Missy Elliott – “Work It”

Released: 10.22.02

Peak: #2

Yep, and King Lear is a real good play too. Back in the day, every time something crazy like “Work It” would drop, buncha indie kids’d be all, “It’s not like other pop–it’s weird.” (Times done changed since–when Pitchfork even ups Lady Gaga the pendulum surely needs a nudge back.) Of course, pop, like most commodities, has always had a commercial impetus to stand out. Still, Timbaland did raise the stakes when it came to sonic eccentricity, as well as escalating the importance of a monster single, with “Get Ur Freak On” and “Work It” the Hiroshima and Nagasaki of chart-rap.

If the former hit was Missy and Tim’s futuristic, transglobal jam, “Work It” was their old-school joint–you can tell ’cause it samples “Peter Piper” and “Heart of Glass.” But Timbaland one-ups history, repeating a single electronic note three times, as a free-wailing sine wave patrolling overhead. Electro-rap never managed such aggressive minimalism.

And back-in-the-day ladies rarely flaunted their prerogatives as baldly as Missy. One minute she’s craving elephantine cock, the next she’s demanding oral sex almost as candidly as Khia. (Though I imagine vulture cunnilingus is for eww.). And though she’d skinnified a bit, Missy’s bom-bom-ba-bom-bom is still among greatest contributions to hip-hop, that synthesis of meat and motion she brings to the mic and the bedroom. Sure, her “reverse it” pun still summons images of crazy coochie acrobatics I find sexually daunting. But not only does she show no shame, she even fires off a shot of black pride.

In a travesty of commerce, “Work It” stalled ten weeks at number two behind Eminem’s fist-pumping “Lose Yourself” (which flattened the Slim Shady mythos into something linear and Rocky enough for Greil Marcus to get). For the record, that ties it with Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” which was cock-blocked by Olivia Newton-John’s far superior “Physical.” Yeah, pop is weird.

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