Missy Elliott’s ‘Underneath Building’ Turns 20

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Missy Elliott’s largest hit opens with Timbaland scratching up the intro from “Request Line,” a breezy electro-rap single that Rock Grasp Scott & The Dynamic Three launched in 1984. When that pattern drops out, one other pattern is available in: The effervescent intro from Blondie’s “Coronary heart Of Glass,” paired with an eerie synth-whistle. Inside just a few seconds, Missy Elliott makes a requirement: If you happen to bought a giant dick, let her search ya and learn the way laborious she gotta work ya. However we by no means hear the phrase “dick”; as an alternative, we get a sudden elephant trumpet-blast. From there, issues get even sillier.

“Work It” is a goony masterpiece of absurdity, a burst of attractive gibberish that by no means loses its sense of euphoric hilarity. Missy’s voice zooms forwards and backwards over the spare, elegant beat. She has directions: Name earlier than you come in order that she will be able to shave her chocha, then go downtown and eat it like a vulture. She rhymes “Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta” with “intercourse me so good I say blah blah blah.” She rhapsodizes about the way in which her ass goes ba-bum-bum-bum-bum. It’s meaningless, and it’s lovely.

Whenever you issue within the “Work It” video, an all-time basic of the shape, issues get much more ridiculous. Missy makes her entrance sliding throughout an apocalyptic playground, after we’ve already seen her seated behind turntables and lined in bees. She holds an enormous handful of pubes out to the digicam after which blows these pubes in our route. Her face seems on the physique of somewhat child in a dunce cap. A saluting army determine, flag and drummer behind him, solemnly intones the road “offer you some some some a few of this Cinnabun.” We’re in ecstatic cartoon Bugs Bunny unreality right here, and that unreality appears to be like an entire lot higher than any model of actuality.

“Work It,” track and video, is a burst of joyous madness that got here out of heartbreak and uncertainty. Missy Elliott was pop music’s reigning futurist lengthy earlier than she got here out with “Work It.” In 2001, she launched Miss E… So Addictive, an album of wildly imaginative sci-fi membership music. Then, just a few months later, Aaliyah died in a aircraft crash. In 1996, when the behind-the-scenes duo of Missy Elliott and Timbaland have been nonetheless establishing their sound, the teenage R&B star Aaliyah acknowledged what they have been doing and went to work with them. For the following 5 years, Aaliyah recorded basic after basic with Missy and Timbaland, and she or he helped put them right into a place the place they may grow to be pop stars themselves. Aaliyah’s sudden, mindless loss hit Missy laborious, and it affected her trajectory in ways in which weren’t instantly obvious.

Missy Elliott’s fourth album Underneath Building, which can flip 20 years previous tomorrow, doesn’t open with music. As a substitute, it begins off with Missy talking, unscripted and unaccompanied, about what it’s prefer to course of that loss: “You already know, ever since Aaliyah handed, I view life in a extra helpful approach.” When Missy modified her outlook, she realized that she didn’t like the place rap music was going. There was an excessive amount of beef, an excessive amount of gossip, an excessive amount of hateration. Folks have been making music for clout, not for the sheer pleasure of creativity. In that intro, Missy scolds her friends, citing an instance that will age in some very unusual methods: “You don’t see Invoice Gates and Donald Trump arguing with one another ’trigger each of them bought paper, and so they bought higher shit to do.” If solely.

On Underneath Building, Missy tried a sort of cultural reset. Moderately than pushing rap and R&B into daring new futures, as she’d performed on her earlier three albums, she tried to carry every thing again to the sensation of the old-school rap that she’s at all times beloved. However Missy wasn’t able to pure nostalgic pastiche; she wasn’t attempting to go Jurassic 5 on everybody. As a substitute, Missy, Timbaland, and their all-star solid of collaborators invested their ’80s and ’90s reference factors with the berserk, idiosyncratic spirit that already animated a lot of their work. The end result was the largest and, for my cash, the perfect album that Missy Elliott has ever made.

Typically, pop-music nostalgia could be a pressure for stylistic conservatism, a determined backlash towards progress. However Missy and Timbaland couldn’t take issues backwards in the event that they tried — until we’re speaking about taking issues actually backwards, as Missy so usually does together with her personal Underneath Building vocals. As a substitute, Missy and Tim took inspiration from rap’s early no-rules ethos. When samples crop up on Underneath Building — the Bob James “Take Me To The Mardi-Gras” break on “Work It,” the backwards drum-machines of the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” on “Funky Contemporary Dressed” — you possibly can hear how shut these data at all times have been to Timbaland’s personal spacey increase. Missy and Tim have been drawing connections, and so they have been having enjoyable doing it.

