“Under Construction” tells of personal journey

Missy Elliott says her mother can’t stand it when she’s singing something as raunchy as her latest single, “Work It.” But the hip-hop diva credits her mother for giving her the confidence to write about sexuality in an open manner that is as funny as it is explicit.

“My mother’s very religious, and she doesn’t want to hear me playing those songs,” says Elliott, who issues another half-dozen of them on her newest album, “Under Construction,” which arrived in stores last week.

“But she became very strong after leaving my father, and her strength taught me so much,” she says. “And women have our desires and fantasies just like the men do. So I’m speaking for a lot of women who don’t have that voice.”

Five years after breaking through with “Supa Dupa Fly,” Elliott, 31, is continuing to redefine the role of women in both pop and hip-hop. As a songwriter, producer and performer, she’s a rare triple threat among female artists. And with “Work It” No. 2 on Billboard’s singles chart, it’s clear that she’s maintained her knack for writing irresistible hooks.

“I would consider her the best female rapper out there,” says Jim Stella, urban music buyer for Trans World Entertainment, which owns the FYE and Coconuts record-store chains. “She kind of transcends hip-hop culture. It’s because she’s continued to reinvent herself.”

Before hits such as 1997’s “The Rain” and 1999’s “Hot Boyz” made her an icon, Elliott seemed an unlikely star. With her chunky frame and lack of powerhouse vocals, she had resigned herself to a behind-the-scenes role, writing and producing hits for singers such as Aaliyah. But since then, her bold sound, outrageous fashion sense and wicked wit have won her a devoted following.

“She has overcome all the stereotypes of what we think it takes to become a star,” says Amy Doyle, MTV’s vice president of music programming. “Whether it’s the looks or a certain weight or style. She’s just talented on so many levels that she can’t be denied.”

With “Under Construction,” Elliott has retooled both her outlook and image. Spiritually, she says the death of her friend Aaliyah has brought her a new understanding of the fragility of life. It’s a lesson that she built into the title.

“‘Under Construction’ simply states that I’m a work in progress,” she says at the beginning of the album. “Ever since Aaliyah passed, I view life in a more valuable way. Hate and anger and gossip or just plain old bull became ignorant to me.”

Physically, a doctor’s directive to lose weight because of high blood pressure has slimmed the once-hefty singer to a size more in line with typical MTV stars. A low-sodium diet and four treadmill sessions a day has resulted in shopping for medium-size clothes instead of extra large.

Elliott says she learned early that “I don’t have to be a size 3 or 4 or look this kind of way to think that I’m OK.” But she’s clearly relishing her new form.

“Don’t I look like a Halle Berry poster?” she raps on “Work It.” And on “Slide,” she razzes former detractors because, “They used to call me fatty ’til I got with Puff Daddy.”

While most of the tracks are strictly for fun, she turns serious on “Can You Hear Me,” a tribute to Aaliyah and Lisa (Left Eye) Lopes that she recorded with the surviving members of TLC.

“I saved it for last because I wanted people to dance around for the whole rest of the record and then have to think about something,” she says. “It’s us just going through the healing process. And it’s a reality check on how short life is.”