Missy Elliott’s Greatest Challenge On The Cookbook: Getting Ciara To Rap

"[Ciara] was like, "Is this gonna sound messed up? My fans are gonna be mad," ' Elliott says.

As flamboyant as Missy Elliott has been over the years, you’d probably expect her to have a field day when concocting the album artwork for her LP, The Cookbook. Some crazy chef’s hat, or a kitchen with some of Tommy the Clown’s krump dancers, right? Wrong. Elliott chose to give her LP artwork an old-school, classy vibe.

“I wanted people to see I was taking music back to the roots — not just hip-hop, but our ancestors,” Elliott said last week about the album’s cover shot, which features her posing with a vintage mic in a 1920s-looking juke joint. “Whether they was on railroad tracks or cooking in somebody’s kitchen, they was always singing.”

Missy also said she wanted to make the LP cover black and white because she’s never done it before.

“All my covers have been in color and kinda quirky,” she added. “I feel black and white is a strong statement. The [title] The Cookbook came from me feeling like no two records are going to sound alike; each record has its own spices and herbs. Each record is cooking up a hot recipe for a hot album.”

That theme of change carried through to the making of the LP, an experience Missy compared to a kid being sent off to college by her dad. See, Missy and Timbaland, her childhood friend and longtime musical right arm, only worked on two songs together. Timbo usually produces all or most of the songs on her albums, but decided to step aside this time to let Missy grow (see “Missy Elliott Switches Up Her Recipe With The Cook Book” ).

“Me and Tim, this like our sixth album, so if we go any further left, we gonna be on Mars somewhere,” the singing rapper said. “We’ve done everything it is to do. I think both of us came to a spot where we didn’t know where to go with each other. I felt if I had some other music, it will go to another place and not so far left. But Tim is very involved, he said ‘nay’ or ‘yay’ to [certain] producers. I was eight songs deep and I let Tim listen and he was like, ‘Nah, you’re going in the wrong direction. You trippin’.’ I had to go back in the studio and come up with new records. [When he heard those], he was like, ‘This is the Missy people are listening to.’ ”

Missy said working with different producers — including the Neptunes, Rich Harrison and Scott Storch — brought a whole different vibe. “Pharrell [Williams, of the Neptunes] is a lot more involved, coming in and wanting to hear what’s going on,” she said. “Tim, he’ll give you the track and go down to the club. He won’t come back until you call him two days later and be like, ‘I got it.’ There’s already that trust there, because we worked together ever since we ain’t have no tissue to wipe our tails. I’ve been knowing Pharrell for years too, but we never worked together in the studio on a project, so he’s like, ‘Let me babysit you for a second.’ ”

The Neptunes-produced “On and On” was one of two records Missy released in advance of The Cookbook, the other, of course, was “Lose Control” with Ciara. Missy says the toughest part of making that record was not getting Ciara to hit the high notes, it was convincing her to rap.

“It was funny because Ciara don’t rap and I had her rapping,” Missy laughed. “She was like, ‘Is this gonna sound messed up? My fans are gonna be mad.’ I told her to just do it and if it sounds crazy, I won’t put it up there.

“When me and Ciara get in the lab, it’s all about us listening to a record to see if it makes us dance,” she added. “We both like to dance. When I heard ’1, 2 Step,’ I immediately felt it. When I did ‘Lose Control,’ soon as I heard it, I was like, ‘The only person who can pull something off with me [on this track] is Ciara, because it’s a record with speed.’ When we get in there it’s about finding the hot dance step.”

There are no definitive plans for Elliott’s next single. She says Ciara has been telling her how much DJs have taken it upon themselves to play a record called “Meltdown” in the South, while Missy’s label wants to put out the song “Teary Eyed.”