Missy Elliot, The Roots stun with new releases

John Hult

John Hult

It’s fairly ironic that Missy Elliot’s newest collaboration with superproducer Timbaland, Under Construction, opens with a statement explaining her own personal philosophy regarding the album itself and the hip-hop community in general. We’re all “under construction,” says Elliot. She’s a work in progress, and hip-hop needs love to help each other rebuild.

Usually a mission statement for the whole of a musical genre would not be followed by a song containing the lyric ding-di-di-di-di-ding-da-ding-ding. But that’s how it has to work.

A slimmed-down Elliot presents Under Construction as a love letter to simple, old-school good time hip-hop and sweeps through a set that pops from the first beat.

In addition to help from Timbaland’s terminally infectious groove construction, Elliot also brings a laundry list of hip-hop superstars along for the ride. Method Man pops up on “Bring The Pain,” Ludacris helps out on “Gossip Folks” and Jay-Z helps out on the album’s nostalgic mission statement “Back in the Day.”

“Funky Fresh Dressed,” the most overtly old school and best track, features Ms. Jade. Elliot also brings Beyonce Knowles and TLC to round out her guest stars.

Missy and Timbaland have always seemed to have their fingers on the pulse of popular hip-hop, but Under Construction is more about doing something different than doing something better.

As fun-loving, party-time pop records go, Under Construction wins at every turn. Elliot has never been the most verbose MC, however, as her lyrics are more designed to be memorable and catchy than searching and bubbling over with metaphor or symbolism. She does deal with relationships and sexuality, while skewering show-offs and wannabes, but the lyrics bow to the beat.

Again, Under Construction is about making fun music and making music fun, so Elliot doesn’t need to show off.

In stark contrast to Elliot’s pop-hop juggernaut stands Phrenology, The Roots’ higher aiming and equally successful fifth studio release. If Under Construction is the party-time junk food, Phrenology is the gourmet. Philadelphia’s own The Roots, one of the only hip-hop groups to perform with a full band, have always been more about building a groove than building songs. The groove focus is probably why they are more well-known as that band backing Jay-Z on Unplugged or as the house band on Spike Lee’s Bamboozled than as hitmakers.

The grooves are still here, with drummer/producer ?uestlove laying down a hard-driving backbeat for Black Thought’s