There’s not a moment on Iconology where Elliott isn’t trying to remind us who she is and what she’s done, as if what she’s doing now doesn’t matter.
“This is a Missy Elliott exclusive,” goes the disclaimer at the beginning of every track on Elliott’s new EP. There’s not a moment on Iconology where she isn’t trying to remind us who she is and what she’s done, as if what she’s doing now doesn’t (or shouldn’t, or doesn’t need to) matter.
Elliott has earned her place in the canon. The singer-rapper-songwriter-producer is the brains behind some of the most forward-thinking pop ever made, both as the star of the show or as a writer for Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Tweet, Ciara, Monica, and so on. Perhaps no artist save her childhood friend Timbaland is more responsible for the creative fertility of the pop charts between 1996 and 2007, a time when what bumped out of cars could be as beguiling as any grungy basement noise.
We know this. She doesn’t need to remind us with corny lines like “I did records for Tweet/ Before y’all could even tweet.” It’s a shame the lyrics here are so preoccupied with her legacy when the production is pretty great. “Throw It Back” and “Cool Off” are minimal, low-budget club stuff designed for getting down to rather than to let waft in the background. They remind us how deep her and Tim’s influences permeate left-field pop; it’s hard to imagine Kelela, Charli XCX, Jessy Lanza or the last two Ariana Grande albums existing without their blueprint on how to make pop twist the brain. But Elliott displays no interest in showing the kids how it’s done, and she’s instead more into telling the kids what she’s done.
Iconology is content to simply be new Missy Elliott material. The only reason anyone could possibly get excited about these pigeon scraps is that they’re from the woman who wrote “One in a Million.” Reading the tweet announcing its release was a more satisfying experience than listening to the album. The cover is the best thing about it.
It’s hard to imagine anyone making music like this because they’re inspired to. In addition to health problems, Elliott cited a simple lack of inspiration for the reason she hasn’t made an album since 2005’s The Cookbook. What’s the point of Iconology? Did she need a new kitchen countertop? Is she giving in to fans clamoring incessantly for new material? Rihanna, another star with a deliberate creative pace, recently posted a video of herself frowning in the studio at 6 a.m., captioned “behind the scenes of ‘where’s the album?’.” Let’s not let the same thing happen to RiRi.
There’s a fan-made album on YouTube called Block Party. It showcases soundtrack exclusives and unreleased cuts made by Missy in the years since The Cookbook. It presents an artist who’s fearless, sassy and engaged, whose goal to make the most brain-bending music that could possibly work on the charts is as admirable as Prince’s. If it were an official release it’d be one of her strongest albums, and it’s distressing to imagine it’s better than any album she could probably make at this point.