Given her status as the saucy den mother of hip-hop's power vixens, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott sure has some old-fashioned ideas about dealing with men. If her fourth album, "Under Construction," were distilled into an etiquette guide, it would boil down to a set of rules more suited to a Stepford wife than to the two-legged hurricane who persuaded half the nation to get its freak on.
In Ms. Elliott's world, layabouts and slugs should indeed be booted to the curb. But if you find the right guy, she coos on "Play That Beat," be prepared to cook, wash his clothes, travel and rub his back on demand. In another song, "P***ycat" (her spelling), she gets ready for a date by giving a pep talk to her naughty bits. Men are easily distracted and cheaters by nature, so get busy, girlfriend.
Missy's manners could charitably be called retro. That, in some way, suits the spirit of "Under Construction," which abandons the sci-fi glint of Elliott's last two efforts (1999's "Da Real World" and 2001's "So Addictive") to evoke the spirit of a vanished era. Specifically, hip-hop's old days, in the late '80s and early '90s, when acts like MC Lyte, Heavy D and Ice Cube ruled and British Knights were the footwear of choice. Portsmouth, Va.'s bawdiest daughter pays homage here to predecessors like Public Enemy (she does a pretty good Flava Flav impersonation on "Funky Fresh Dressed") and groups like Run-DMC and the Sugar Hill Gang on the break-danceable opener "Go to the Floor."
For Elliott, the point isn't merely to honor by recycling but to reclaim the original spirit of hip-hop, depicted here as more peaceful than the rivalrous vibe of the genre today. The album starts with a musicless plea for harmony in which Missy explains that she's reappraised the value of life after the premature deaths of friends Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of TLC and soul diva Aaliyah, both of whom perished in accidents not long ago. Both artists are commemorated on the final cut of "Construction," the mournful, silken "Can You Hear Me," performed with TLC's two surviving members.
In that opening monologue, the violent deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls are lamented: "All that hate and animosity between folks, you've got to kill it with a skillet."
A noble message, and an inadvertently timely one in the wake of the point-blank slaying of Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC's DJ, two weeks ago in Queens. And coming from Missy -- one of hip-hop's most formidable characters, a blunt-rhyming, gloriously costumed rapper, singer and songwriter -- it's a message that might have had some resonance. Sadly, the stand against violence is about as sturdy as a hankie. At one point on the album, Missy threatens to punch someone's teeth out, and later Jay-Z struts into "Back in the Day" issuing the very sort of threats that supposedly are getting on Elliott's nerves. Among them: "So you gots to chill / because I kill at will."
"Construction" doesn't exactly give peace a chance, but its real ambition is to shake booties, not change minds. Musically, it's the handiwork of Timbaland, Missy's longtime producer, and he stirs in everything from R&B guitar hooks to old-school scratching to the synth-riff that opens Blondie's 1979 hit, "Heart of Glass." As with other Elliott/Timbaland albums, "Construction" has a couple of "Tonight" shows' worth of guest appearances, this time by Method Man, Ms. Jade, Ludacris and Beyonce Knowles, who purrs through the overly gushy "Nothing Out There for Me."
But the star here is the force of nature that is Missy, a hellion with a short fuse, a pornographic imagination and a wicked flow. Never the most graceful of wordsmiths, she's more of a verbal rampager than an artful rhymer, whether denouncing back stabbers on the funk-shuffle of "Gossip Folks" or issuing new dance instructions on the panting, thumping "Slide." The raunchiest of the bunch is the first single, "Work It." It's a series of lewd propositions that break every rule in the romance book and seem, frankly, like the sort of thing a chiropractor would advise against.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8171.)