‘Under Construction’ Is Still Missy Elliott’s Biggest and Boldest Album
The year 2002 was a bittersweet one for Missy Elliott. The 2001 release of Miss E... Addictive shot the Virginia native's popularity into stratosphere; with singles like the Grammy-nominated "Get Ur Freak On" and the Ludacris and Trina-assisted "One Minute Man." Missy also produced Christina Aguilera, Lil Kim, Mýa, and Pink's cover of "Lady Marmalade," which spent five weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 and ended the year as the top-selling song of 2001 with over 5.2 million copies sold.
However, scoring the most successful song and album of her career would be overshadowed by the death of her close friend and collaborator Aaliyah. The singer and eight others passed away on August 25, 2001 in a plane crash in the Bahamas. The incident would deeply affect Missy, who had developed a special bond with her since first working together on Aaliyah's breakout sophomore album, One In A Million, back in 1996. Elliott would dedicate "Take Away," the Ginuwine and Tweet-assisted fourth single and video from Miss E... So Addictive, to Aaliyah's memory.
Heading into 2002, Missy Elliott was not only considered one of rap's most colorful characters and an artist on the creative vanguard of popular music; but also one of hip-hop's biggest superstars and a budding mogul in her own right, spearheading the release of R&B singer Tweet's Gold-selling debut album, Southern Hummingbird, which produced a Top 10 hit in the lead-single "Oops (Oh My)." With a heightened focus and purpose that was born of mourning, Missy trudged forward with the intention to make a statement, a mission she accomplished with her highly anticipated follow-up to the successful Miss E... Released in November 2002, Under Construction marked the shortest time between albums for Missy, who previously had taken upwards of two years to release material, a move indicative of the high demand for her material.
Debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard charts with over 259,000 copies sold in its first week, Under Construction was the most successful album rollout at that point in Missy's career. Those figures wouldn't be eclipsed by another female rapper until the release of Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday in 2010. Missy's fourth album is a tour de force of hits with a few high-powered collaborations mixed in for good measure. Of these songs, the most ubiquitous is "Work It," Under Construction's lead single and a song that would prove to be one of her definitive records to date.
Co-produced by Timbaland and Missy Elliott herself, "Work It" which was released a month prior to Under Construction's release, would prove to be a massive hit, peaking at No. 2 on the Hot 100, with its accompanying visual winning the Video of the Year at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. "Is it worth it? Let me work it/I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it," Missy Elliott strutted over the track with flair, dropping humorous lines like "Don't I look like a Halle Berry poster?/See the Belvedere playing tricks on ya," and basking in her sexuality and her full-figured physique. And when you add in the fact that 50 Cent decided to add his own twist to "Work It" and Missy's decision to make his reworked version the official remix of the track, "Work It" is one of the classic singles from its era and marks a moment in time for rap fans aplenty.
Another hit single, "Gossip Folks"reunited her with her "One Minute Man" co-star Ludacris. "Gossip Folks" performed well on the charts, peaking at No. 8 on the Hot 100, and is an infectious composition; it will also be largely remembered in part due to its accompanying Dave Meyers-directed music video, with Luda cast as the principal and Missy as an unruly student. Both of the clips from "Work It" and "Gossip Folks" would also include nods to Aaliyah, as well as Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC and Run-DMC's Jam-Master Jay, both of whom had also passed away in the months prior to Under Construction's release, proof that although Missy had managed to move forward, the memory of those close to her still loomed. This was also apparent on the Under Construction closer "Can You Hear Me," which featured TLC's T-Boz and Chili, with the three artists paying their respects to their fallen sisters over production by Nisan Stewart and Craig Brockman. The song, which also featured a voicemail from Aaliyah's mother, would be one of the more heartfelt dedications in both Aaliyah's and Left-Eye's memory.
Having shifted course numerous times throughout her career, Missy Elliott approaches artistry from a new vantage point yet again on Under Construction, employing elements of classic hip-hop throughout, beginning with Method Man joining her for a Timbaland-produced remake of his classic 1994 single "Bring the Pain." The nostalgic vibes continue on "Back in the Day," which includes a guest spot from JAY-Z that borders on pedestrian, a transgression he would address the following year on the Missy Elliott banger "Wake Up." Despite being hip-hop to the core, Missy Elliott's ability as a singer and songwriter is prominently showcased on Under Construction.
From the raunchiness of "Pussycat," to the Beyoncé duet "Nothing Out There for Me," which predated the Bey's own solo turn and was one of the first high-profile guest appearances sans Destiny's Child, Missy mixes her brash bravado as an emcee with an ample dose of sensuality and vulnerability, a balance that has been key to her sound.
Under Construction is a standout from 2002; earning Grammy nominations for Best Rap Album, as well as Album of the Year, making Missy one a handful of artists to earn a nod in that particular category. Her position as the most bankable female rapper in the game all but confirmed with the release of Under Construction, Missy Elliott was undoubtedly the hottest female artist in hip-hop at the time, with one of the more legendary runs in the history of rap. While albums like Supa Dupa Fly and Miss E... So Addictive may be the main contenders as for her most complete album, Under Construction captured Missy Elliott at her zenith as a superstar, and remains her biggest and boldest album to date.
Watch Missy Elliott's Video for "Work It":
Watch Missy Elliott's Video for "Gossip Folks":