Since Missy Elliot and Timbaland began redefining popular music with 1997's Supa Dupa Fly, their partnership has slowly lost its balance. As more producers rip off (or catch up to) Timbaland's futuristic funk, Elliot's success has depended more and more upon the force of her own bad-girl personality.
This Is Not a Test, with most of its backing so minimal as to be nonexistent, proves conclusively that Missy is more than enough. There's no better example than "Wake Up," a duet with Jay-Z that finds Tim in the somewhat shocking position of jackin' beats himself -- in this case, the Neptunes' car-door-slamming Clipse hit, "Grindin'." It's Missy's message to the hip-hop nation that resonates, however, as she redefines keepin' it real: "If . . . your wheels don't spin/And you gotta wear them jeans again/It's all right/MCs, stop the beef."
Few artists in the urban mainstream have the credibility to pull off a lecture like that. But for all her floss and flash, Elliot's always been an unlikely sex symbol, and her determination to become one on her own has kept her grounded -- a trash-talking everywoman. That's why "Toyz," a stomping disco ode to marital aids, is more Joan Rivers scorn than Lil' Kim porn, and it's what makes the bedroom banter sound authentic: Elliot just tries harder. "Dat's What I'm Talkin' About" is a tour de force of Princely erotica, where Elliot gets R. Kelly's freak on and leaves him moaning: "All I wanna do is make your dove cry." It's unlikely that any of Kelly's videotaped subjects ever got as much out of him. It's even harder to believe that Elliot can respond to each test of her dominance with another classic album. And she's done it again.