Missy Elliott 

The Cookbook (Goldmind/Atlantic)

In 1997, Missy Elliott rocked a garbage bag in a video where she sort-of rapped over an Ann Peebles sample that was filtered through outer space by some dude called Timbaland. In doing so, she saved hip-hop from a creatively dismal year and established herself as one of the premier voices in pop music.

Since then, Missy -- with ample help from Timbaland -- has updated her sound with every album, sliding smoothly from that sort-of rap to old-school clichés to teary ballads. Missy's able to call on almost anybody in the rap universe for help, making her releases a state-of-the-union address for mainstream hip-hop.

Judging from The Cookbook, things are running smoothly. Most of the album resurrects party rap without the novelty of Will Smith or the "it's good because your parents hate it" pop controversy of 50 Cent. Tracks like "Partytime," "Bad Man" and "Lose Control" are masterful club jams, familiar and catchy without seeming tired. "Irresistible Delicious" brings in Slick Rick for an old-school throwback but never sounds stale. Even the ballads, which killed the momentum on her older albums, fit in; only "Time and Time Again" drags. Elliott still gets out-rhymed by her guests -- welcome back, Grand Puba! -- but the dearth of other emcees on all but a handful of tracks doesn't hurt Cookbook at all. Neither does the absence of Timbaland -- the album bangs even with only a pair of his beats.

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