There's a moment on Missy Elliott's This Is Not a Test! when she acknowledges the difficulties of sustaining a rap career. ''Hey, yo, Tim,'' she says, addressing her longtime coproducer, Timbaland. ''Niggas like Dr. Dre and the Neptunes, their s--- be so hot they be keepin' us workin', you feel me?'' Yep, competition is stiff, girlfriend. Yet on this, Elliott's fifth CD, she continues to at least hold her own. It's true that Timbaland's signature style -- stuttering electro beats, ominous bass lines, and lots of (literally) sirens, bells, whistles, and other ear-catching sound effects -- doesn't seem quite as amazing as it did five years ago. Still, it gets the job done.
Elliott herself sounds full of vim and vinegar, especially when she's rapping or singing about sex. On ''Dat's What I'm Talkin' About,'' which features guest lech R. Kelly, she's a slinky, seductive R&B diva mouthing horny platitudes like ''You make the freak come up outta me.'' She's a feminist homegirl on ''Is This Our Last Time?'' which addresses the waning of eroticism in a relationship: ''It must be some other b---- that's taking your time,'' she tartly observes. And ''I'm Really Hot'' is all about -- aw, hell, take a wild guess.
There are a couple of tracks on which Elliott sets out to compete with the champagne-and-silk-underwear crowd of foxy, stylish urban chanteuses. ''It's Real,'' with its dreamy supper-club piano, sounds for all the world like a lost Anita Baker track. ''I'm Not Perfect,'' which spotlights the gospel-singing Clark Sisters, seems destined to appeal to those few million folks who love Destiny's Child -- not a bad fate. On ''Spelling Bee,'' Missy observes, ''The checks don't stop till I get writer's block.'' If ''Test!'' is any indication, she's got a few paydays left.