Before I get into this year's version of HHID's Ladies Week, I'm going to spend a couple of days revisiting two of the artists who were featured the first time around, just to catch up with what they've been doing.
When I was a kid, I used to unwrap various flavors of Starburst candies, put them in my mouth, and drink cold water immediately afterward. Somehow, my mind treated this as an approximation of cheap fruit juice, as the liquid would absorb some of the flavor from the spun sugar. In my young mind, I knew this was just an imitation, an impersonation of actual juice, but it was good enough for when I was hanging out with my friends at the arcade and only had access to a water fountain. Besides, have you ever eaten more than one Starburst flavor at once? That shit is golden, son!
In 1999, the radio airwaves were filled with approximations of cheap fruit juice, all of which tried to capture the flavor that Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott and Timothy "Timbaland" Mosely had slowly developed over many years of slow roasting over a low flame of computer-generated noise and music industry neglect. Missy's first solo album, Supa Dupa Fly, was released in 1997 after having made a name for herself as a go-to songwriter and as an alien visitor from another galaxy, one that uses Hefty garbage bags as sources of comfort and warmth, and also as a place to store food for the winter. Supa Dupa Fly was a collaborative effort between Missy and Timbaland, both of whom were young artists on the rise in a musical genre that was in dire need of a swift kick in the ass.
As was to be expected when something different is a success, everybody and their mother Xeroxed the shit out of Missy and Timbaland's unique hip hop and R&B formula, changing all radio stations into one long club mix, complete with sound bites of crying babies, crickets, and samples of old school R&B songs that your parents loved. This was the most obvious reaction that the music industry was going to have: it's much easier to simply stick with the same idea over and over again, as creativity is typically seen as a four-letter word, and Missy and Timbaland were cursing up a fucking storm as if they hit their collective thumbs with a hammer.
Missy's follow-up, Da Real World, was the duo's response to an industry that was obviously just ripping them off at this point, at least in their eyes, and instead of finding imitation to be the most sincere form of flattery, they decided to get upset about it. Missy started off with the general blueprint of Supa Dupa Fly (some love songs, some rap hybrids, mostly general weirdness as seen through a mainstream kaleidoscope), but took it to a much darker place, at least beat-wise, as Timbo decided that everything on Da Real World needed to sound like The Cure filtered through The Faint with a side of Mantronix and a Grace Jones chaser. Which is probably too much effort for a project on which the star attraction spends most of the program complaining about "beat biters". At least she had a couple of her friends to keep her company: aside from Timbaland riding shotgun, Missy invited her girls Aaliyah (R.I.P.), Lil' Mo, and Nicole Wray to sing the hooks that she didn't want anything to do with. (Ginuwine, Magoo, and the group Playa, all a part of Timbaland's collective, are all mysteriously absent.)
Da Real World was generally well-received, in that Missy and Timbaland successfully took their sound to another level, but it didn't sell as well as its predecessor, and its singles aren't as well-remembered as "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and "Sock It 2 Me". But at the same time, Da Real World can be seen as more of a hip hop sampler than a cohesive album, since it features cameos from some of the bigger names in Missy's Rolodex.
1. MYSTERIOUS (INTRO)
Well, somebody's obviously watched The Matrix one too many times. This rap album intro would have been much more impressive had they somehow convinced Laurence Fishburne to reprise his role as Morpheus, but since they didn't, this comes off as self-important horseshit.
2. BEAT BITERS (FEAT. TIMBALAND)
Missy and Timbaland kick off the musical portion of Da Real World with a diatribe against all of the folks who ripped off their style when it was proven to be successful. This is the entertainment industry; what the fuck did you expect? Everybody rips each other off all the fucking time. Timmy provides a couple of different beats for Melissa to spit over, and to be honest, she doesn't work in favor of her own argument. The way I see it now, if someone else can step in and do a better Missy Elliott impression than the original recipe herself, then let them, because you're clearly not doing much with your own persona.
3. BUSA RHYME (FEAT. EMINEM & GINA THOMPSON)
Back when Slim Shady was fresh in everybody's mind (as opposed to the overexposed pop star he is today) (yeah, I called him a fucking pop star, what of it?), Eminem used nearly every opportunity handed to him to prove that he could spit alongside anybody, so when Missy and Timbaland came a-calling (with a song originally given the creatively unimaginative title of “Funky White Boy”), he jumped at the chance. Some of his lyrics were censored for consumption by Missy's core audience (let's just say he takes Biggie's “Gimme The Loot” one step further: the lyrics printed within the liner notes even hilariously pretend that the controversial bars never existed in the first place), but while Marshall sounds okay (as he was prone to do back then), Missy fucks everything up with her embarrassing hook and nonsensical verses. Marshall actually recorded a third verse (over a completely different instrumental than the two Timmy uses on here) that was trimmed for time or some shit: Eminem stans can easily find it online by searching for “Tylenol Island”, if they're into that sort of thing, but you didn't hear it from me.