That sense of enjoyable is an important factor about Underneath Building. In a single interstitial skit, Missy says, “It’s possible you’ll not really feel like I’m an actual hip-hop artist.” She didn’t sound too anxious about it. As a substitute of attempting to check herself towards the instance of historic heroes like Rakim, Missy spoke her personal sugar-rush nonsense language. She didn’t stress over whether or not her phrases actually rhymed, or whether or not they have been even phrases. As a substitute, she introduced a gorgeously deranged vitality to the music that she beloved. She sang together with basslines. She rhapsodized about British Knights and gold chains. She tell us that her angle was bitchy as a result of her interval was heavy. She rapped about intercourse so much. She linked with the issues, musical and in any other case, that made her joyful. It’s laborious to think about a more healthy response to tragedy.

Even when Missy talks shit on Underneath Building, she seems like she’s having a blast: “I do know y’all poor, y’all broke! Y’all job simply hanging up coats!” The later R&B tracks — those that Missy recorded with out her ordinary co-producer Timbaland — don’t gradual the celebration down an excessive amount of; they only change it up. “Pussycat” is breezy, addictive plastic soul, and it’s bought Missy repeatedly pleading for her pussy to not fail her now. “Nothing Out There For Me” now performs as fascinating psychodrama: Missy pleading together with her pal Beyoncé to return out and meet her on the membership, Beyoncé begging off and saying that she loves her man an excessive amount of and that she’s not going to fulfill anybody higher on any night time out. (Missy: “Beyoncé, I do know you ain’t letting that broke down, insecure LL Cool J wannabe n***a hold you in the home for an additional Friday.” A wealthy textual content!) The one second the place the celebration actually ends is the honest, bottomlessly unhappy closing observe “Can You Hear Me” — Missy, T-Boz, and Chilli singing fond farewells to their late pals and collaborators Aaliyah and Left Eye.

No one in pop historical past makes use of friends higher than Missy Elliott. On “Again In The Day,” as an example, Missy brings in Jay-Z, the good man in rap, to dork out about previous favorites. (Jay says that he and Missy are like “Rae and Ghost, AG and Showbiz.”) Ludacris arrives on “Gossip People” in peak guest-verse murderer kind, flipping Slick Rick’s “Kids’s Story” to bellow out his personal narrative. Ms. Jade, Missy and Timbaland’s newly recruited Philly rap protege, rips “Funky Contemporary Dressed” to items; I’ll by no means perceive why she didn’t grow to be an enormous star. In one of many album’s extra superbly baffling choices, Missy adapts Technique Man’s “Carry The Ache” right into a intercourse track, with Meth himself snarling about “we will bump uglies in case you ain’t bought your month-to-month.”

That revised “Carry The Ache” might be a horrible concept, however its ridiculousness is what makes it nice. How might you be mad at a track that insane? How might you ever skip it? There aren’t any skips on Underneath Building. Each track has one thing price listening to: the rubbery pulse of “Slide,” the regal disdain and itchy synth-streaks of “Sizzling,” the scattered drum-splats of “Go To The Flooring.” Each track has character, and each track has hooks.

Underneath Building was a magic trick: Missy Elliott and Timbaland calling again to an earlier rap period with fondness however no bitterness, making previous tracks sound new. (Nostalgia is humorous; the previous songs that they reference on Underneath Building weren’t as previous as Underneath Building is now.) This was Missy and Tim at their peak. By wanting backwards, Missy and Tim propelled themselves even additional into the mainstream. Underneath Building went double platinum, promoting greater than some other Missy album.” Work It” spent 10 weeks at #2, caught behind Eminem’s “Lose Your self” and tying Foreigner’s report for the longest stretch on the runner-up spot.

Missy would by no means recapture that almost-dominance once more. A 12 months later, Missy launched her rushed follow-up This Is Not A Take a look at! — a enjoyable album with a few huge hits that didn’t come near the highs of Underneath Building. After that, Missy and Timbaland’s inventive partnership splintered. Missy made yet another album, 2005’s pretty-good The Cookbook, and she or he nonetheless hasn’t adopted it up.

At this level, Missy Elliott is well known as a pioneering genius, a one in all one. Critics love her. Followers love her. She’s bought a Vanguard Award. She rapped “Work It” with Katy Perry on the Tremendous Bowl Halftime Present. Her greatness is known, and I nonetheless assume she might return with extra bugged-out brilliance anytime she feels sufficiently impressed. However Underneath Building will at all times stand out as a particular achievement, a monument to pleasure within the face of unhappiness.


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