Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott
Da Real World
The Gold Mind, Inc./Eastwest
Geri Halliwell and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott are two gals with some serious identity problems. As the jiggly portion of the platinum-selling girl quintet Spice Girls, Geri Halliwell was the one most guilty of being excessively extravagant. With streaks in her hair, Halliwell (a.k.a. Ginger Spice) was the group's bawdy nerve center (and also the one that smacked Prince Charles on the arse). But she was also the one that many believed had the most talent even though we all know Sporty Spice could knock any of the other Spices on their asses. So when Halliwell left the group last year, people thought Girl Power would seriously crumble. Not true.
On Schizophonic Halliwell learns that it's hard being your own one-woman Spice Girls. On this one ten-song album, the bubbly Briton goes through more flavors than a panty fetishist downing a pack of assorted edible underwear. She begins the album with "Look at Me," which would be randy fun if it weren't for the fact that it sounds note-for-note like "History Repeating," the brilliant track the Propellerheads did with Shirley Bassey a couple years ago.
Halliwell may have dumped the bordello-broad act to become a Serious Independent Artist, or shall we say five Serious Independent Artists, but much of her music on Schizophonic boasts the same theme: Halliwell's searching for her own musical, spiritual and creative independence. (On "Walkaway" she utters: "Solitude and emptiness have been a friend of mine / As I'm turning my back on emptiness / I leave them all behind." )
But a Spice Girl-ish sound often accompanies whatever she does. Even the most memorable, enjoyable songs the torchy "Goodnight Kiss" or the Janet-esque "You're in a Bubble" carry a weight that reminds listeners they've been down this road before. Halliwell's heart and mind are in the right place, but it seems like she's afraid to drop the consumer-friendly rhythm she acquired with her four previous playmates. But hey, this is only her first album.
Mind you, Schizophonic doesn't blow, but it doesn't make you strip to your drawers and dance, as she has implied it would do in several national interviews. Instead, the album gives us an idea of what Halliwell can be.
Now, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott knows what she wants what she really really wants and who she wants. And she sure as hell ain't afraid to tell people about it. The question is what does she want on her latest album, Da Real World? Does she want a postmodern existence where a woman can flow just as good as the guys and still retain some femininity, or does she just want playa-hatin' hoes to back off her?
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On her first album, 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, it was clear what Elliot wanted: to be a hip-hoppin', gum-poppin' female who can play with the high rollers, stomp with the big dawgs and still have time left over to dish dirt with the girls. And she did that. Remarkably. As the most successful playette out of Timbaland's camp, Elliott played off her frumpy, short-haired ambiguity with confident, worry-free aplomb, turning out the iconoclastic image of a performer all the girls wanna be with and all the guys wanna be in. Now that she has declared herself as a girl not to be taken lightly, she can officially go (off) and take on the world. Da real one.
The "muthafuckin' bitch era" declared on her last album continues prominently on Da Real World. Going for a harder, darker tone than the funky flights of fancy she went for with Supa Dupa, Elliott takes an edgier road. But there are a couple of questions worth asking about the album, like: a) what the hell is a Strong Black Woman like Missy doing teaming up with soft-serve Eminem, who announces he hates "girls, women and bitches," on "Busa Rhyme"? and b) why does Elliot go the Lil' Kim route (who also guests on the album) and get into a shallow spat with a gal over some sorry-ass man on "You Don't Know"? Sample lyric: "You been sucking his dick / Tasting my clit / Just the side chick / On the side bitch / I'm the prize bitch." Elliot fares much better when she sticks up for her music ("Beat Biters") or herself ("All N My Grill," "Smooth Chick"). Even on the much-touted "She's a Bitch," Elliot strikes with a liberating, capable resonance that makes the song's title seem redundant.
Da Real World might have a few contradictions, but that doesn't mean it's boring. As with any high-profile Timbaland production, the beats remain frothy and inventive enough to keep the album from getting bogged down in bitchy braggadocio. When it comes down to it, both Elliott and Halliwell want to stay uncompromising, independent and feminine. They're just girls, standing in front of a world, asking it to love them.
And it's always good when women ask first. (Craig D. Lindsey)