4. ALL N MY GRILL (FEAT. BIG BOI & NICOLE WRAY)
Contains quite possibly one of the laziest Timbaland productions he has ever had a hand in: some strings are looped over a drum machine that only occasionally switches up the pace. Missy sticks with the singing this time around (rendering the vocal presence of Nicole Wray superfluous at best), but her lyrics aren't that great: she may be a popular songwriter, but most of her words revolve around wanting a hot guy to pay her bills and buy her shit, a fact that most critics tend to gloss over. She seems to be in love with the concept of being in love. Anyway, OutKast's Big Boi appears as an afterthought, but while it was good to hear him over some Timbaland beats, the fact that another version of this song exists with French rapper MC Solaar (not the guy who ruined the late Guru's rap career) in Big Boi's place only lends credence to the “afterthought” theory. Although, more realistically, it was probably a “hey, let's sell some records in France” business move, so there you go.
5. DANGEROUS MOUTHS (FEAT. REDMAN)
The title makes no real sense: my understanding is that this track was originally going to feature both Reggie and Danja Mowf, former apprentice of Missy and one of the members of (Mad) Skillz's crew The Supafriendz, who were down with Timbo at the time; he somehow got screwed out of his cameo, but Missy kept the title anyway, which is a pretty bitchy move. Well, at least Redman sounds pretty good over Tim Mosely's work, but then again, Reggie can rhyme over damn near any fucking beat out there: how many rappers can you say that about?
6. HOT BOYZ (FEAT. LIL' MO)
For non-Missy fans, this probably isn't the version of the song that you're most familiar with. (I'll expand on that later on.) Timbaland's otherworldly halting beat still sounds pretty good today, but Melissa squanders it by singing about her ideal man: someone with money, a
big dick “fun toy”, and a glock on him at all times. The fact that she resorts to damn near begging to be with this hypothetical “hot boy” completely negates the message of female empowerment prevalent throughout Da Real World. Oh well, this version of the song sucks anyway.
7. YOU DON'T KNOW (FEAT. LIL' MO & TIMBALAND)
I guess Lil' Mo tries to exert her authority over her man, who was fucking around with Missy on the side (is that a fair trade-off? Discuss below), as they spend almost this entire song arguing with each other, curiously editing out the word “fuck” while leaving everything else in, including the word “clit”, which caught me off guard, considering just how mainstream Missy Elliott is. Timbaland plays the instigator with some truly inane ad-libs. This track only picks up when Missy and Lil' Mo (who sounds a lot like Timbaland's other protege Mocha, but it isn't her) spit some venomous bars at each other.
8. MR. DJ (FEAT. LADY SAW, LIL' MO, & TIMBALAND)
Timbaland breaks out his childhood Speak 'N Spell for a portion of this track, but its contribution is so much of an intrusion that Texas Instruments should have demanded a co-writing credit. I thought this track wasn't very good until Lady Saw stepped into the booth, not because she turned everything around by sounding great or anything, but because she brings something new to Da Real World's dinner party. I was getting sick of the “meatloaf surprise” that the host kept bragging about, anyway.
9. CHECKIN' FOR YOU (FEAT. LIL' KIM)
I like how Lil' Kim references Mary J. Blige for no reason during this interlude-slash-song, as if she would be caught dead anywhere near Da Real World. Thanks to Kimberly's rant, Missy's vocals take up less than a minute of this track, but I have to say, she didn't actually sound bad. This is possibly because the track ends before one can gather up enough energy to hit the 'skip' button.
10. STICKIN' CHICKENS (FEAT. AALIYAH & DA BRAT)
Proof positive that Missy and Timbaland could convince the late Aaliyah to do absolutely anything: she appears on a song called “Stickin' Chickens”. And you know what? I actually liked Timbo's simplistic beat on here. Missy and Da Brat work with the subject matter just fine (for a hint as to what the track is about, please refer to the song's title), but Aaliyah sounds out of place and embarrassed: it's almost as if she was the one who got fucked over, and Melissa and Da Brat jumped to her defense. Not terrible, but also not that good.
