Perhaps because of the poverty-stricken mean streets that most rappers come from, hip hop has always been full of elegies. Missy Elliott’s new album, “Under Construction,” out today, ends with “Can You Hear Me,” an open letter to her late pals and sometime collaborators Aaliyah and TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes.
“Aaliyah, [your mom] asked me why would her baby girl go this way/ Can you give me better words to say,” Elliott sings on the ballad, which also features TLC member Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas.
This mournful ode fits the overall tone of the album, which extends Elliott’s emotional palette.
In the past, she’s done young love (1997’s “Supa Dupa Fly”), anger (1999’s “Da Real World”), lust (2001’s “Miss E. . . So Addictive,” containing the smash “Get Ur Freak On”), and now loss and memory.
Much of the album uses chunky beats to pay tribute to the early days of rap. The booming “Funky Fresh” offers stylistic homage to pioneering woman rappers Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte. And “Back in the Day,” with Jay-Z, references early hip-hop stars Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Slick Rick and others.
“What happened to those good old days/ When hip-hop was so much fun,” Elliott asks on the funk-steeped number.
As with all nostalgia, Elliott’s memory is rose-colored and selective, overlooking some of the awful conditions which helped give birth to rap. What about Reaganomics or crack? Listening to “Construction” feels like flipping through back issues of “Right On” or “Black Beat” magazine. Everything is glossy and all good.
Because of this, the album lacks depth, even though Elliott’s rhymes are tighter and funnier than ever. You can’t help thinking that the usually innovative talent is best when pushing forward rather than looking back.