Critics and fans were praising Missy Elliott and Timbaland so much during 2002-2003 that the hottest production combo in hip-hop may have started believing that a great production is synonomous with a great song. This Is Not a Test!, her first major mistake, featured cutting-edge tracks in abundance, but virtually nothing in the way of heavyweight material. Its follow-up, The Cookbook, brings the focus back to Missy the rapper and songwriter, wisely (in most cases) leaving the productions to a more varied cast than any of her previous records. Ironically though, Elliott herself produced the lead single, "Lose Control," giving it a tight electro feel (courtesy of some vintage '80s samples from Cybotron and Hot Streak). It's only the first nod to the type of old-school party jam that Elliott does better than ever here; "We Run This" resurrects the "Apache" break and a classic Sugarhill Gang track for one of the best club tunes of the year, Rich Harrison gives a bright, brassy production to another party song, "Can't Stop," and "Irresistible Delicious" featuring Slick Rick sounds at least 15 years removed from contemporary rap (yes, that's a good thing). In a few spots The Cookbook isn't too far removed from This Is Not a Test! -- Elliott forces a few rhymes, plays to type with her themes, and uses those outside producers to follow trends in hip-hop (she could have easily accompanied a 12-track record of her usual solid material with a watered-down "New Sounds in Hip-Hop & R&B EP" that would kick off with the syrupy Houston retread "Click Clack," the Neptunes' tired "On & On," and the bland pop-idol duet "My Man" featuring Fantasia). What's different here is how relaxed Elliott is, how willing she seems to simply go with what comes naturally and sounds best. "My Struggles" isn't the myopic confessional suggested by the title, but an East Coast all-stars jam that features one of her best raps ever and deftly switches in midstream to allow Mary J. Blige to reprise her "What's the 411?" classic (to say nothing of Grand Puba's verse). And the final track, "Bad Man," sees one of the most welcome collaborations seen in rap for some time, as Elliott joins dancehall heroes M.I.A. and Vybz Kartel (plus a drumline from Atlanta A&T).
AllMusic Review by John Bush