Under Construction (Elektra) / Girl Interrupted (Beat Club/Interscope)

Missy Elliott / Ms. Jade 

Under Construction (Elektra) / Girl Interrupted (Beat Club/Interscope)

Space-age wonder woman Missy Elliott travels back in time on Under Construction, which includes several unaltered old-school hooks and a minimally manipulated cover of Method Man's "Bring the Pain." Yet for all its golden-era hip-hop nods, the disc still sounds futuristic. Elliott's clipped delivery seems to come from a post-apocalyptic world in which a silence-is-golden civilization rations syllables, leaving humans to abbreviate complex feelings with simple words and deceptively expressive baby talk. (She conveys erotic exhaustion and sensual contentment by rapping Sex me so good I say 'blah blah blah.') Timbaland's backdrops complete the effect, leading listeners to a place where erratic rhythms replace steady beats and synthesizer melodies get filtered through a fuzzy kazoo.

Elliott holds fans' hands throughout the journey, both with her increasingly annoying "This is a Missy exclusive" introductions and with spoken-word segments, including an album-opening prelude that addresses the death of her frequent collaborator Aaliyah. Elliott eulogizes another recently deceased R&B icon, Left Eye Lopes, alongside Lopes' former TLC bandmates on the record's poignant last track, and pays prescient tribute to Jam Master Jay with "Work It," a twist on Run-DMC's "Peter Piper" that now serves as an unofficial, after-the-fact homage.

Yet for all its posthumous shout-outs, Under Construction feels more life-affirming than morbid. Elliott says she now "looks at life in a more valuable way," which translates into squashing beefs, urging tough guys to dance and embracing her sexuality. In a memorable two-song odyssey, sandwiched around a minispeech about "representing for the ladies," Elliott pleads with her "pussycat" to satisfy her man so he won't stray, then urges settled-down friend Beyonce Knowles to fool around at a club.

Elliott expresses more with fewer words than any MC working, and she keeps her mostly monotone flow from droning with effects that distort her voice like fun-house mirrors. Timbaland's latest find, Ms. Jade, has more to say, but on her debut disc, Girl Interrupted, she struggles to find the right phrases. The results range from make up lies that ain't true redundancy to "Keep Ur Head Up" slogans set to "Get Ur Freak On" beats. Jade's well-intentioned yet obvious advice doesn't always translate into compelling lyrics, in much the same way that best-selling self-help books wouldn't really make great films. She takes her own shot at spouting gibberish with "Ching, Ching," but given the serious slant of most of her material, it sounds unnatural and silly, especially with Nelly Furtado chirping the chorus.

As for the music, Mozart Timadeus, as he humbly dubs himself in the liner credits, creates repetitive percussive assaults that assert themselves like belligerent drunks. They're memorable in the way that you remember an obnoxious movie-theater loudmouth more than the featured attraction. Jade gets no help from the Neptunes, whose awful contribution combines a sickly sample with a lackluster funk track. And whereas Elliott's guest stars play fleshed-out parts in her production, the cameos on Jade's joint (Jay-Z, Missy herself) feel like uninspired walk-ons. Hip-hop heads have often wondered why Timbaland seldom collaborates with real microphone fiends, and Girl, Interrupted provides the answer: Unless MCs are on his wobbly wavelength, his bullying beats will strangle their songs.

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