11. SMOOTH CHICK
12. WE DID IT
The chorus sounds like something Missy would have written for Ginuwine, who may have declined after realizing that it sounds very similar to his far-superior “What's The Difference?”, the Godzilla-sampling track also produced by Timbaland. This song is all sorts of wack. Are the kids still using that word? Wack?
13. THROW YOUR HANDS UP (INTERLUDE) (FEAT. LIL' KIM)
Lil' Kimberly returns to Da Real World in order to justify a woman's right to refer to herself as a “bitch”. Which makes the title of the skit even more inappropriate.
14. SHE'S A BITCH
The first single (and formerly the title track, before Missy came to her senses), which was, in hindsight, a mistake: after the pleasant overtones from Supa Dupa Fly, hearing Melissa as a pissed-off foulmouthed robot didn't sit so well with her fans, especially when the chorus had to be censored on both the radio and MTV. Here's the kicker, though: this is actually a pretty good song. Missy actually sounds like a more than decent rapper: perhaps the faster pace of the instrumental caused her to step her lyrical flow up. Timmy's shuffling beat lends the darker subject matter a brief rainbow of happiness in a torrential downpour of despair.
15. U CAN'T RESIST (FEAT. JUVENILE & B.G.)
Let's look at this song within the context of 1999: Cash Money Records was a fairly successful subsidiary of Universal Records (who still reap the rewards from their early signing of Lil' Wayne back when he was fourteen or some shit), and the Hot Boys (Weezy, Turk, Juvenile, and B.G.) were among the hottest new artists out at the time. So, in an effort to pander to as wide an audience as possible, Missy and Timbaland reached out to them, and Juvenile and B.G. Were the only ones that returned their phone call. As a result, this South-leaning instrumental features a more-than-decent B.G. (rhyming over what is probably the most expensive beat he will ever spit over) and a lackluster Juvenile alongside two Missy verses that aren't as embarrassing as they should be. It isn't that good of a song, but I've heard worse.
16. CRAZY FEELINGS (FEAT. BEYONCE KNOWLES)
Had this song been released today, it would have been a much bigger deal, but when Da Real World dropped, Beyonce Knowles was only the lead singer of Destiny's Child who could possibly break away for a solo career at some point, but nobody was sure just how far she could go. This isn't the worst song ever recorded, but it didn't do any favors for Missy or Mrs. Shawn Carter-Knowles. In fact, I found this to be sleep-inducing. At least this song was cheaper than Ambien. (My understanding is that there is an alternate version of this song floating around somewhere that includes the rest of Destiny's Child. It's hard to imagine a world in which Beyonce's abilities were put into question, isn't it?)
17. RELIGIOUS BLESSINGS (OUTRO)
And we're done.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Da Real World doesn't hold up at all over time. Missy Elliott and Timbaland resorted to their old tricks, covering up the illusion with the conceit of a “futuristic” concept (see: the reference to The Matrix during the intro, an idea that is immediately discarded). Minus the contributions of some of the bigger names on the guest list (and the complete absence of two of the biggest players in Missy and Timbo's regular acting troupe, Magoo and Ginuwine), this is the exact same album as Supa Dupa Fly, except the singles aren't nearly as catchy. The beats sound decent enough, but Missy's vocals (both sung and rhymed) are amateurish at best, and stretching her over seventeen tracks sounds more like a contractual obligation than a creative endeavor that someone would willingly listen to.
BUY OR BURN? I don't think any of you two care enough to do wither one, but if you're in the minority, a burn is more than sufficient. For two people who complain about people ripping off their style, Missy and Timbaland sure went out of their way to not give listeners anything fresh this time around. Although if you look at the Amazon link below, this album would only set you back one shiny penny, so it's your call.
BEST TRACKS: “She's A Bitch”
B-SIDE TO TRACK DOWN: “HOT BOYZ (REMIX)" (FEAT. NAS, EVE, Q-TIP, & LIL' MO)
This is the version of the song that a video was shot for, and the logic behind that decision makes perfect sense: why not promote the shit out of a rap version of “Hot Boyz” that will spike the sales of the CD single, thereby possibly boosting the profits made by Da Real World? This track is infamous for containing A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip performing a hilariously out-of-character vulgar verse, but I always remember it for Nasir's opening bars: in the video, he refers to himself as “Nastradamus” (or, more accurately, “Nastradam”), but on the CD single he's right back to his “Escobar” persona, a bit of trivia I was always curious about. This is, by far, the superior version of “Hot Boyz”; I'll leave it to the two readers to decide whether that is because of Missy's now-limited involvement.