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5. Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On

19/12/2009

For all its bravery in thought and execution, experimental music can often feel quite timid in delivery, even when created by massively successful artists. For all the sonic weirdness of some of Radiohead’s more oblique output this decade, for example, there was always a slightly apologetic reference to Modern Composer x or Rare Instrument y, as if an existing context was required to excuse the diversion. But then, occasionally, a track appears in the playground that wears its weirdness so boldly on its sleeve that it actually makes everything else feel slightly out of step. Its taunt back to the bullies is “no, you’re weird”, and, play by play, its every eccentricity becomes the norm.
      That Get Ur Freak On is regarded, eight years on, as a classic pop record is testament to this very phenomenon: on the face of it, after all, it is a terrifically odd piece of music. Underpinned by skittering tabla and bhangra rhythms well before they became fashionable, then overlaid with Hammer horror synths and a crass kung fu flick riff, Timbaland’s soundscape is so contradictory that it should almost be incompatible with itself. Then there’s Elliott’s rap, a masterclass in surrealism, simultaneously meaningless and captivating, leftfield, audacious and unreservedly hyper. Her silences, her hollers of “nigga!”, the single line in Hindi, the hucking of phlegm half-way through – it is all utterly bizarre, but next to the beats it somehow swaggers with a boyancy entirely of its own invention.
      But the truth is that Get Ur Freak On is a total outsider of a record, a maverick piece of music that ignores convention but still barges itself into the mainstream by sheer force of personality. It’s a bespectacled geek made hip by its own reclusiveness, a nerd of a song that has somehow re-coded pop to suit his own dance moves. Get Ur Freak On is embraceable and brilliant and unique, and a freak in every sense of the word.

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