Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott – “Get Ur Freak On”

Released: 3.13.01

Peak: #7

I don’t know much about bhangra, I won’t front. Can’t even tell you what instrument Timbaland persistently loops here (a tumbi or an ektara, depending on your source). But to my dabbler’s ears, “Get Ur Freak On” suggests much-needed pop discipline brought to bear upon the classical tabla ‘n’ bass that Talvin Singh anesthetized me with in the ’90s rather than the “di-di-di di-di di-di” plinking of ’00s club bhangra. Which makes sense: Timbaland’s tinkering with dated jungle modes always suggested more familiarity with his source materials than his big-bite appropriations of global pop.

Yeah, right, so what? Such distinctions might mean something in London, where I gather Indian dance-pop’s presence is comparable to that of salsa in NYC, but here in the blinkered U.S. that borrowed Bengali tune registers as simply exotic, just like the Japanese voice that introduces the track. And before it’s bhangra rap or neo-jungle or whatever, “Get Ur Freak On” is minimalist Timbaland. A re-listen to the instrumental version instructively defamiliarizes the track. Without Missy rhyming up top, the track is downright skeletal, its adornments few: haunted house sound effects, electrobass farts, high-end harmony plinks.

And with Missy rhyming up top? Well, on a strictly skills-based level, “Get Ur Freak On” hardly ranks among her finest performances–listen how stubbornly she clings to the “da da da-da-da” rhythm of the hook. And “Copywritten so/ Don’t copy me” is only a step away from rhyming “commercial” with “commercial.” But Missy’s flow is about sound as much as sense; her “gitchagitchafreekon” rivals Indian motif itself for catchiness. And her exclamations–“Qui-et!”, “Is that yo’ chick! [bitch!]”, and, of course, “Holla!”–halt the rhythms with a superstar’s imperiousness.

If nothing else, Missy is an astounding catalyst, a select crew with whom Tim Mosley has made transcendent music: Aaliyah, Justin, and you stop picking on poor Magoo right now. The success rate seems to have less to do with how well his accomplices negotiate his beats then with some inspirational element they possess. I’m not one to romanticize the creative process, but there’s something about Tim’s difficulty in functioning as a strict gun-for-hire for megastars, or a manipulator of ingénues, that’s endearing.

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