These days everybody's praising Missy Elliott's "Work It" as one of the best pop songs of the moment. They're right, but they're also missing the larger point: As always with La Elliott, "Work It" works even better within the context of its album.
Elliott is one of the few pop stars whose music you have to listen to in its entirety to get the Big Picture. She's not one to churn out J.Lo-ish, Top 40 throwaways; while her songs are always radio-ready, collectively, there's something more resonant, more bountiful, more Adrienne Barbeau -- if you will -- on display.
By itself, "Work It" is a mere pop-rap pacifier, a little something that gets under your skin until the next single rolls along. But stick "Work It" in the middle of the relentless beat machine that is Under Construction, and what was once a mischievous collection of rhythmic mumbo-jumbo is transformed into a jigsaw piece of the pop-culture puzzle Elliott tumbles out on the table and snaps back together. "Work It" may be an impressive piece of pop music, but Under Construction is an impressive piece of pop art.
Which begs the question, Is Missy Elliott the second coming of Andy Warhol? Is Elliott willing and able to carry the pop-deconstruction torch Warhol lit all those years ago? One thing's for sure: If Warhol were still alive and churning out soup can canvases and portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elliott's music would be playing at his openings. Sure, it's tempting to call Construction a long dance record -- a jiggy, loopy treatise on the purity and preservation of a good beat -- but again that would be missing the point. As chief lieutenant to producer Timbaland, Elliott has always been a music maker whose most compulsive compositions sound like, frenetic products of an oversaturated, overstimulated culture. And that comes through vibrantly on Construction, where the references, both musical and lyrical, fly by at such a feverish pace that you may need to listen to each song four times to fully digest it. In that way, Construction gives as much love to Public Enemy as it does to that guy who sang "Double Dutch Bus."
"Work It" isn't the only tune that's so unnervingly combustible. On practically every song, Elliott -- with the production aid of Timbaland, of course -- gives your brain a workout while trying to take a chunk out of your ass. (That's a not-so-subtle way of saying that messages or no, you can't sit down while this album's in progress.) Even when she's at her most self-aggrandizing, as on the hilarious hater ode "Gossip Folks," she never forgets to keep your foot tapping.
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Construction never lets up, even when Elliott "breaks it down," riffing on dealing with men ("P***ycat," "Nothing Out There for Me") and sending a message to her departed friend Aaliyah ("Can You Hear Me," featuring fellow mourners TLC). Once again, Elliott presents herself as the type of girl a brotha can both hang with and be with ("When you need me to wash your clothes, boy / I'm ready / When you need me on the phone to curse out the hoes / Suga, I'm ready," she sings on "Play the Beat"). And as a producer, she knows how much music thrives on the kind of aggression needed to carry out the second half of that couplet.
She also knows how much it thrives on familiarity. But instead of creating an album full of overused samples and tired rap lines, she gorges on three decades of hip-hop attitude and comes up with something new. It may not sound like the compliment it's meant to be, but Missy Elliott is pop music's most flawless, fluid regurgitator.
My only complaint is this: Why does Elliott have to begin every damn song by saying it's "a Missy Elliott exclusive"? Trust me people know it's yours from the first beat you don't have to Puffy your shit up.
But then you could always tell a Warhol at a glance too, and that didn't stop the man from signing all his work.