Rapper Missy Elliot at the W Hotel Union Square in New York. (Jim Cooper / Associated…)
At the end of "Triple Threat," one of two new singles Missy Elliott and Timbaland released online Monday, Elliot declares: "All we do is make hits, and if you want a hit, maybe we’ll return your call."
That's a bold statement from an MC that hasn't released a full-length since 2005 and a producer whose most recent output is a scattershot series of collaboration records. But that's how devoted fans have been to the Elliot/Timbaland chemistry -- when they work their together, their hits hit harder than just about anyone's.
Unfortunately, Elliot might have spoken too soon -- neither of these tracks sound like obvious hits out of the gate. Of course, any news that Missy Elliott is back to rapping and that her long-awaited full length "Block Party" might be impending is most welcome. But all of her strengths -- the vocal dexterity, sexed-up swagger and sheer amount of fun she sounds like she has rapping -- are almost absent from these gothic, heavy tracks.
"Triple Threat" is the better of the pair. Even though it takes more than a minute of Timbaland clearing his throat and declaring his versatility (which, given the sheer randomness of his recent catalog, might not be a virtue), once Elliott drops in, the song sparks to life, with frosty arpeggios and Tim's clattering drum shuffle leaving plenty of breathing room for her.
The little eastern-influenced synth line is a nice touch, and there’s a crafty sonic breakdown in the second verse, but there's just too much Timbaland rapping on this to really cement this as a comeback single for Missy, who sounds a little under-confident for the scenario here.
Compared to the minimal, ecstatic fun of "Miss E ... So Addictive," this doesn’t sound so much like the future as it does a sci-fi epic with too big a budget.
"9th Inning" is supposed to be Elliott's statement of purpose here: "2012 there be no games, / real rap, real bars, I’m not playing." After a year when Nicki Minaj spent half her album diving into the champagne bubble bath of radio trance and Azealia Banks is denying she's even a rapper at all, it's refreshing to have Elliott back making steely threats to own hip-hop again.
But this track isn't it --- the piano flurry and soggy minor-key churn play exactly against what she does best, which is put her vocal charisma front and center. "9th Inning" is both too busy and too turgid to ever let her take off, and that's a mistake for an artist as fun to listen to as Elliott.
All the talk of the duo's boundless innovation and hit-making prowess is forever warranted. Elliott has one gold and five platinum albums that never sounded like less than a space-age hip-hop utopia. But these tracks should be showing, not telling, their brilliance -- and these singles feel more like lectures than jams.
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