By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Missy Elliott is damned lucky that she can spot a beat and that she hooked up with Timbaland early on, because she sure as hell can't write more than a few clever lyrics in any given song, and most of them have to do with her ass. Sure, those choice lines are usually inspired and hilarious, but they're almost always overshadowed by a mass of lyrics concerning what a great rapper she thinks she is, or how real she is, or how "If you ain't got a gun it's all right/if you're making legal money it's all right" (gee, thanks for the permission to not pack heat and sell crack), or how much she wants to smoke your dope. Like most rappers, Elliott falls back on boasts when she can't think of anything else to say, and that's boring. She's so mediocre at concocting complex rhymes that she makes Nelly sound positively Homeric. But ultimately that doesn't matter, because Missy and Nelly's collaboration, "Pump It Up," is the weirdest and most innovative track on This Is Not a Test: a stunning mess of clangs and boings that's as insane as it is infectious.
After all, this is pop music, and as such, Test shouldn't be considered an artistic "statement" as much as a compendium of potential singles, of which a good ten would make a body giddy to hear on the radio. Of course, the real star of any Elliott release is her longtime collaborator, Timbaland, who produced all but the four tracks that Miss E herself produced (all of which pale), and on Test he's more percussive and wide-open than he's ever been; he's also more openly dabbling with Jamaican dancehall, which has always been an inspiration.
The record features collaborations with Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Elephant Man, Fabolous, R. Kelly, Monica, Beenie Man, Nelly and gospel trio the Clark Sisters; throughout those that Timba worked, you can hear the glory of the lockstep robot sound that he and fellow Virginians the Neptunes have perfected. Timba's Devo to the Neptunes' Gang of Four, but both are pushing hip-hop, and although his sound over the course of 60-plus minutes starts to sound same-samey, it's still shocking and transcendent, as is Missy's sassy party tone on these tracks. Still, one always hopes for that perfect Missy/Timbaland full length, their Sandinista! or Stankonia, and it's yet to arrive.