“Y’all don’t really know my life,” Missy Elliott insists on her sixth album. She’s right — but The Cookbook doesn’t get us any closer to understanding who she is. Sure, she slangs the same inimitable B-girl wit and wild-style veneer that’s been polishing pop music since 2002’s Under Construction, but the platinum brags on her latest release do nothing to show us where her head’s at. So when she campaigns that “you should vote Misdemeanor on your ballots,” you want to tell her: Yo, we already handed you the last five elections.
Behind all the ridonkulous disses and boasts (“Mommy fresh / These my real breasts”), Missy sounds a bit unsure of herself. A few R&B tracks — the Grand Pubaassisted “My Struggles” and the lady-power number “Mommy” — offer too-quick glimpses into her world; she hollers that the industry will get “pussy-whipped” in the ’05 and warns sleazy dudes not to walk on her precious things. But when she’s overshadowed by both crunked-up R&B star Ciara and barking auctioneer Fat Man Scoop on the Cybotron-sampling “Lose Control,” you wonder if spending so much time filming a reality TV show has drained her of some vinegar. Timbaland, whose collabo magic is mostly absent, produces only two songs, the best being “Joy,” which subwoofs under an airy vocal chorus and “screws” (slows down) mid-track in honor of its guest star, Houston dial-a-rapper Mike Jones. With Tim part-timing, Missy’s left to fill in some beats on her own, adding a few producers who drop both true-school throwbacks and googly autoharps that conjure Bjork.
The Cookbook has one formidable single, though: the nitrogen-cold, Neptunes-produced “On and On,” which approximates the feeling of being miniaturized and injected into Pharrell’s cartoony brain. Over a beefy melody from a haunted-house organ and a rhythm nabbed from Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew’s “The Show,” a sproing sound bounces from speaker to speaker while Missy flaunts her sass. “Lemme tell you what I’m all about,” she finally promises, only to answer, “I’m ’bout spittin’ hot rhymes on out.” If she only knew — we already know.