Having made two of the greatest Hip Hop songs of all time with 2001’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ and ‘Work It’ released the following year, Missy Elliott was on a roll. Working alongside producer Timbaland, Missy Elliott had helped create a musical world of her own, one that pushed the boundaries of pop without losing any of its immediacy. ‘Work It’, for example, featured a chorus of backwards rapping whilst ‘Get Ur Freak On’ somehow managed to marry hip hop beats with a Bengali melody and lyrics written in Hindi. Things started to unravel, however, with 2003’s This Is Not A Test!, an album that would go on to be Elliott’s lowest seller. Lead single ‘Pass The Dutch’ failed to create an event quite like it’s predecessors and people questioned whether the creative partnership had lost its Midas touch. Aware of the pressure to try something new Elliott retreated to the studio and decided to limit her collaborations with Timbaland to just a handful of songs. Eventually, The Cookbook would open with two Timbaland productions, ‘Joy’ and ‘Partytime’.
By opening the album with the only Timbaland/Elliott compositions the listener is lured into a false sense of security, the minimal patter of ‘Joy’ and the rumbling bass of ‘Partytime’ as comforting to Elliott fans as anything from her previous albums. From here the album really takes off, as if working with other producers (notably Rich Harrison, Scott Storch, The Neptunes to name but a few), offered Elliott a freedom that had been missing from her recent output. Certainly, the single ‘Lose Control’, produced by Elliott, sounds like the most fun she’s had in a while and even manages to be good despite the presence of Fatman Scoop.
Elsewhere, Elliott tackles her inner demons on the Mary J.Blige duet ‘My Struggles’ and hip hop ballad ‘Teary Eyed’, before returning to her rapid fire flow on the frantic ‘Can’t Stop’. Highlight of the entire album is the phenomenal ‘On & On’, produced by The Neptunes. Opening with a chest vibrating low bass rumble, it sounds like it was created in a lab somewhere in space and beamed down to earth to show everyone how it’s done. Brilliantly, it doesn’t have a chorus, just Pharrell grunting “uh, uh, oh, uh, uh, oh”. Despite a host of special guests- Blige, M.I.A, Slick Rick, Fantasia, Ciara- the real star is always Elliott, her lyrics as funny as the music is innovative. Amazingly, the album peaked at number 33 in the UK, proving once and for all that people are dullards.