Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott should be enjoying a smooth and easy ride back to the top of the charts, but she's uncharacteristically stressing as she talks about her new CD "Miss E ... So Addictive."
It's not a problem with the record -- after all, the first single, "Get Ur Freak On," already is shaping up as a summer hit. It's not a career thing either -- especially since corralling Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya and Li'l Kim for the remake of "Lady Marmalade," which is sashaying its way all over pop radio. And MTV has reconfirmed her skills as a producer.
The problem is the Lamborghini. She's standing in front of the Beverly Center in West Hollywood, and she's having trouble opening the car door, and it's shifting her focus from discussing the new CD.
"Why is my door doing this?" Elliott asks no one in particular. "Lamborghini doors are so hard to lift up and I don't want to mess up my nails."
Soon, a Good Samaritan has solved the problem, the laughs return to Elliott's discussion and all is right in Missy World again.
Happiness, you see, is at the center of Elliott's life these days, and it shows throughout "So Addictive." It seems like a quantum leap from the ferocious "Da Real World," which featured mock fights and angry cameos by Eminem and Li'l Kim.
"[While making 'Da Real World'] I was going through a tense moment," Elliott says of her second album. "I felt like I had to prove a point, that I had to do it again. This time, I had no cares in the world. And I recorded it in L.A., so I didn't have a lot of distractions. I liked how I didn't know how it would turn out. A lot of it was just me and [co-producer and writing partner] Timbaland vibing. It was much more relaxing."
Her longtime friend, R&B; singer Ginuwine, says the light mood in the studio made the entire process more enjoyable.
"Nobody jokes like Missy," says Ginuwine, who joins Elliott on the new soulful ballad "Take Away" and may join her on a summer tour. "She will keep you laughing even if she's telling jokes on you. It ain't even work working with her."
Elliott says the good-time vibe came through in the final product.
"It's hotter than the first album, and I love my first album," she says. "I wasn't disappointed with the second record, but it's a dark record, even darker than what you hear. It's a tense album. On this album, I wanted one where you get up in the club and start dancing. I wasn't tripping this time."
Elliott had one goal for "So Addictive." She wanted it to sound different.
She succeeded. The songs from "So Addictive" sound like nothing else on the hip-hop landscape, though they sound perfectly suited to play next to the current hits.
"It's going to be huge," says Gary Jackson, senior editor of the music trade publication Hits. "Some trade people went into the studio to hear it -- these are people who are hard to please, and the reaction was, like, 'Oh my God.' It just kept getting better."
Because Elliott is happy with "So Addictive," she isn't worried about its performance when it hits stores Tuesday. Music industry experts say she shouldn't be, since they expect it to beat the 130,000-unit first-week mark of "Da Real World."
"It'll be OK whatever happens," she says. "I have solid fans and I hope they embrace this. It's off to an excellent start; it's doing very well."
That's basically the story of the 29-year-old's life. Melissa "Missy" Elliott burst onto the music scene in 1997 with "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)" and hasn't looked back since. Heading up her own record label, The Gold Mind, distributed by Elektra Records, and with her own production company, Mass Confusion Music, Elliott has been dubbed "Puff Mommy," due to a business prowess that recalls the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy, Sean Combs. It's a title she is honored to have.
"I respect Puffy as a businessman," says Elliott. "No matter through his ups and downs, he hasn't been shut down yet. He is the king of marketing."
Throughout the new album, Elliott not only stretches the boundaries of how hip-hop sounds, she takes what rappers -- especially female rappers -- talk about into a different direction.
"We've been going through this time period of females really giving it to guys, giving them a hard time," Elliott says. "There's the 'All 'N My Grill' stuff, the 'I hate you so much right now.' I wanted the album to be like Marvin Gaye, like Prince, sexy but down. I also wanted to make it fun, the kind of record you can listen to at a barbecue and not have to fast-forward."
With "So Addictive," Elliott has turned her back on the "bling-bling," gangsta high-life boasting that has been filling hip-hop. "We have played that out," she says. But Elliott shies away from talk that this decision should make her a role model for current and future rappers.
"I can't prevent people looking at me as a role model, but they need to know that I make mistakes," she says. "I'm glad if they embrace my music, but I would never say they should follow the path of Missy Elliott because it's far from perfect."
That doesn't mean that she won't work toward making it perfect, though.
Elliott recently completed a hidden track for "So Addictive." It's a gospel-influenced song called "I'm Movin' On" that features declarations like, "Each step I take is the dawning of a brand new day," and, "I'm moving on -- nothing can stop me now."
Not even Lamborghini doors.