Lick My Balls.” Bonus feature? Missy hits him with such scandalous sexual bravado that the once Slick Ruler is rendered utterly incapable of treating her like anybody’s prostitute. Some of the r&b tracks feel misplaced in the midst of such unrelenting funk—too much stop-and-go, very coitus interruptus. But “Teary-Eyed,” “Time and Time Again,” and especially “Meltdown”—gotta love a girl smart enough to stop faking orgasms and give her man the boot—remind us why Missy is one of the most sought-after songwriters of the hip-hop generation.
Add to this mix the Southern big-drum funk of “Click Clack” and booming dancehall drive of “Bad Man” and The Cookbook can feel a little schizophrenic. But it’s equally true that Miss Demeanor has very little to prove. For eight years Miss E.’s been a very good girl—adored by mall rats, revered by feminists, and still holding down for the street. She’s earned the right to sow some wild oats. I predict this quest for musical freakdom will only make her a better artist—even if it means enduring a few forgettable one-night stands along the way.