In 1997, when Biggie famously rapped, “I’ve been in this game for years, it made me a animal / There’s rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual,“ who knew that 22 years later these same lyrics could be used to describe the life and times of one Missy ‘Misdemeanor’ Elliott?
Her groundbreaking debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ hadn’t yet been released and neither had any of her mind-bending music video masterpieces. But they weren’t far off and once they did land, they helped usher in a new wave of pop stars while also advancing women in hip-hop, which at the time was very much male-dominated. With the help of visionary director Hype Williams, she put an exclamation mark on a culture that was soon to shape the world as we know it.
While Missy’s place on hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore is solidified, she’s decided to return, throwing her gauntlet down and testing the waters to see if she’s still got it after being away for the past 14 years. Armed with new EP ‘ICONOLOGY’, she manoeuvres her way through today’s hip-hop Wild West like the pro that she is. And although it might not be the game changer we’ve come to expect, her new five-track project is a versatile mixed bag that allows listeners to pick out their favourite version of Missy.
Asserting herself on ‘Throw It Back’, she emphasises her influence on this generation’s artists: “I raised all these babies, call me Katherine Jackson.” Over the warped, trunk-rattling bass thumps of Wili Hendrix’s production, she also makes light of social media — “I did records for Tweet [the American singer with whom she has collaborated] before y’all could even tweet” — and proclaims that her “Lambo be the whip, like banana split.” It’s evident that she hasn’t lost a step as far as wordplay is concerned.
Again produced by Hendrix, ‘Cool Off’ plays like a futuristic Miami bass party that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift sequel — Uncle Luke would be in his element. Topping out at just 2:14, it might serve better as an interlude in the middle of one of Missy’s music videos.
The announcement that “this is a Missy Elliott exclusive” at the beginning of each track slightly cheapens ‘Iconology’, making it feel more like a watermarked record label advance than a mixed and mastered studio release. It works for opening tracks ‘Throw It Back’ and ‘Cool Off’, but proves irritating by the time ‘DripDemeanor’ rolls around. ‘Throw It Back’ will soon soundtrack every in-studio dance routine video clogging up your timeline – and if it’s not that it’ll probably be ’Cool Off’. The Sum1-assisted ‘DripDemeanor’ is, however, a highlight, slowing things down; it’s highly reminiscent of some of Missy’s earlier work with SWV, 702 and Aaliyah.
‘Why I Still Love You’ merges 1950s doo-wop with New Orleans hip-hop. Lyrically toeing the line between Jazmine Sullivan’s ‘Bust Your Windows’ and Jhene Aiko’s ‘The Worst’, Missy’s interchanging harmonies sit over a dirty bass backdrop that sounds like it came straight from the vaults of No Limit Records. As Missy sings, Timbaland draws inspiration from Beats By The Pound.
Upon first listen, the a capella version of ‘Why I Still Love You’ seems totally unnecessary. But then you realise that this is Missy Elliott we’re talking about: she’s so forward-thinking that she’s probably pulling a Jay-Z ‘Black Album’ move and dangling a carrot in front of other producers just to see what they can do with her vocals — we all saw how it worked out for Danger Mouse and his ‘Grey Album’ remix of Jay’s masterpiece. And that’s what Missy’s always been about: she’s a woman of the people. She loves to collaborate, even when it’s indirect.
All in all, ‘ICONOLOGY’ is Missy putting a gun in the face of her haters and daring them to say something. She wants them to doubt her just so she can pop off with some zany game-changing vision that’ll set the world on fire. But she’s not ready to unload a full clip just yet. Rest assured, though – it’s coming.