“I don’t wait for the DJ to drop bombs on my own records. I drop ‘em on my own sh–.” Apart from a short light pre-intro featuring Mary J. Blige, This is Not a Test kicks off with this badass and completely apt statement. As half of one of the all-time great production teams, Missy Elliott has talent and credentials to back up her bravado. Along with Kanye West, Missy Elliott is a rapper whose massive mainstream pop success baffles me. Not because they are underserving. I just find both have unique musical voices and are adventurous in ways that usually push artists to the fringes. With Missy it even seems like her singles are the most idiosyncratic of her work.
Move past the music and you get to Missy’s inimitable flow. I mean, having a unique flow is one of the key tenets of hip hop and there’s no question that Missy has one of those completely-her-own-if-you-cop-her-style-we’ll-all-know flows. The lyrics are also great. So much fun wordplay, up front sexuality, and a heavily referential reverence for the history of hip hop. (While writing this I just laughed so hard at a line starting “Lick my lips like I’m LL.”)
The next element in the This is Not a Test melting pot is Missy’s experience as a hit songwriter/producer for R&B acts. The album is full of dancefloor-packing jams and there are a lot of these elements incorporated into her otherwise jerky, offbeat arrangements.
For me, the appeal of This is Not a Test lies in two of the above elements more than anything. First is the danceable beats. The music is so good on this front it’s impossible to put this record on and not start dancing, even if you’re sitting down writing a blog post while you do it. The second is how steeped in hip hop history this album is. The album’s intro has Mary J. Blige singing an extrapolation from Rapper’s Delight, the first hip hop single to blow up and have major mainstream success. This is a doorway into a record filled with nods to what came before (the “Doin’ It” reference that follows that LL Cool J joke mentioned above; extrapolation of Salt N Pepa’s “Push It” in “Don’t Be Cruel”) as it confidently declares the future has arrived.
I just read the wiki entry for this album and apparently a writer at Blender commented on this album saying “besides beats, what else does she care about?” That is some bullshit right there. Could you imagine someone writing about Kanye, Pharell Williams, or Dr. Dre like that and still having a job writing about music the next day? If, when I was Arts Editor of my college newspaper, some hapless second year college student turned in a review of a Dr. Dre album claiming “well…he only seems to be passionate about the beats!” I would have spent the rest of my tenure not having room for that person’s stories. Yet this d-bag got to write for Blender and live on through this wiki citation (and is currently a features editor at Billboard—I looked him up!), propped up by the notion that it is fair criticism to note that a woman created a work where it comes through that she cares about her craft. And hell, I’m pretty sure I’m taking the quote a half-degree out of context, cuz he was probably referring to a lack of meaningful lyrical content. But shit, if you can’t clue in to the rich history of hip hop that is being referenced, played, and extended in the lyrics throughout this album then maybe there is something to this “white people should stop writing about hip hop” movement. Except me? I’m not making any money and nobody I don’t know is reading this. I can still write about hip hop no matter what we decide, right?
Favourite Song: I’m Really Hot
Deep Cut: Don’t Be Cruel