Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliot’s fresh beats and hot rhymes usually add some spice to the hip-hop world, but the flavors on her new album, The Cookbook, are much milder.
Elliot enlisted the help of many hip-hop heavies to kick the sound up a notch. Her usual fulltime beat producer, Timbaland, only joins her for two tracks but produces one of the best in “Joy,” a creepy whisper-driven track featuring rising star Mike Jones. However, Timbaland’s skills do not raise the track “Partytime” to anything above average.
The hottest track is “On and On,” infused with the funky video-game beats of The Neptunes. Elliot’s voice sounds more comfortable in this number than in other songs on the album. The track stands out as reminiscent of her previous album, Under Construction. Elliot goes old school, enlisting help from hip-hop icon Slick Rick on “Irresistible Delicious.” The classic sound makes the track feel as if it came straight out of the ’80s, frosted with modern icing.
The first single, “Lose Control,” features Ciara’s smooth vocals and Fat Man Scoop’s scratchy background barks. Scoop’s vocals are a copycat of Lil’ Jon’s signature yelps, but the track has enough attitude to be a hit. Elliot loses that party-jam spark on songs like “4 My Man,” featuring Fantasia of American Idol fame. The song lyrically fails to convey any emotion, and the beat is slow and uncharacteristic for the usually dynamic diva. Even songstress Mary J. Blige’s vocals do nothing to punch up the borderline-boring track “My Struggles.”
The disc opens like a hoppin’ party but switches to bland R&B-style ballads just over halfway through. The opening to “Remember When” has Elliot doing an Usher-style confession of, “If it’s worth anything, I’ll never cheat again.” After the R&B breaks in the middle, the album reverts back to its former upbeat tempos. Although the dramatic change seems intentional, it creates an awkward, choppy feeling.
Lyrically, The Cookbook is fairly disappointing. Elliot’s usually freaky flow is hampered by recycled words. Elliot essentially repeats the same rhymes throughout the album and even borrows from her previous discs. She resorts to sexually explicit Lil’ Kim-style lyrics for “Meltdown,” describing her man’s body parts as candy. Also, she references Jay-Z and Beyonce’s relationship many times on the album. In Elliot’s world, the twosome is basically love personified.
Being a strong woman has always been Elliot’s bragging right. Just to make sure, she adds the female-empowering, Latin-flavored track, “Mommy.” Vybez Cartel and M.I.A. help Elliot close the disc with “Bad Man.” The song sounds like a Jamaican parade with marching-band drum beats and super-fast lyrics.
The Cookbook does fulfill its premise of offering a variety of musical recipes. When the recipe works, the dish is a tasty earful of funky melodies. Yet many tracks fail to present anything innovative, which is a disappointment coming from the queen of off-the-wall beats. The outcome leaves The Cookbook as more of a yummy snack than a seven-course meal.