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Missy Elliott sees the light on her new CD. Despite some heavy childhood drama, the rapper is keeping it fun on ''Under Construction''

By Rob Brunner
Updated November 22, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
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Missy Elliott
Credit: Missy Elliott Photograph by Anton Corbijn

Under Construction

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  • Music
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True to her name, Missy ”Misdemeanor” Elliott is, at this very moment, flouting one of the pop universe’s cardinal rules. The unrepentant rapper has just rented an apartment on Williams Island, an exclusive condo complex just north of Miami and home to Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, among other heavy-walleted heat seekers. But she can’t move in yet. ”They’re putting the waterfall in my place now, and it’s leaking,” Elliott says. Did TLC not teach this rap bad girl about the perils of chasing waterfalls?

The aquatic infraction has Elliott incarcerated in one of the least likely hip-hop haunts imaginable: a numbingly bland Marriott Residence Inn on Miami’s outskirts, where zombielike bizzers roam the halls and the only action in earshot is Montel Williams’ drone on the lounge TV. You’d find more floss at a denture convention.

This is not what spending an afternoon with one of rap’s biggest stars is supposed to be like. It’s no small relief, then, whe Elliott — newly svelte after a dramatic XL-to-M weight loss in the last year, and sporting a beret and a Golden State Warriors jersey — appears in her spanking new $260,000 Ferrari 360 Spider, cranks her current top five hit, ”Work It,” on a set of head-pounding speakers, and takes off for destinations more befitting a performer of her multiplatinum stature. After a pit stop for gas and a bag of Cheetos (”I cheat every now and then”), Elliott steers the Ferrari toward the Hit Factory Criteria Studios, where she’s tweaking new tracks.

This is more like it. Criteria is the room where James Brown laid down ”I Got You (I Feel Good).” Where Derek and the Dominos unleashed ”Layla.” Where the Bee Gees banged out ”Stayin’ Alive.” And, more to the point, where Elliott and longtime collaborator Timbaland crafted her fourth album, Under Construction, a vastly entertaining blend of heartfelt old-school nostalgia and state-of-next-year’s-art production that’s a sure bet to become her fourth platinum-selling album in a row. Retro references and silly lyrics abound. The second single, ”Gossip Folks,” is built around an extended riff on Frankie Smith’s 1981 hit ”Double Dutch Bus” (sample Missy lyric: ”Ya’ll job just hangin up coats/Step to me get burnt like toast”). ”Funky Fresh Dressed” is a tribute to U.T.F.O.’s ”Roxanne, Roxanne” that morphs into the Beastie Boys’ ”Paul Revere” (sample Missy lyric: ”Yes, my vision blurry/My speech is very slurry/Me without Tim is like Jamaicans with no curry”). And ”Back in the Day” is a lament for rap’s golden age (sample Missy lyric: ”I rocks the mic right whether I’m pissy drunk or sober”). ”For the new generation, it’s gonna sound like something new,” says Elliott, sitting at a table just behind an imposing control board in Criteria’s Studio A. ”For the old generation, it’s gonna be a memory. It works both ways. We felt like we couldn’t go wrong.”

Construction got under way when, hoping for inspiration, Elliott and Timbaland bought a stack of old-school hip-hop vinyl at a used-record store in North Miami Beach. The seminal hip-hop 12-inch ”Roxanne, Roxanne” was one of their scores. So were ”Paul Revere” and records from Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, even Kid ‘N Play. ”Once we came back to the studio and put those records on the turntable, it was like, ‘Dag, this is what’s missing in music right now,”’ Elliott remembers. ”Music back then was so much fun. It was warm. Now it’s, like, so tense in hip-hop. Back then music was so much a part of our lives. It was about learning every line. Now kids is on the computer. They get into music, but it’s not to the degree where we were. It feels different…. When hip-hop was beginning for me, people weren’t making the kind of money that they make now. It was for the love of doing it and having fun with it.”

Under Construction

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  • Music
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