Missy mixes tepid 'Cookbook'

BY CHRIS GAERIG
Daily Arts Writer
Published July 17, 2005

The ingredients for a successful rap album are simple: a radio-friendly single, guest appearances that exemplify your rhymes rather than outshine them (read: Kanye West) and tight flows. Previously Missy Elliot has coalesced these elements to make some phenomenal brews, but on The Cookbook, she trades in her baker for other producers’ culinary skills.

Since releasing Da Real World, Missy and Timbaland have taken the rap scene by storm. Her unconventional style combined with his three-steps-ahead production generated Billboard toppers and legendary albums. But Timbaland — whose presence is sorely missed — produced only two songs on The Cookbook.

The first two tracks are Timbaland’s signature blend of electronic beats and syncopation. “Joy,” the album’s opener, is one of its strongest tracks and features MC Mike Jones. If it weren’t for the boring, extensive intro to the song, it’d be a surefire way to convince the naysayers of Missy’s lyrical abilities. Timbaland’s only other song is “Party Time,” featuring a grating chorus but stellar production.

After Timbaland adds his spice to the mix, Missy turns to The Neptunes for more show-stopping production with “On and On.” The up-tempo keyboard blips and heavy bass line taste just like a Timbaland concoction. But at nearly five minutes, the beat is unbelievably bland, and its straightforward feel is more indicative of The Neptunes than Timbaland.

Now that all Missy’s aces are out of her sleeves, its time to see some of her own recipes. At first, “Lose Control” sounds like Timbaland, but it’s just her best attempt at making one of his mixes. Its sporadic, jumpy beat is lifted from her former partner, but it becomes tired and stale, another track left in the oven too long.

Despite these problems and the uncharacteristic, diva-esque ballads (“Meltdown” and others), Missy’s style still shines through. She infuses her sexual force with crotch-grabbing cockiness. The only plus to the lackluster production is Missy’s obligation to carry The Cookbook with rhymes, and she does. “My Struggles,” “We Run This” and “Can’t Stop” are all lyrical gems that remind us why we care about Missy Elliot in the first place.

Alas, her guest appearances are bittersweet. While Missy’s flows are elevated by her dominance over the other MCs, their contributions don’t add much to the mix. Slick Rick’s lines on “Irresistible Delicious” are tight but altogether boring. Mary J. Blige acknowledges she can’t rap on “My Struggles.” The only one who’s able to outshine Missy is grime princess M.I.A. Unfortunately, Missy contorts her voice to sound like a British rapper, overpowering the dichotomy between them.

If Missy made cookbooks in the past, Timbaland was her iron chef. Without him, she seems lost. On her first real “solo” release since Supa Dupa Fly (which wasn’t really solo with all its guest appearances), all that can be said is that she tried. She cooked up some mediocre production, a boring single, good rhymes and blew her guests out of the water. Two out of five isn’t bad, right?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars