Five years after Missy Elliott stepped out as a solo artist, there was no denying that she had refashioned hip-hop in her own image. But by the time she came to record her fourth album, 2002’s Under Construction, she had some rebuilding of her own to do. Less than a year after the shock death of her friend and early collaborator Aaliyah, Elliott was back in the studio, recording an album which would not only be a summation of everything she’d achieved to date, but which would also reflect on the losses that had brought her – and the wider hip-hop and R&B communities – to this point in time. Channelling both her grief and her hopes for a brighter future into Under Construction, Elliott would admit to her fans, “I’m a work in progress. I’m working on myself.”
Listen to Missy Elliott’s ‘Under Construction’ album here.
“We all under construction, tryin’ to rebuild ourselves”
Paying her respects to Aaliyah, TLC’s Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. in her spoken-word intro to the album, Elliott made a plea for “the hip-hop family” to come together: “We all under construction, tryin’ to rebuild, you know, ourselves,” she noted. Three decades after its birth in the Bronx borough of New York City, hip-hop had finally “gained respect… just like rock’n’roll. And it took us a lot of hard work to get here. So all that hate and animosity between folks, ya need to kill it wit’ a skillet… Get mo’ paper.”
It couldn’t have escaped Elliott that almost all of those deaths had occurred in roughly the same short space of time that had passed since the release of her debut album, Super Dupa Fly, in 1997. But while that record had brought hip-hop screaming into the 21st century years ahead of schedule, Under Construction, which hit the shelves on 12 November 2002, took a nostalgic look back at what was fast becoming a bygone era – though not before Elliott and producer/co-conspirator Timbaland reminded listeners that they still had the future-funk at their fingertips.