Trailblazing partners Missy Elliott and Timbaland function as musical time travelers, teleporting in every few years to show hip-hop what its future looks like. With their latest collaboration, Under Construction, the future might morph into its barely distant past. The album's musical tracks begin with something almost blasphemous to the church of Timbaland: a James Brown sample. From there, classic hip-hop samples repeatedly crack tracks, often running alongside Tim's futuristic funk. The result is reverent and progressive at once.
Under Construction is like a hip-hop museum tour. Old-school references are too numerous to catalog, but they include creased jeans, Kangols, fat laces, block parties, the Real Roxanne, Beastie Boys, EPMD, MC Lyte and Treacherous Three--sometimes all on the same track. "Back in the Day" is self-explanatory but makes its emotional point, allowing Jay-Z to name-check history: "My Uzi weighs a ton/This is our house--run." Missy even reimagines "Bring the Pain" and recruits Method Man to transform his macho rumble into a dance-floor flirtation.
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The past and future merge most on the jaw-dropping "Work It." Tim's beats blend effortlessly with turntable scratching and hard-rocked bells courtesy of Run-DMC's "Peter Piper." Here, even the English language is unfit to serve Missy's high-level adenoidal delivery; she resorts to speaking in tongues, a technique echoed by "Double Dutch Bus." On individual tracks, the heavy use of well-worn hip-hop references has some novelty, but it doesn't completely sustain itself. In truth, most of the album's sea of samples can be found on a single volume of Ultimate Break Beats, and without highly creative placement, many become too thin, too fast. Under Construction isn't Missy Elliott's most enduring work, but her full-length tribute to the happier, less-destructive roots of hip-hop is encouraging and funky fresh.